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Hi all,

Time for some fresh reading recommendations for the upcoming weekend!

Development news on exploitative immersive experiences; why you should be smarter than becoming a volountourist in Nepal; parachute research & public health emergencies; Urban education heroes, Teach for America’s top-down management & Habitat for Humanity’s gentrification venture in NYC-3 stories from the U.S. about ‘development’; safe & meaningful participation of girls at the decision-making table; more on expat pay;
Our digital lives with new research on why filter bubbles may not matter;
Academia with a reading list on critical algorithm studies for nerds; the ethics of using hacked data for your research.


New from aidnography

How great development discussions look like on facebook - Build Africa’s “Time Machine” video edition

There is always space for more snark, memes, satire or ironic commentary on development-related topics, so it is worth documenting a great teachable moment that happened on facebook yesterday; it basically confirms that if you maintain a great network, great insights are only a few connections away.
This example does not solve the issue of filter bubbles and is by no means a cure for everything that’s broken on the Internet right now, but it quickly became a great, positive example of learning and respectful sharing.
Development news
Spreading Happiness

Our dream is of love, incredible experiences, making people smile and sharing our passion to the thousands of people we meet around the world. To make our dream reality we think that we would need approximately $100,000 per year.
I am appealing to the person who set this up as a cruel joke to please come forward an put us out of our misery...this *cannot* be a real crowd-funded initiative...

‘Immersive’ video lets you watch South Sudanese starve

It’s not a stretch to interpret “data” as action, characters, images, video or audio – the narrative or story about reality in African countries. Are we relegating African country residents to the dramatis personae in our art and documentaries? That’s why there is a debate over who has the right to tell the “narrative” or “story” about what happens in African countries.
There's a lot going on in Chris Douglas' piece on famine, mediated representation of it and food (and its absence) in South Sudan. I am less concerned with the cost and I also tend to be less critical about different and innovative formats to tell stories differently. But he has a point that we need to be more critical about treating 'Africa' as a quarry for 'data', stories and our own aspirations to 'help'...

So you want to be a voluntourist?

“There is literally no role that tourists can play in volunteering in children’s homes and orphanages – there are no skills required that cannot be found within the professional arena in Nepal,” says Andrea Nave, director of Forget Me Not, a former children’s home turned NGO that has worked to reconnect 58 ‘paper orphans’ back with their families.
Though technically illegal on a tourist visa, around 30,000 well-meaning foreigners each year are duped into forking over hundreds of dollars per week each to volunteer at operations that masquerade as charities, unknowingly contributing to a vicious cycle of abuse.
Michael Nishimura on voluntourism in Nepal (again); you cannot stress enough how useless and damaging this industry is.

Scientists Say It's Time To End 'Parachute Research'

But Heymann, who chairs the World Health Organization's emergency committee on Zika, is now among those leading the charge to prevent parachute research from hampering the response to Zika.
"If you want really to have a rapid public health response you have to make sure that that data is available as soon as it's known," says Heymann. "And that means in the country." Encouraged by WHO, some of the big research funders are making scientists promise they'll reveal results of Zika research immediately. And major journals have announced they'll still publish Zika findings that have already been made public.
NPR's Nurith Aizenman reports on the intersection between academic 'markets', public health and how difficult truly open (access) research and sharing is during health emergencies.

Those Urban-Education Heroes

There is a questionable subtext to the many teacher stories—be it in books or on film—that perpetuate the image of the lone teacher who doesn’t need experience, sleep, or support from other adults in his or her school, said Roxanna Elden, a National Board Certified high-school teacher in Miami and the author of See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers. “In real life, that’s not a recipe for great teaching,” she said. “That’s a recipe for a teacher whose emotional rubber band is almost always stretched to its breaking point.”
Elden admits that these stories have the elements of a good Hollywood plot, but fall short as a guide for real teachers who “fall into the trap of comparing their unedited footage to other people’s highlight reels.” The maverick teacher “has become the only acceptable story to tell about our experiences as educators,” said Elden, adding that it creates a dynamic where beginning teachers are afraid to admit they’re struggling and soon are exhausted from trying to keep up with a false ideal.
You can almost literally replace 'teacher' with 'aid worker' or 'social entrepreneur' in Melinda D. Anderson's essay; hero worshiping is a wide-spread 'disease' across many sectors where structural challenges are far more difficult and far less sexy to overcome than focusing on the one person who is making a difference against all odds...

Big trouble at Teach For America?

For TFA, the managerialism and the technocratic approach excludes a serious discussion about these larger, systemic problems: poverty, segregation and unequal funding. When I was a TFA corps member, I really believed that if I just had perfect lesson plans, then these larger problems wouldn’t matter. The technocratic approach is just about test scores and making them go up, and it’s disconnected from these larger questions. How do we involve parents, and do they have any say in what a good school is? Are they a part of these turnaround models? Do they get any kind of voice? I think the whole community-based model of schooling is very much being lost to a top-down managerial approach. Who is the manager? Where are you from and do you understand this community? And what do you mean when you talk about “great teachers”? Does your definition include values like being socially aware, responsive and empathetic and understanding a community and its students. I think TFA has an ideology and they push that ideology at the expense of other important ways of improving schools, and at times they’re not just indifferent but hostile to these more systemic approaches to improving schools.
Valerie Strauss on Teach for America and more problems around top-down approaches that promised 'transformation' through introducing bright heroes to struggling schools-again, the parallels to development discussions should be quite obvious...

