Links & Contents I Liked 226

Hi all,

A busy week wrapped up with a fresh book review and the Friday link collage!

Development news:
Why do expats earn more than locals? Southern online workers (also) get a rough deal; advice on development career starts; Niger Delta suffocating in oil; how dangerous was Zika? More on chickens & cash; Comic Relief needs to become political; gendered leadership gap; the irony of accessing the humanitarian ICT forum remotely; burnout in the field.

Our digital lives:
Facebook fundraiser individualize risk & support; do-good capitalism is a lie; AI misinformation epidemic; #NakedDiplomacy

Academia: Female sessional instructors’ heavy gender toll; Elsevier & Dutch open access; can universities have local and global engagement?


New from aidnography

Failing in the field (book review)

And while the short and very well written text provides some practical insights into how to learn from failure in development field research, the further along the book I read, the uneasier I grew about some of the underlying discourses of the book.
First and foremost, the book is about randomized controlled trials (RCTs), surely the authors’ expertise, and at no point in the book is the view on field research broadened.
At the same time, this is the biggest achievement of the book as a conversation starter about better and good enough field research and doing a research job ethically and well.
Failing in the field is a great primer for students and non-academic researchers who are embarking on the exciting journey of data collection and fieldwork. But while getting research design and implementation right, we should remember not leave the ‘the field’ to the political scientists and economists alone ;)!
Development news
Secret aid worker: Why do expats earn more than the rest of us?

Is it hypocritical for an aid agency to come to a developing country looking to improve local lives, yet economically discriminate against local staff within their organisation? Or is there a line that separates extremely poor citizens targeted as beneficiaries from the average working citizen? Are their needs, such as equal treatment in the workplace, irrelevant?
This week's Secret Aid Worker column for the Guardian Development Professional network went viral as the comments below the piece and for example on the 50 shades of aid work facebook group show. My 2 cents:
I wish the article was bit more nuanced; we can oppose expat aid workers as a matter of principle, but let's focus on the current reality. Expat aid workers are embedded in a different, secondary financial economy-including pension, insurance, mortgages at home and financial burden of temporary placements-many aid workers do not have generous UN or diplomatic moving allowances. Many local staff in the 'back office' also work closer to regular 40-45 hours per week, many expats work more hours (there are variations, of course). So comparing both groups 1:1 is tricky. I agree on benefits in addition to salaries, travel allowances, schooling support etc. for local staff and a tougher discussion on 'standards of living'; again, many expat NGO workers probably live less privileged lives-and then again, UN workers and diplomats are always part of an elite-whether you are an EU citizen working in Africa or an African citizen working in Geneva and New York. So there should be a more nuanced discussion on absolute and relative privilege, salaries and other financial commitments, rather than focusing on the 36K 12 day consultancy (I want once of those ;) )

Online workers get a rough deal

Now a study of online workers in the developing world has found there are far more people seeking work than there are jobs available, which drives pay downwards.
But over two-thirds of respondents said that “gig” earnings were important to their household income. And over half said their work involved complex tasks – a sign of stimulating work. Some said they preferred it to working in a business outsourcing setting, such as a call centre.
Graham told the meeting that “platforms give little back in the way of taxes but make use of a nation’s resources”. He called for more thought to be given to regulation, market-based solutions modelled on fair trade organisations and new ways of approaching labour rights.
Aisling Irwin for with more insights from global capitalism and the growing gig economy.

Advice for international development careers: 6 points (and a few sub-points) for graduating seniors

Let’s assume you’re smart, talented, hard-working. You’ve traveled a bit and you think you know how the world works. I have some terrible news for you. The problem isn’t even that you’re wrong in what you know. The problem is that the world is infinitely more complex and nuanced than you imagine. Your knowledge is correct, but it barely scratches the surface. That will always be the case. Never forget it. Stay humble and stay hungry.
Dave Algoso should blog more ;)! A great overview over some recurring career questions!

A country suffocating in oil

After half a century of rampant oil extraction, the Niger Delta is one of the most polluted places in the world. The oil companies’ pipelines are outdated and rebels keep blowing up the pipes. A battle has erupted over oil – and it is taking away thousands’ of people’s water.
Christian Putsch with a multi-media story for Germany's WELT.

Why Didn't Zika Cause A Surge In Microcephaly In 2016?

