Links & Contents I Liked 200

Hi all,

This is officially the 200th link review, but last week's post already marked the official anniversary of curating development, ICT4D and higher education content since 2011. So we are pretty much back to normal with this week's review.

Development news
George Clooney & celebrity engagement in South Sudan; a cultural shift towards junk food will be the next public health time-bomb; global fashion value chains are huge polluters; ‘job creation’ and ‘free trade’ won’t help developing countries; behind the humanitarian frontlines with MSF; just adding doctors won’t solve Indian’s public health challenges; Oxfam now has a responsible data policy; public service broadcasting in fragile states; Congo’s female dandies; new books on the Ebola response.

Our digital lives:
Hackathons for refugees suck; a radical manifesto of writing (back).

Academia: The anthropologist arrives ‘in the field’; academic meets design practice.


New from aidnography

What I learned from curating thousands of #globaldev articles

Humanitarian communication and journalism is now complemented by more professional communicators that sometimes even become news sources themselves. Compared to many other parts of society where significantly more money is spent (health, military), development continues to be relatively open, self-critical and accessible.
Development news
Clooney exposes corruption in South Sudan he helped perpetuate

The current situation in South Sudan is the result of the inability of the government to organize itself and the countries and activists, including the U.S., Clooney and Prendergast, who pushed forward a plan for independence. People like Kiir and Machar, who were celebrated as the shining hope for a new country, turned out to be the exact opposite.
“The craving for media publicity was satisfied by simple stories. For a humanitarian activist in a hurry, there was no time for hard thinking and detailed analysis,” said Abrahamsen. “Now you turn around to find that the warnings have come true, that real-life politics is anything but a morality tale: The heroes have turned villains; the morally good and oppressed have become the oppressors, the thieves, the murders and the rapists.”
Mr and Mrs Clooney are currently in the limelight again about their humanitarian engagement. Tom Murphy for the Humanosphere with a critical look at celebrity engagement and the complex politics of (South) Sudan.

Global food crisis triggered cultural shift towards junk food, say researchers

Women started doing more hard, insecure, paid work and felt pressed to speed up the work of feeding the family by turning to ready-made and fast foods. “Children and young people also became early adopters of all manner of processed foods – cheap, tasty, fun, trendy and typically habit-forming,” said the authors.
John Vidal summarizes important research from IDS Sussex and Oxfam for the Guardian on the impact of the financial crisis on food cultures and eating habits. The (public) health crisis in developing countries triggered by 'Western' food cultures will be one of THE next big topics in development.

Fast Fashion Is Creating an Environmental Crisis

Despite these ugly statistics, Americans are blithely trashing more clothes than ever. In less than 20 years, the volume of clothing Americans toss each year has doubled from 7 million to 14 million tons, or an astounding 80 pounds per person. The EPA estimates that diverting all of those often-toxic trashed textiles into a recycling program would be the environmental equivalent of taking 7.3 million cars and their carbon dioxide emissions off the road.
Alden Wicker reports for Newsweek. Time and again we are reminded that global value chains cause major environmental damage and that multinational companies get away with a lot and we should not be fooled by their CSR window-dressing or small-scale 'development' efforts!

There's no magic wand - creating jobs won't simply solve the world's problems

A fresh pair of eyes may indeed be quite helpful. But rather than talking about what needs to be done based on your own biases, perhaps you could step out of the Conservative echo-chamber, and start asking some hard-hitting questions? A simplified programme of job creation and free trade may sound like an obvious way forward to your ears, but in reality it is not going to be a step forward for most of the world’s poor.
Deborah Doane for the Guardian with a short reminder that a lot of what 'neoliberal' governments sell as 'development' or 'poverty eradication' will likely have little benefit for ordinary people and benefit a transnational global elite.

The Deadly Business of War-Zone Medical Care

He spent 20 months working for MSF in war zones. Does he have anything to say about the bombs and the attacks on doctors? He shakes his head. "We do our work here," he says. "No one will prevent us from doing that." The wounds of his Syrian patients have been getting worse lately, he says. "The projectiles are creating bigger holes."
Katrin Kuntz summarises current humanitarian challenges in her long-read for the German Spiegel Online featuring MSF work in Syria and other conflic zones.

