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Hi all,

It's Friday and you deserve a break from #Brexit news! So enjoy some critical development reading and explore what shapes our digital lives!

Development news: NGO ranking behind paywall; UN’s ethical failure; Bolivia rejects Gates’ chickens; Connecting the unconnected in Bangladesh? Pakistan’s low tech Uber; how can ODI communicate better? Virtual Reality is kind of hot right now; Public-Private partnerships in foster care & the transformation of the poverty industry; small stories and ownership of big data in Liberia; reviewing MacAskills’ book on transforming giving.

Out digital lives:
A cynical app is rewarded; what true crime addicts and development amateurs have in common; the first-ever Snapchat movie

Publication: New IDS Bulletin on ruptures in the Middle East.


New from aidnography
Disrupted (book review)

Even though my review tries to link core themes of Disrupted to my own professional world and broader questions of the aid industry, I can recommend Dan Lyons’ book simply as a lighter read, suitable for summer distraction and entertainment.
He writes well, manages to link his vignettes to broader questions of the tech industry and the future-now of work and workplaces and distances himself enough without sounding like a bitter 50-something old man who lost his privileges.
Making work meaningful, but also treating it professionally as ‘just’ work, will remain a topic for further discussions and insights from a variety of industries, not least academia and aid work.
Development news

I've heard all 539 'arguments' why paywalls are great & necessary-it's OK, saves me a blogpost #top500NGOs

— Tobias Denskus (@aidnography) June 22, 2016

NGO Advisor is hiding its Top 500 NGO ranking behind a paywall, effectively using the organizations featured in the ranking as amplifiers for free marketing to make people sign up.
In 2013 I already engaged critically with their first ranking:
What I learnt from looking behind The Global Journal's Top 100 NGO ranking

EXCLUSIVE: The ethical failure – Why I resigned from the UN

The UN claimed the internal system of justice worked in my case. This is preposterous. Under sustained pressure by member states, the secretary-general was forced to appoint an external panel to independently investigate the issue. It found that the chief of the very UN entity that should, by mandate, have investigated the case abdicated the body’s independence and abused her authority. But neither she nor many others who abused their authority to varying degrees, including by ignoring the horrific reports of children sexual abuse, were punished.
Swedish Diplomat Anders Kompass on IRIN News on why he left the UN and the bureaucratic entanglements that paralyze the organization.

Bolivia rejects 'offensive' chicken donation from Bill Gates

"He does not know Bolivia’s reality to think we are living 500 years ago, in the middle of the jungle not knowing how to produce," said César Cocarico, Bolivia's minister of land and rural development, according to the Financial Times. "Respectfully, he should stop talking about Bolivia, and once he knows more, apologize to us."
James Vincent on why Bill Gates may not end poverty with chickens...

Digital Bangladesh? Are we really connecting the unconnected?

What these two reports and their findings meant to me was that it is very clear that there is a bigger issue in Internet access in Bangladesh than perhaps anyone realised, particularly for women – all the talk amongst mobile operators and stakeholders in Dhaka has been in the last few years around how access is growing and how people are coming online, but what it seems to me is that, if anything, the divide is the thing that is actually growing.
Panoply Digital on the difficult questions around simply connecting women/people online.

Uber's upstart rival in Pakistan uses rickshaws, low-tech phones

Rixi works by bypassing poor smartphone penetration in the low-income rickshaw market by polling drivers' locations using cellphone towers and matching passengers' messaged locations to points on Google Maps.
"If you look at ... Uber's operational model, they will be depending on the smartphones," said Khawaja. "In countries like Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, that population is [...] growing, but it's still smaller compared to the vast market."
Asad Hashim reminds us that 'disruption' comes in many forms and that global paltforms need to do more to localize services in emerging markets.

How can a top development thinktank improve its communications?

Some researchers are natural communicators, but others are, how can we put it, happier with their spreadsheets. How to drag them blinking into the light? My advice would be don’t even try – bitter experience has shown me you can’t force introverted researchers into becoming bloggers, at least not good ones. Better to spot the researchers who like communicating and support them.
Duncan Green discusses ways forward for ODI's communication efforts. Thumbs up for doing it publicly and opening up a broader debate on Think Tank communication!

Virtual reality: Aid groups play with idea that it could prompt more to care – and give

What virtual reality is trying to achieve is intrinsically the same challenge that other writers, documentary makers and humanitarian advocates are trying to do in an age when scenes of desperate and abject poverty across the world are beamed onto our laptop, our newspapers and our smartphones.
Beharry unravels this problem, arguing that, with the information overload we receive on crises happening on every corner of the globe, often there is an issue of “empathetic avoidance” as part of a fight or flight response: either you are compelled into action, or you are doubtful of the real impact that you can make as an individual.
Filmmakers, such as Daswani, who frequently show VR films to politicians and high-profile figures at events at Davos at the World Economic Forum, for example, often ask themselves whether the films they make lead to such avoidance: “How do people emerge out of this story? Is it so emotional that they are paralyzed? Or is there something about the way I’ve told the story that’s open-ended enough that they are going to be galvanized to do something about it?”
Charlie Ensor on the next big communication thing in development, virtual reality.

