Links & Contents I Liked 220

Hi all,

A long week is wrapping up-enjoy some good readings this Friday or over the weekend!

Development news:
UN rapporteur challenges apolitical organizations; secret securitization of UK aid; Australian NGOs need better gender leadership; the ‘success’ of a failed expensive drone trial; treat people with respect-and they appreciate your information; researching local aid workers in Zambia; Haiti & Nepal’s slow recovery after natural disasters; the world is ‘overheating’; hair & consumerism in Uganda.

Our digital lives: How Medium is failing; the hacking spirit to fix digital democracy

Sex education in the digital era

The success of open access-IDS Bulletin edition; the rubbish science behind Kahneman’s successful book enterprise; economists need to integrate into society again!


New from aidnography

Who Killed Hammarskjöld? (book review)

Susan Williams book Who Killed Hammarskjöld? The UN, The Cold War and White Supremacy in Africa can be best summarized with ‘come for the title-but definitely stay for the subtitle!’
Her detailed and careful investigation uncovers a powerful conspiracy as Western power, anti-communist sentiments and multinational economic interests merge in an unholy alliance that most likely killed the UN Secretary-General.
The fact that her account is such a readable historical discovery that probably teaches readers more about ‘African history’ than most academic textbooks, underlines the unique position that Hurst and its team have in publishing great books about development history.
Development news
UN special rapporteur says UN staff 'cannot afford to be neutral' on some issues

He said the U.N. needs a unified position on staff participation in such events, and one that allows staff to respect human rights at an individual as well as institutional level, without contradiction. “If the U.N. is going to work then the values that create the U.N. system and human rights framework must be respected both individually and collectively,” he said.
Kiai also called on the U.N. and also development organizations, to “stop running away” and seeking to be apolitical. He advised any U.N. staff unsure about their position when it comes to taking part in protests, marches and other activities, to consult the High Commissioner for Human Rights. But he also said staff need to “collectively challenge” positions such as the one taken by WFP and the ethics office.
Sophie Edwards for DevEx with an interview with Maina Kiai, the UN's special rapporteur on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. Similar to discussions in academia, organizations, including non-profits, do not have to be 'neutral' (which is different than being partisan...) as Kiai rightly stresses and should speak out against developments that affect their core mandate!

Secrecy around £1bn aid and security fund raises 'significant concern', say MPs

In its report, the committee acknowledged the fund’s need for security, but said it agreed with Reprieve’s conclusion: “While some projects will of course require classification on the basis of their sensitivity, it does not follow that £1bn of public spending should fall under an umbrella of secrecy.”
In relation to Reprieve’s concerns over an ombudsman in the Bahraini prison system funded by CSSF, the report said: “The money allocated to the ombudsman of the Bahraini prison system is small, but it is questionable whether this is a good use of CSSF funding.”
The report said: “The government has not yet struck the right balance between security and transparency in relation to the CSSF.” It also raised concerns over leadership in conflict prevention, which it said “risks the UK’s international reputation for intellectual leadership in this policy area”.
Karen McVeigh for the Guardian. It is not the 'Ethiopian Spice Girls' that are 'destroying' UK aid; it's securitization and re-allocating 'good' development funding to the security and conflict agenda that have a far more detrimental impact-especially as large sums of 'taxpayers' money' are involved!

The gender woes of Australian NGOs

When I ran logistic regressions I found that, controlling for other traits, religious NGOs were much less likely to be run by women. I also found that organisations with men heading their boards were much less likely to have female CEOs or directors. These findings were true when I looked at all NGOs and when I limited my analysis only to larger organisations. NGOs with more men on their boards were also less likely to have a female CEO or director, but this result was more fragile than the other two.
To be fair to Australian NGOs, they’re better than the private sector, and comparing the two years’ data suggests a possible trend of improvement. But my guess, given the concern for women’s empowerment which is–rightfully–so strong in the sector, this is a problem that people will want to tackle sooner rather than later. If that’s the case, my advice is to start with the board.
Terence Wood for the DevPolicy Blog. Interesting food for thought-especially with regards to the role and power of boards...

From Zika to dengue, a warming Europe faces new disease threats

Europe is facing a growing risk of new disease outbreaks - which may prove difficult to quickly detect and stop - as rising temperatures make the region more vulnerable to illnesses brought in by travelers and trade, a leading health expert warns.
Laurie Goering for the Thomson Reuters Foundation with another area where 'development' challenges will meet 'us' the global North.

