Links & Contents I Liked 223

Hi all,

After a week spent mostly working from home, focusing on two research papers, I am happy to focus on 'lighter' writing in a way with the latest link review!

Development news: Humanitarian access in South Sudan and Turkey/Syria; 360 degree immersion in Sudan; Sierra Leone’s unfair tax system; The struggles of Kenya’s middle-class; Garment production in capitalistic Myanmar; social relationships and evidence; responding to unsolicited feedback; #mediadev and accountability; Can Chicago learn from Bogota? Reflections on traveling, volunteering and photographing abroad.

Our digital lives: Lovewashing is the new greenwashing; avoiding #allmalepanel (except when American political consultants meet); the happiness industry is a burden.

Publications: Improving aid HR; studying the datafied society; the Internet as history; big data and sexual surveillance.

What do Economists actually know? (It’s a long-read, not a rant!); women and scientific authorship; higher education in Zimbabwe; Mexico’s development(s) through the lens of David Harvey.


New from aidnography
How not to present survey data- 2017 UN Global Staff Survey edition

As a social science researcher I can confirm that this is a very sad case study of “how not to present survey results” and clearly not worthy of the UN system, its staff and the important issues that are raised in the report. Some of my concerns are simply about the poor presentation of findings (in the sense that most advanced undergrad students of pretty much any discipline should know better), but there are more concerning issues with the results that border on unethical (social) science research practices.
By the way: I'm working on the first edition of my newsletter-so make sure you are subscribed as a pioneer reader ;)!

Development news
South Sudan Will Now Charge $10,000 For An Aid Worker Permit. Why?
Given all these complexities, Schopp concludes that the drastic fee hike is "part of a broader issue of trying to restrict access to the people in need." As to why the government would try to impede the delivery of emergency aid one possibility may be that "there is real panic about the conditions, the lack of food and about the press reporting on this," suggests Ruth Messinger, global ambassador of the American Jewish World Service, whose mission is to end poverty and promote human rights in the developing world. "It is a sign of their failure as a country if they cannot meet the needs of their country."
Turkey Forces Aid Group Mercy Corps To Cease Operations
Well, it certainly makes it logistically more complicated than it already is. And obviously, in any conflict zone, in any war zone, there are a lot of considerations when you're making your deliveries and helping people. But as I said, we have hubs across the region. And we also have hubs inside Syria. So really it's a question of setting up the right system so that our - we can deliver our assistance in a safe manner not just for our team members, but also for the beneficiaries that are receiving that support.
Diane Cole for NPR Goats & Soda and NPR's Ari Shapiro in a conversation with Mercy Corps' Christine Bragale. Two stories this week as a reminder that contested humanitarian access and the politics of aid are very much alive; this is also a reminder of how complicated aid delivery is, that it requires professionals and professional organizations and that 'why don't you just send drones?' or some similar technological buzzword will not 'fix' the system.

Besieged: A 360º experience in Sudan's Nuba Mountains

Journalists and NGOs are banned from the Nuba Mountains. This rare film was captured by local community groups with guidance from international media. The narration is scripted directly from interviews with more than a dozen Nuba civilians.
IRIN and TFM Digital team up for an interesting example of 360 degree immersive storytelling.

Sierra Leone: An unfair tax system, corruption and wastages

He intends to work towards reducing rent seeking and develop policies to meet distinct groups; automate the system as far as reasonably practicable and move away from paper receipts issued by vendors to enhance revenue generation and reduce avoidance; explore the possibility of having one tax regime instead of the many different laws that currently regulate taxation in the country; work closely with all local councils to ensure revenue generation from leased properties; build on and develop policies to make the tax system as fair as possible and build confidence so that the compliant tax payer is not over taxed as this may cause problems and avoidance; and explore the possibility of implementing a broad based VAT with a fairly high threshold.
Tanu Jalloh for the OpenTax Initiative with an interesting overview about necessary taxation reforms in Sierra Leone.