Transforming the poverty industry

It’s clear that a fundamental realignment of purpose is required. The poverty industry combines the vast powers of government with the profit seeking appetites of private enterprise. This collaboration has the capacity to do some good if partnerships are properly constructed and regulated closely, but only if public entities lead the way. State governors and directors of human service agencies control all contracts with private companies, so rather than using them to take resources away from foster children they could encourage contractors to help children obtain their disability and survivor benefits in order to conserve the children’s funds in planning for their future transition out of foster care.
Daniel L. Hatcher presents key arguments from his new book on the US 'poverty industry' which will likely have some interesting reflections to offer on the aid industry's love affair with 'public-private partnerships'.

Are ‘small’ stories the key to making sense of big data?: How one community is using tech to document the real cost of corruption in Liberia

With this project, TIMBY are committed to ensuring that issues faced by citizens are no longer just points on a map. Activists, monitors or even just concerned citizens can safely and easily share what’s happening in remote areas; their problems cannot be ignored.
The teams gather evidence from the frontlines, writing stories, sending photos and quickly updating the local government - and the entire world - about illegal logging in their local communities.
TIMBY’s system was designed and built with their reporting communities, based on what they wanted to report on, how they were comfortable reporting it, with respect to security, and what technology would work to achieve those aims. This co-creation was key to buy-in and use by citizen monitors in the community. It’s no surprise, then, that TIMBY changed a lot along the way.
Anastasia-Areti Gavrili on a successful initiative from Liberia that used open and big data and transformed information into stories and user-generated accessible content.

Brother, can you spare an RCT? ‘Doing Good Better’ by William MacAskill

It is quite true that none of their work on global inequality or climate change could be evaluated with an RCT. And maybe all their work in these areas will be for naught. But I would say there’s a reasonable chance it has, or may some day, be a contributor to huge improvements in human well-being. Likewise, the work that many NGOs devote to advocacy about government aid programmes can’t be evaluated with an RCT. Yet in most countries the aid governments give is much larger than privately funded NGO work, meaning the quality of government aid matters more, and without advocacy groups it would probably be worse. Randomised control trials are great, but in other instances if you want to do good you will simply have to take a leap of faith. This shouldn’t be blind faith, and we should always try to gather evidence, but working out whether or not particular aid endeavours deserve our attention is not nearly as tidy as MacAskill imagines it to be.
Terence Wood with a critical review of William MacAskill's book that was supposed to change the way we look at charitable giving forever...

Our digital lives

I Sea, the app that claims to help save refugees, is a fake, experts say

A popular app that claims to scan the Mediterranean Sea in real time for adrift refugees does not work as its developers claim it does and may be a ploy to win an advertising industry award, experts say.
The app, I Sea, was nominated at the Cannes Lions awards show, an international advertising festival held this week in France, causing some to question whether it was made as a publicity stunt.
Patrick Howell O'Neill on a 'fake' app that won a price at some advertisement BS event.
If I had to play devil's advocate I might say that the app is simply a 'prototype' rather than 'fake'-but at the end of the day it remains a cheap publicity stunt and one more reminder that gadgets and apps do not solve problems and automatically save refugees...

“True Crime Addict” and the Serious Problem of Internet Sleuths

After all, crime “addicts” such as James Renner rarely, if ever, solve crimes. They are drawn to the most dramatic possibilities and ignore more tedious solutions. For all that Renner has written on Maura Murray’s case, both in his book and online, I’ve never seen him seriously investigate the most plausible theory: that, fearing a D.U.I. arrest, Murray walked away from her car in the New Hampshire cold, got lost, and died.
A friend shared Michelle Dean's essay on his facebook adding that it somehow reminded him of the aid industry and outsiders becoming obsessed with helping, fixing and saving...

Photo: The most millennial post-game victory celebration ever

When you know you can swoop up 134,000 likes on Instagram and 354,000 on Facebook with your post-victory shot, what else could possibly be more important than getting back to your locker and smartphone?
The First-Ever Snapchat Movie is Here, and it's Horrifying—Go Behind the Scenes
The film even inspired some narrative intervention from the audience. At one point during the release, the filmmaking team posted the cousin's account name. Shortly thereafter, fans began creating accounts in her name on Instagram and Twitter. Like real-time fan fiction, these individuals attempted to hijack the narrative. "One of the accounts even began posting in a creepy way as if they were actually Taylor," Macpherson said. "It was awesome!"
Emily Buder's post on the first Snapchat movie makes me feel old-and afraid for development communication snapchatting away advocacy and fundraising videos...

Hot off the digital press

Ruptures and Ripple Effects in the Middle East and Beyond

Broadly, the articles consider myths around conflict and development about the Middle East region. These include: that there is a unilinear model of development; that low development and violent conflict are natural bedfellows; that there is an alternative rentier path of development; that fragile statehood is the main institutional cause of violence; that environmental scarcities are an increasingly important contributor to conflict; that countries need to pass a number of milestones on a democratisation pathway; that more humanitarian aid will contain the Syrian refugee crisis and that, following a period of ‘Arab Spring’, people’s agency has been defeated.
New open access IDS Bulletin!


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