A $40,000 Drone Failed To Lift Off. But There Was A Silver Lining

Meier says it's the best outcome he could have hoped for. The mapping drone costs only about $3,000. "I was like, what were we thinking? What are we doing here bringing a $40,000 drone when this can be done with just a few thousand dollars?" he says. "I think we drank the Kool-Aid, buying the hype and thinking more expensive and sophisticated means more reliable when it's still very early days [for] cargo drones."
Instead of one specialized cargo drone, WeRobotics and its partners could furnish a drone fleet of about a dozen repurposed mapping UAVs. In Meier's view, the 12 little guys are better than one big one. "What we need is a network. You don't want just one. You want to service many towns," Meier says. And if one of the little drones goes down, for maintenance or because a bird or bad weather got it, 11 others are still in the air. Not even a swarm of drones will be useful in every situation, Lescano says, who is not involved with WeRobotics. The little UAVs can't fly in bad weather, and they would eventually be operating in a rain forest. "The amount of precipitation could be a big challenge for delivery over the rainy season,
Angus Chen for NPR Goats & Soda. As much as I appreciate the honesty of Patrick Meier and the WeRobotics team I think that some of the issues go beyond the prize, size or capabilities of drones. They are a bit like the driverless car of the aid industry-always good for a tech story or two, but unlikely to 'disrupt' transportation on a larger scale any time soon.

Relationships in humanitarian programmes matter

Data Ground Truth Solutions collected in 2016 shows a correlation between people who feel their views are heard and considered, and those who trust the information they receive. And respondents who feel well-treated by staff are more likely to be satisfied with the services they get. In other words, if you listen to people and treat them with respect, they are more likely to trust the information they receive and appreciate the services provided. Tracking things like trust, respect and empowerment offers managers more to work with than focusing on inputs and outputs.
Kai Hopkins for Ground Truth Solutions. It's worth reading past the headline; and even though this may not fall under 'groundbreaking discovery' it's still an important reminder that facts and information need to be embedded and delivered in the right, respectful way to have a better impact.

Local aid and development workers in Zambia: preliminary results of a survey

Our exploratory online survey attempting to reach local aid and development workers in Zambia has been minimally effective. I am just now off a Skype conversation with Voster and we agreed to continue exploring and critiquing not only the methodology but as well the many assumptions and intentions that underlie this research. Our question choices were intended to be relevant and interesting, but we are not convinced that goal was reached.
We do remain convinced that these local Zambian aid and development worker voices need to be heard.
Tom Arcaro continues his reflections on his Aid Worker Voices project and provides interesting food for thought on how to create meaningful engagement through 'Western' methodologies. Although I think his initial findings are interesting even if they did not reach all the goals of the survey and project!

Haiti’s Eroding Democracy

Will this strategy of elite alliances and local influence maintain right-wing rule in Haiti? Three decades of near-constant foreign intervention and the failures of Haiti’s traditional political class have weakened and divided the country’s once strong and united democracy movement. Elite control, at least in the short term, is now all but ensured.
But the foundation for this “stability” has been built with kindling. With so many excluded from their country’s politics, the viability of Haiti’s electoral democracy as a path toward constitutional order and stability has been diminished. More than two hundred years since Haitian independence, the struggle for freedom will find other expressions.
Jake Johnston for Jacobin with a long-read update from Haiti and the many challenges of 'reconstructing' the country.

Nepal facing disaster in the recovery from earthquakes

As a community activist from Sindhupalchowk district mentioned in a national workshop in Kathmandu, the current building code and its procedures have actually created problems, discouraging earthquake victims to rebuild houses.
Many other aspects of recovery are still unclear: how much of the aid money will be in the form of a loan and how much will be the grant, how this proportion will vary according to the wealth status of the affected families, and so on. How these procedural arrangements are adhered to in the recovery program implementation is the key, but the situation looks very pessimistic, looking at the incessant political battles for power and control of resources that underlie the recovery work. If there is anything that looks certain, then that is the impending disaster in the recovery work in Nepal, which could further deepen if another earthquake were to occur.
Hemant R Ojha for Setopati with a detailed update from Nepal and the slow recovery and reconstruction after the earthquake.

The world is running wild

Politicians and other optimistic spectators keep claiming that we can create a world where growth and sustainability go hand in hand.
But we can’t do that:
“We can strive for it, but I will allow myself to be skeptical, as we have so far not seen that it can be done. Theoretically, we can easily imagine growth without fossil fuel, but the ideology of growth that dominates the world today, will necessarily be destructive. The fossil industry that was our blessing for 200 years – and that created growth, technological development, improved health, and provided better education and better opportunities for human development – is now becoming our curse.”
So what shall we do instead?
“I believe that we have to think about economy in a whole new way. Instead of seeing economy as something that creates a profit, economy should be an agent that can benefit human needs.”
Tarek Omar and Poul Aarøe Pedersen talk to Thomas Hylland Eriksen, originally for Politiken. Anthropologist Hylland Eriksen presents findings from his 'Overheating' research project and challenges some of the developments outlined by Hans Rosling or Max Rosner about progress narratives and and the infinite gains through democratic capitalism.

A pop-up hair salon from Uganda treats black hair as a science and an art

“Most women battle with their hair because all of us live in a society that profits from our insecurities,” she says. “For black women, the extra layer is our interaction with colonialism in Africa and generally trying to achieve a standard of beauty, which is white and completely unobtainable.”
Lily Kuo for Quartz with insights into Ugandan consumerism and localized forms of resistance to global beauty norms.