How Simple Homes left many Kenyans’ dreams in ashes

For the middle-class Kenyans aspiring to own a home, Simple Homes Kenya was godsend. Set up in October 2015, the firm adopted a “pay rent, own home“ model, raising the hopes of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Kenyans who could not afford to buy a home because of high mortgage rates. It promised to revolutionise the Kenyan property market and make it possible for people to own homes at the price they pay in rent. Through the firm‘s Home Purchase Plan (HPP), millions of Kenyans who had dreamed of buying a house but could not afford it could now own one.
Arts are an essential part of a holistic education, not just for a talented few
What we need to work more on is thinking of arts in school as not just imparting skills and cultivating talent, rather, as giving every student in every school a way of engaging with knowledge through the aesthetic and creative potential inherent in each one of us. This is why it is critical that we invest seriously in the arts throughout the school curricula, understanding that the arts are not just for a talented few, but an essential part of a holistic education.
Nduku Muema for Standard Digital and Daisy Okoti for Daily Nation. These are not exactly 'big news' stories and yet the two articles from Kenya caught my attention. They are small, but important reminders that as 'Africa' is changing rapidly, our notions of what 'development cooperation' means will have to change rapidly as well. Protecting middle-class consumers from fraudulent or misleading investments and talking about arts education may have seem like 'luxury problems' a few years ago, but they obviously affect people's lives, well-being, fulfillment etc. Important food for thought of how 'we' can keep up with these new challenges for cooperation, learning and empowerment.

H&M supply factory in Myanmar damaged in violent labour protest

Myanmar’s fast-growing textile industry, which employs more than 300,000 workers, has become attractive to global apparel brands such as H&M and US retailer Gap Inc following the easing of economic sanctions by the US and the EU.
A minimum monthly wage of around $63, based on a six-day work week, gives Myanmar a competitive advantage over neighboring garment producing hubs such as Vietnam and Cambodia, where the monthly minimum wage ranges from $90 to $145, according to the International Labour Organisation.
But labour activists and industry analysts say Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, in office for almost a year, has to do more to ensure safety for workers as well as investment stability for employers in a country where strikes and protests are not uncommon.
The Guardian with a reminder of how quickly capitalism arrived in Myanmar and how the story of exploitation continues to travel along the value chains of garment production in Asia.

It’s not what you know but who: How social relationships shape research impact

An understanding of knowledge systems as fundamentally social has profound implications for the current predominance of technical approaches to evidence-informed development. Unless we can be more cognisant of these social realities when designing and implementing programmes we will never escape the general feeling of frustration shared by donors, researchers and practitioners that turning evidence into action is so hard.
James Georgalakis from IDS for From Poverty to Power. Research impact-it's complicated...if we focus to much on technical aspects of evidence and hope that it informs policy-making we are leaving out social aspects of knowledge sharing. But if we focus too much on those social aspects we may risk that they are hijacked by 'fake news' or other technological aspects that diminish facts and data...

“We’ve Opened Pandora’s Box!” Responding to Unsolicited Feedback

“Big picture” feedback, as it is sometimes called, may appear irrelevant and indiscriminate, but when aggregated and analyzed over time, can provide insights and explanations for strategic issues, contextual appropriateness, or even intended and unintended impacts of programming. While often overshadowed by programmatic issues, this information offers clues that when assembled can create a broader picture of the context in which the agency is working.
For staff on the frontline with communities, responding to and utilizing unsolicited feedback can be seen as arduous, and in some cases, unmanageable. Sentiments of disenfranchisement can also inhibit staff from trying to work with and utilize this type of data. Without processes to capture, analyze, and address unsolicited feedback, staff can feel that the only recourse is to either knowingly provide an unsatisfactory response, or avoid responding completely. During a recent field visit, I watched staffs’ aversion to delivering ‘bad news’ to community members stifle acknowledgement and response practices. In the absence of a feedback system designed to capture and utilize unsolicited feedback, staff felt overwhelmed and unable to manage much of the feedback they received from communities.
Sarah Cechvala for CDA Perspectives on another social aspect of data in the form of unsolicited feedback...if it can't be measured within existing paradigms than it can't be addressed...