How Habitat for Humanity Went to Brooklyn and Poor Families Lost Their Homes

After two years, Reed said she and her family were pressured to leave their new apartment. Then they moved to a humid basement apartment nearby which changed hands after they got there. The new owners, Reed said, refused to do repairs, and told them they had to leave.
They recently moved to East New York, into another basement apartment where a total of seven people live.
“When are we going to be stable? When are we going to be okay?” Reed wondered. “I was stable before, pretty much. They took us out of our comfort zone, how can you get that back? It’s just like starting over.”
Another story about charities and philanthropy from the U.S. that has an interesting development sub-text; Marcelo Rochabrun's story on Habitat for Humanity's real estate dealings in NYC is also a story of organizational mission creep and aspirations, often of individuals within the organization, to become 'heroes' when helping 'the poor'.

Making Sure Girls are at the Decision-Making Table in a Meaningful Way
The “get me a girl” mentality puts girls, their families, and our organizations at risk, and the good intentions that come with getting them at the table do not make up for the rushed, sometimes sloppy process that can ensue. Plucking a girl out of her community and expecting her to speak ably at a high-level forum, with little preparation and no strategic process, is a recipe for disaster.
When Plan made the commitment to get girls at the table we had to develop a process that put girls and their well-being, interests, and protection at the center.
PLAN US's Laura Brazee on how to create a safe and meaningful environment for girls/young women to participate in global development spaces.

Expat pay in the aid sector: your responses

International NGOs have extensive code of conducts that encourage cultural diversity and equity, but when it comes to compensating staff they disregard those values. Clearly we are not equal, since the expatriates can afford parties and tours almost every weekend, whereas the nationals are forced to be frugal within their meagre earnings.
A bit too much 'black and white' in this discussion around overpaid expats, foreigners sacrificing themselves abroad and local staff demanding higher salaries (maybe expats should just earn less?!).

Aid worker salaries and meanings for motivation

We should not therefore discount the possibility that aid workers stay in their jobs because of the income and benefits they receive; but we should also not assume that this completely undermines any suggestion that aid worker motivations are, or should be, moral or altruistic. Perhaps, as one study of Bangledeshi NGO workers suggests, these sorts of intentions should be rewarded if staff are to remain committed to what they do. This should apply none more so than to national aid workers. They are often operating in difficult, sometimes highly dangerous settings, and their close proximity to the communities they assist may bring specific challenges; for instance, they themselves may be exposed to the same health or security risks as these communities, or they may become a target of government surveillance or harassment. Yet these national aid workers rarely have the same privileges of R and R, evacuation, or being able to easily find a job in another country, as their expat counterparts. These distinctive circumstances demand greater recognition, and reward.
Gemma Houldey adds some interesting nuances (and academic references!) to the aid worker pay debate.

NRGI Launches New Oil, Gas and Mining Open Data Platform is an open-source repository of data on oil, gas and mining projects across the world. It provides a platform to collect, display, download and search extractive project information using open data. It aims to harvest data on project-by-project payments to governments—based on recent mandatory disclosure legislation in the EU, U.S. and Canada as well as EITI reports—and link it to associated information about the project from a variety of sources. The platform will make it easier for journalists, CSOs, researchers and government officials to search, access and download relevant data.
Interesting new addition to open data and transparency discussions.

Our digital lives
Should we worry about filter bubbles?

Some fear that personalised communication can lead to information cocoons or filter bubbles. For instance, a personalised news website could give more prominence to conservative or liberal media items, based on the (assumed) political interests of the user. As a result, users may encounter only a limited range of political ideas. We synthesise empirical research on the extent and effects of self-selected personalisation, where people actively choose which content they receive, and pre-selected personalisation, where algorithms personalise content for users without any deliberate user choice. We conclude that at present there is little empirical evidence that warrants any worries about filter bubbles.
New open access research paper with a very interesting conclusion...

Hot off the digital press
The Peace Journalist, Vol.5, No.1
I have always been a fan of the Peace Journalist magazine and the great stories the students produce!


Critical Algorithm Studies: a Reading List

This list is an attempt to collect and categorize a growing critical literature on algorithms as social concerns. The work included spans sociology, anthropology, science and technology studies, geography, communication, media studies, and legal studies, among others. Our interest in assembling this list was to catalog the emergence of “algorithms” as objects of interest for disciplines beyond mathematics, computer science, and software engineering.
Tarleton Gillespie and Nick Seaver have compiled an amazing resource!

Case Study: The Ethics of Using Hacked Data: Patreon’s Data Hack and Academic Data Standards

When the exact data you wanted but couldn’t presents itself to you thanks to hackers, can you use the data?
Nathaniel Poor and Roei Davids engage with an interesting question. The ethical dilemmas may only apply to researchers outside the US, because their new IRB etc. rules and regulations will trun many grey areas black very soon...


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