The annual SIMA AWARDS honor eye-opening impact cinema that exemplifies excellence in its potential to inspire social change. Each year, films are selected from over 140 countries around the world, competing for awards, cash prizes, industry accolades, media features, distribution opportunities, and entry into SIMA’s signature film programs.
A long list of Social Impact Media Awards winners!

Our digital lives
How an idealistic Silicon Valley founder raised $134 million to change journalism, then crashed into reality — Inside Medium's meltdown

"Ev is not that interested in revenue to be honest," one former employee said. "He's driven by wanting to create this democratic space for people to have a voice, for the best content to rise on top. The problem that does not excite him is, 'How do I make money?' And he has the luxury in doing that."
Another told us, "The work there felt meaningful, but yeah, we were subject to a lot of quick changes of mind. That's fine in the first two years, when the platform is in beta and closed. But once businesses and others start to use it and depend on it, it's not so easy to do. And that's when some of the fracturing started."
Julie Bort for Business Insider with the story of Medium-and how challenging it is to create meaningful, sustainable business inside the Silicon Valley bubble.

When Good Intentions Backfire

I have learned that people who view themselves through the lens of good intentions cannot imagine that they could be a pawn in someone else’s game. They cannot imagine that the values and frames that they’ve dedicated their lives towards — free speech, media literacy, truth — could be manipulated or repurposed by others in ways that undermine their good intentions.
I find it frustrating to bear witness to good intentions getting manipulated, but it’s even harder to watch how those who are wedded to good intentions are often unwilling to acknowledge this, let alone start imagining how to develop the appropriate antibodies. Too many folks that I love dearly just want to double down on the approaches they’ve taken and the commitments they’ve made. On one hand, I get it — folks’ life-work and identities are caught up in these issues.
But this is where I think we’re going to get ourselves into loads of trouble.
danah boyd (ironically on the Medium platform...) with reflections on good intentions and a new sense of 'hacker' spirit to 'fix' digital things...

Hot off the digital press
New insights on global sex education in our digital era

Good sex education reduces maternal and child mortality by helping to prevent unwanted, early and risky pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, yet in many parts of the world unmarried teenagers are excluded from receiving information and sexual health services because – according to unrealistic and conservative religious and socio-cultural norms – they are not supposed to be sexually active. This IDS Bulletin explores how familiar forms of exclusion and inequality as well as empathy and solidarity manifest themselves in these new digital spaces in highly diverse national settings.
It is well known that young people use the internet to find information about sex and relationships. But there is a need to understand the possibilities and the pitfalls of sex education in the digital era.
Carol Smithyes with an overview over the latest IDS Bulletin.

Going Open Access sees big jump in people reading IDS Bulletin

statistics show a huge jump in article downloads from 77,000 to 393,000 and increased social media shares.
“Flipping” from a subscription-based to open access journal would make the IDS Bulletin more widely available to non-academic audiences and as well as researchers globally, including from countries such as India who cannot access journals through initiatives such as the Research4Life.
Melissa Leach on how making the IDS Bulletin open access has transformed the quantity and quality of readership and engagement. Open access-T.I.N.A :)

'People Have Had Enough of Experts'

This is all more challenging than formal mathematical modelling (technically challenging though that may be). But by living up to its social responsibilities, economic expertise would again command more public respect. The implication of what has been argued here is that a different form of expertise is required than technical skills alone, and this has strong implications for the education of economists. Further, better public engagement is required. Earle et al (2016: ch. 6) propose a policy of promoting broad democracy by cultivating an “economic citizenry” with a view to making economics “a discipline which is open to public scrutiny and engages the public in a substantive, two-way dialogue” (Earle et al 2106: 129).
Sheila Dow for the Institute for New Economic Thinking. Her essay summarizes recent debates about economics' and economists' role in society well, but I am not very optimistic that there will be a serious re-invention of a more public economic debate. The current academic climate fosters specialized publications and ever-sophisticated mathematical models and some public arenas are no longer reachable with even modest attempts for 'facts' and data. But at least we see some critical reflections within the community...

Reconstruction of a Train Wreck: How Priming Research Went off the Rails

The results are eye-opening and jaw-dropping. The chapter cites 12 articles and 11 of the 12 articles have an R-Index below 50. The combined analysis of 31 studies reported in the 12 articles shows 100% significant results with average (median) observed power of 57% and an inflation rate of 43%. The R-Index is 14. This result confirms Kahneman’s prediction that priming research is a train wreck and readers of his book “Thinking Fast and Slow” should not consider the presented studies as scientific evidence that subtle cues in their environment can have strong effects on their behavior outside their awareness.
Ulrich Schimmack, Moritz Heene and Kamini Kesavan take apart Daniel Kahneman's research for Replicability-Index. Note that he replies to (and agrees with) the authors in the comments below the article. In short: A lot of psychological studies are crap, even though they sell nice self-helpy books and create even nicer author brands...


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