Governance and accountability: What role for media?

Politics is made of people. We need to be able to question our leaders so that we can hold them to account. How can media play a role in helping people improve governance and accountability?
BBC Media Action with a Storify of their recent event featuring a recording of the panel discussion, tweets and additional resources!

Instead of Walling Off Englewood, Why Not Copy Bogotá?

Perhaps what’s most impressive about Bogotá and its reduction in homicide is not any one program, but the exceptional breadth of them and the city’s relatively successful commitment to their long-term impact.
The appeal of cordoning off entire neighborhoods with the National Guard is that of a silver bullet, and it’s possible that it could work in the short term—but leaves a fearsome question of what would happen after they leave. A long-term approach is, well, longer, but provides a lasting foundation.
Whet Moser for ChicagoMag. An interesting story about the ever-more difficult distinctions of what 'developing countries' look like and what we consider as global 'North' and 'South' and center or periphery. The US can learn from Colombia!

Not Everyone Is #Blessed to Travel Abroad

My eight-month trip was paid for by two years of disposable income saved from my part-time campus job. Halfway through, I managed to squander all my own money, but I was lucky; my parents swooped in to finance the rest of my journey of self-discovery. Because of them, I was able to continue living my life-transforming, resume-padding life abroad “saving” begging talibé boys in Senegal and teaching English to kids in slums in India. Thanks mom and dad!
In any case, our carefully curated Instagram grids, full of lush Airbnb homes and landscapes with the ever-trendy “fade” filter applied, seldom mention how much the plane ticket to Byron Bay cost or who’s financing our Alternative Break to Myanmar (yes, my parents paid for that too). Instead, we use hashtags like #blessed, #wanderlust, and #35mmfilm and call it a day.
My experience abroad was vastly different from that of my parents’. My parents came to Canada with nothing but the clothes they wore on their backs; when I traveled, not only did I carry a fancy Osprey backpack and a snazzy Nikon camera, but also access to Canadian embassies, as well as the comfort of knowing that when I was bored with “finding myself,” I could always come home.
My father, on the other hand, relinquished his Vietnamese citizenship when he traveled to Canada. He believed in his heart that leaving meant saying goodbye to home forever.
Kim Truong for The Development Set with a great reflective piece on the complexities of traveling abroad as a child of refugee parents. But I still have some questions, outlined on my recent longer essay From impact to transformation: Do-Gooders, Multicolored Saviors and development as lifestyle of how a different background can ensure meaningful transformation and change when traveling our volunteering.

Becky Warnock: The Influence of Colonization on Images of Africa

When I look at them now I view them in a different light. You can see the influence of the NGO imagery that I had seen at home. I did things like take photographs of children, images of things that seemed exotic, and images of poverty. My images at the time seem to focus on visible signs of depravation such as worn clothing, dirty environments, or rural tasks that could appear ‘backward’ from modern technology.
I don’t believe that I was consciously ignoring other images that I saw. But my gaze was seeking out these representations as a way of authenticating my experiences. Similar to the recent controversy that Steve McCurry had photoshopped his images to remove lamp posts and road signs in his images of Cuba and rural India – I was interested in the idea that I had chosen to focus my image making on the aesthetics of poverty.
Whilst I cannot control the socio-political historical factors that I carry as a western, white, female photographer, as the writer and visual culture critic Ariella Azoulay says, I can assert my “right not to be a perpetrator”. I think I will make images again the next time I travel, but perhaps in a different way. I think I will be more conscious of this in planning for my projects- trying to find ways of embedding my participatory practice not just in the way I make images, but also in how they are used and in deciding what they are made for.
Crystaline Randazzo interviews Becky Warnock for NGO Storytelling about her artistic project, her photographic journey in Africa and the ethics of taking pictures to tell a story about 'Africa'.