Why more doctors are not the answer to India’s health crisis

India's high infant mortality rate (IMR) and maternal mortality rate (MMR) are also cited to argue for a rapid expansion of medical education. But that's just not logical. Most maternal deaths happen among poor and illiterate women. Research unambiguously shows that the bulk of maternal deaths can be avoided by improving socio-economic status, level of education, nutrition, antenatal care, early referral, and quick and well equipped transport facilities. None of these are dependent on doctors.
Rema Nagarajan for the Times of India with a reminder that public health needs more than creating or expanding a medical elite, i.e. doctors. Local, participatory approaches should also be promoted-but as always it may challenge the 'governmentality' of the state and are less fashionable and fundable...

‘Violence is everywhere’ – ‘what we live with everyday isn’t right’: 15 images showing a creative story-based method to include citizens in accountability

We also recognise that participants from Delft are navigating complex ethical dilemmas in their own lives quite apart from this research. Their realities oscillate between radically positive and negative outcomes (reflecting the blurred lines of their engagement in corruption/violence in their lives). A lesson for us has been the importance of sufficient time for engagement: to better understand the changes in the citizens’ lives, how relationships which each other strengthen, and how to articulate and sustain commitment to a shared process.
Joanna Wheeler on the complex commitments that come with 'citizens' engagement' outside buzzwords and tokenistic encounters.

Oxfam’s Responsible Data Policy – Do You Have One Too?

This policy should not be seen as restricting or discouraging; rather, it sets out to facilitate the invaluable contribution that data makes to the quality of Oxfam’s work, upholding accountability and allowing Oxfam to raise the voices of those with whom we work.
ICT Works introduces Oxfam's new responsible data policy-interesting food for thought on how the development industry will handle data (differently?).

Public service broadcasting in fragile states: are we flogging a dead horse?

Our experience suggests that support to legal and regulatory reform, training and capacity building, shifting of business models, organisational change management and much else besides are the relatively achievable parts of any reform process. That’s because the reasons reform processes don’t succeed are not technical but political. Ultimately, for the president or government of a fragile state going through transition, the political cost of surrendering control of a national broadcaster can be substantial and the rewards scant.
BBC Media Action's James Deane on the challenges of public broadcasting in fragile environments between technical implementation and (lack of) political will.

Congo's Female Dandies

There are now hundreds of female Sapeurs who are battling the high-temperatures in top hats, capes and bespoke tailored suits. “Many are 20 and 30 somethings who work as entrepreneurs in the fashion sector, hence their access to clothing imports. Some, like Inda Gabie, are unapologetic middle-aged ladies who are fed up with years of good behaviour and want to dress with a bang.”
Lightfoot Travel with a great story on new (re)presentations in and of the public sphere in the Congo.

Africa: Why Western Economists Get It Wrong

So what’s to be done? Jerven thinks development economics should engage more historians given their unique skills for interrogating historical data sources and narratives. This is welcome. Surprisingly, Jerven does not call for the active engagement of African economists given that most of what he critiques has been authored by North American and European economists (his book should really have been titled Africa: Why Western Economists Get It Wrong). This oversight is telling because his critique clearly builds on the often neglected contributions of the Malawian economist Thandika Mkandawire.
Grieve Chelwa engages with Morten Jerven's book for Africa Is a Country.

Public health: Beating Ebola

To fight the next epidemic, as Sprecher writes, it will be crucial to apply these lessons, capitalize on partnerships and hold institutions to their promises of funding and cooperation. And, as Richards mentions, it will also be key to consolidate ways of working effectively with local communities, and to recognize their work. This advice demands a major shift in the mindset of epidemiologists.
Peter Piot reviews two new books on the Ebola response for Nature. Sadly, this may be an essay we have to consult again at the next epidemic and public health crisis where lessons have not been learned/applied...

Our digital lives
Hackathons and refugees: we can do better.