Our digital lives

Lovewashing is the new greenwashing and it has to stop.

The fashion world has wholeheartedly jumped aboard the love and rainbows train, tapping into the Trump-era anger boiling in our bellies. And as a consumer, we might be fooled into thinking the industry is becoming more progressive, shaking its skinny fist at The Man.
You don't need to lovewash something that was actually made with love. We are proud of what we do, of the women who design, create and craft the clothing we sell. Our work offers a transformative model for women's development. We trust that people can see the difference.
The fashion industry needs to have the guts to look in the mirror, not just to critique the popularly unpopular outside world. We will be the first ones to applaud the industry for standing up for the vulnerable and disenfranchised, if and when they actually do.
Fi for The Fabric Social on how the fashion industry (and other parts of consumer capitalism) are increasingly using 'love' to pretend that they are empowering women and vulnerable communities.

Yes, you can do media conferences without all-male panels

It’s not about the topic of the event or panel either. At our last conference in February, we organised a panel about automation in the newsroom with more women than men on stage. We had a workshop on digital security for journalists led by a woman. You can see the agenda for that event here.
Those fields may be predominantly male, but it wasn’t difficult to find women to invite to share their expertise.
The general rule is that if you can’t think of any women to ask to speak at your event on a particular topic off the top of your head, you need to widen your search.
Catalina Albeanu for with some practical insights on how to achieve a better gender balance at journalistic conferences and events.

Amy Pritchard Asks Again: Where Are the Women, AAPC?

When I first looked at the list of presenters, it was 85% white and 77% male.
Once again I needed to flag what was happening, to bring attention to the fact that when women and people of color are not included, we notice.
Amy Pritchard for Gender Avenger shares her frustrations with American Association of Political Consultants' annual conference.

“Positive thinking” has turned happiness into a duty and a burden, says a Danish psychologist

Mandatory happiness isn’t simply a concern in the workplace. While it makes sense to give a ritualistic “good, thanks” when someone asks how you are in passing, there’s a risk that our positive public faces are increasingly dominating social spheres. After all, while a witty, vivacious atmosphere can be enjoyable, polite positivity shouldn’t prohibit discussion of traumas and crises with close friends.
Tied up in the pressure to be happy is, of course, the self-help craze. Self-help books that purport to teach people how to find happiness could encourage a harmful perspective on emotions, says Brinkmann. The underlying idea that anyone can make herself feel happy implies that unhappy people are to blame for their own misfortune.
Olivia Goldhill for Quartz with a reminder about the happiness industry and its power to individualize collective challenges.

Hot off the digital press

Improving human resource management in development agencies

This report focuses on human resource management (HRM) – the management of people working in these agencies. It argues for the modernisation of a range of HRM policies to ensure the organisational resiliency needed to cope with emergent challenges.
Barbara Nunberg for ODI with a great overview over current HR challenges in the aid industry!

The Datafied Society. Studying Culture through Data

This book critically reflects on the role of data in academia and society and challenges overly optimistic expectations considering data practices as means for understanding social reality. It introduces its readers to the practices and methods for data analysis and visualization and raises questions not only about the politics of data tools, but also about the ethics in collecting, sifting through data, and presenting data research. AUP S17 Catalogue text As machine-readable data comes to play an increasingly important role in everyday life, researchers find themselves with rich resources for studying society. The novel methods and tools needed to work with such data require not only new knowledge and skills, but also a new way of thinking about best research practices.
Mirko Tobias Schäfer and Karin van Es with a new open-access book published by Amsterdam University Press.

The Web as History

This volume argues that now is the time to ask what we have learnt from the Web so far. The 12 chapters explore this topic from a number of interdisciplinary angles – through histories of national web spaces and case studies of different government and media domains – as well as an introduction that provides an overview of this exciting new area of research.
Niels Brügger and Ralph Schroeder with an open access edited volume from UCL Press

Big data and sexual surveillance

This paper highlights the gendered and racialised effects of data practices; outlines the overlapping nature of state, commercial and peer surveillance; and maps the challenges and opportunities women and queers encounter on the nexus between data, surveillance, gender and sexuality.
Vulnerable communities as well as sexual rights activists are at heightened risk of data-driven modes of surveillance. In addition to exposing and addressing algorithmic discriminations, feminist data practices oppose the non-consensual collection of data, amplify participatory data projects that empower women and sexual minorities, and protect the data, privacy and anonymity of activists and the communities they work with.
Nicole Shephard for the Association for Progressive Communications with another interesting paper.


What Do Economists Actually Know?

But there is no way of knowing reliably if the consensus reflects the truth. It may rely instead on the underlying biases of the prosecutors and defendants in the intellectual trial of ideas. Or where they received their PhD degrees. Or the fashionability of certain positions over time as society changes. Unlike product markets where poorly made products are punished by low prices or fewer and fewer consumers, there are no clear feedback loops in the world of academic economics. You can say something that is wrong and the price you pay may be zero. In fact you may be rewarded.
What I am arguing here is that the combination of economics with statistics in a complex world promises a lot more than it delivers. We economists should be more humble and honest about the reliability and precision of statistical analysis.
Russ Roberts with a detailed long-read beyond simple expert-bashing or reclaiming the profession. A lot of it is applicable to many other disciplines as well...

Women miss out on authorship opportunities early on

Previous studies offer a number of further possible explanations: Women fear backlash when they speak up for themselves, they receive lower quality mentoring, or advisers overvalue work done by men. Or perhaps male students are more likely than their female counterparts to do the kind of work that is most likely to lead to authorship. Investigating what the students are doing in the lab and the underlying connections between lab work, gender, and authorship are important next steps, says Jane Stout, director of the Center for Evaluating the Research Pipeline at the Computing Research Association in Washington, D.C.
Regardless of the reasons for the disparity, the data suggest that the disconnect between representation of women at the graduate level and the faculty level may be starting in the lab,
Maggie Kuo for Science with an important review article on gender issues in science publication production and beyond.

Higher education in a failed economy – Students at risk

The economic crisis in Zimbabwe has put women students in a particularly vulnerable position, according to Netsai Marova, a final-year student at the Chinhoyi University of Technology.
“Female students from poor backgrounds end up engaging in prostitution in a bid to secure money to pay fees,” she said.
“Many female students are being forced to find men to stay with in a bid to avoid accommodation costs. Such men usually take sexual advantage of students because of the students' desperation.”
ZINASU claims that small-scale gold miners are taking advantage of financially vulnerable female students in small mining towns where satellite campuses for Great Zimbabwe University and Midlands State University were recently set up.
Zachariah Mushawatu for University World News with a very disturbing account from inside Zimbabwe's failing state and higher education system.

Endless dispossession: looking at Mexico through David Harvey’s gaze

Seeing Mexico through David Harvey’s eyes, we can conclude that the making of a more just, fair and equal society cannot be reduced to any dogma. In the liminal spaces of dispossession, creative ways of living within and outside capitalism can be seen. In Mexico, those opposing dispossession are finding ways to build larger movements together. Through this organisation, several initiatives have been created. For example, the Campaign for the Defence of Mother Earth and the Territory, is attempting to shed light to the struggles of many Mexican organisations and towns, which oppose the commodification of land and natural resources. By questioning and resisting one of the basic dynamics of capitalism, the appropriation of resources (Moore, 2015), these movements point to a different way of being in the world, based not on death and dispossession, but on life and the collective production of a fairer society.
J. Alejandro De Coss-Corzo for Alternautas. Not an easy read, but time well spent for interesting connections between academic theory and development(s) in Mexico.


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