Hackathons suck. Anyone who spoke to me at any time in the last year or so knows the depths of my disappointment with the hackathon paradigm. Don’t get me wrong: I think hackathons are a great way to build networks, strengthen communities, reinforce beliefs in common goals.
They’re just really bad at actually creating things.
So does this mean hackathons are perfectly useless for the refugee crisis? Yes, as they are now. But how about we radically change them? The new process might not be as sexy or instantly gratifying, but it might provide actual results.
Tin Geber for the Engine Room with a reminder that, wait for it: Quick-fix, tech solutions are unlikely to lead to profound social change and in its current state provide very little meaningful engagement for 'refugees'.

Mangal Media - A Manifesto

We are currently gathering writers, journalists and artists whose voices have been deemed too incendiary or too subversive for the colonial custodians of news and culture. Ever worked as a fixer for clueless journalists who walked away with fame and fortunes, then threw you into the fire after you handed them their stories on a gold plate? We have. On the margins of the publishing world because your writing does not harp on the afflictions of the privileged? We are. Does your academic writing shrug with disinterest at the petty existential crises of great philosophers? Ours does. Maybe you simply have never been translated.
We aim to establish a platform free of bootstraps and bootlicking. We refuse to mimic the hierarchies put in place by self-appointed overseers.
I have not come across such radical language in a long time and look forward to learning more about the development of this new initiative!

Hot off the digital press
Understanding and Misunderstanding Randomized Controlled Trials

RCTs do indeed require minimal assumptions and prior knowledge, an advantage when persuading distrustful audiences, but a crucial disadvantage for cumulative scientific progress, where randomization undermines precision. It is hard to use them outside of their original context. Yet, once they are seen as part of a cumulative program, they can play a role in building general knowledge and useful predictions, provided they are combined with other methods, including conceptual and theoretical development, to discover not “what works,” but why things work. Unless we are prepared to make assumptions, and to stand on what we know, making statements that will be incredible to some, all the credibility of RCTs is for naught.
Angus Deaton and Nancy Cartwright with a new paper on the opportunities and limitations of RCTs.


Arrivals: the less innocent anthropologist

I’m nervous and sit up straight, looking around, at the stickers on the walls announcing offers on penis enlargement, good luck with money and 15 minute abortions, if you just call this number. I try not to make eye contact. The suspicious behavior of the hyper-vigilant newbie ethnographer. When I get over myself, I realize that nobody seems to be paying attention to me. Many of my fellow passengers are simply riding the train, looking out the window. Others are paying attention to their phones. Which they are taking out of their handbags and pockets, which they are holding in their hands. I’m feeling pretty embarrassed and silly.
Nanna Schneidermann shares some honest reflections on entering a new 'field'-even if you are a global citizen, experienced traveler and seasoned researcher...

“There is No Lit Review!”: Applying Academic Skills in UX

What’s important is the strong foundation that academic research brings. In the panel, Annette noted that for anthropologists, “your superpower is your ability to understand and value other cultures.” The next day, she live-tweeted more benefits: strong sense of ethics, the ability to get a root problem, and the ability to observe other cultures neutrally. But, she noted, new anthro grads need to acquire business skills such as explaining to others what they do, project management, and networking. “Checking perceived assumptions is a terrific skill for ANY industry.” she tweeted, “Anthropologists do it best!
Amanda on the potential of anthropologists for industrial interaction and user design.


  1. //The (public) health crisis in developing countries triggered by 'Western' food cultures will be one of THE next big topics in development.//
    This debate will surely have GMOs front-and-center. It is a subject with a lot of misconceptions and, dare I say, elitist armchair morality. I personally have many friends who argue for denying vitamin fortified rice (et al) to areas of the world that are undernourished while ordering a super-sized BigMac deal at the drive-thru. Clearly, activist Jamie Oliver’s development campaigns in the US have not been entirely successful.
    I invite you to put on your tinfoil hat and google ”Codex Alimentarius Commission conspiracy” to see what libertarians and elements of the progressive left think of the WHO and FAO. Food and eating are fraught with control issues. There’s a joke somewhere in there about bulimia and anorexia, but in the interest of decency, I won’t dig around for it.


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