"Misdiagnosis is a reasonable hypothesis. But it's not clear that this explanation accounts for the whole story," says Ko, an epidemiologist, who is studying mothers and babies born with Zika in the northeast part of Brazil.
Ko think's there's another possible explanation: When a pregnant woman contracts Zika, that might not be enough to cause microcephaly in all cases. In other words, Zika might not be working alone.
Since the surge in Brazil's microcephaly cases in 2015, many scientists began to wonder whether a second virus could be involved. Maybe another infection combines with Zika to make the disease worse and increase the risk of birth defects.
Michaeleen Doucleef for NPR's Goats & Soda with an update about the impact of Zika-and a reminder how complex 'epidemics' can be-and how little we know about the interplay of various factors around viruses.

Getting Kinky with Chickens

In all of those conversations with friends, colleagues, policy makers, and students all kinds of difficult and pressing development questions have arisen that research could address. Never, ever, ever has “chickens versus cash” arisen as an issue at all, much less as the remotely possible “best investment” in research.
Lant Pritchett from Center for Global Development weighs in on the responses to Bill Gates' chicken for development proposal.

Africa deserves better from Comic Relief

It shouldn’t be afraid to talk about the triumphs of African nations as much as it does their challenges, even if those successes aren’t always the result of western charity. Comic Relief retains a narrow perspective that fails to convey the bigger picture of progress in the continent, which is that life expectancies are up by over 10% in 37 African states
Those that want to hide in the sanctuary of the charity’s “non-political” status should ask what solutions aren’t political when famines never take place in a functioning democracy.
Comic Relief should have higher expectations of itself and its audience – we can still be charitable even when the message is laden with politics.
David Lammy for Guardian's Comment is free section wants traditional giving and charity be become more political and discuss structural developments-both positive and negative-rather than just raising money 'for children'.

The gendered leadership gap and the humanitarian sector

Leadership equality isn’t about simply having the same number of women and men in positions at the top or in the organisational structure, it is about ensuring that there is equal opportunity for both women and men to get there – and that when they do, they are equally supported, valued and remunerated.
Ayla Black for the DevPolicy blog summarizes key debates around women and aid leadership.

The end of the 'humanitarian' enterprise?

One of the key questions from the WHS is how does the humanitarian community make the Grand Bargain a reality? The Grand Bargain’s purpose is to leverage off the diverse expertise and experience of the global humanitarian community so we can anticipate and prepare for a crisis. The Grand Bargain’s core is the need to ‘work together efficiently, transparently and harmoniously with new and existing partners...’ so we can deliver assistance and protection to the world’s most vulnerable. Is this possible to achieve if the worlds super powers are continuing to ignore the necessity of foreign aid and working collaboratively to achieve global peace and security?
Joseph Camilleri with a reminder of how much and how quickly the rhetoric of a 'grand bargain' has been sidelined by the politics of 2016 and 2017...

A new case must be made for aid. It rests on three legs.

A nuanced discussion of aid matters because a hurricane is threatening the consensus on international development. The crisis of faith in globalisation threatens to disrupt traditional routes to growth and poverty reduction, especially via labour intensive manufacturing, supported by free trade. Automation and the deployment of robots will disrupt and restructure the global jobs market. And the imperative of climate action, in all countries, will reconfigure markets and prices around the world. Aid had better be ready to deal with these: to take on future challenges, not relive those of the past.
Simon Maxwell guest writes for From Poverty to Power. Another interesting think-piece, but I wish there was a bit more diversity when it comes to the authors of such reflections...

A Remote Look at the Humanitarian ICT Forum

However, I cannot help but be a little disappointed in how poorly this meeting was geared towards people attending remotely. While, from what I have seen, the conference was blessedly free of Powerpoint presentations it would have been nice to have slightly more supporting material for people who could not be there in person.
Timo Luege with a reminder that many organizers need to do better in including the virtual audience-and in the case of Google that seems particularly ironic...

Burnout in the Field

I read somewhere that burnout occurs when passionate, committed people become deeply disillusioned with a job or career that has previously provided them with identity and meaning. This work has defined me for nearly a decade.
I have spent my entire working life chasing after opportunities, jumping into new job after new job and spending a lot of time in difficult places with significant responsibility. Stuck on a base, often working late, an early evening curfew, and sleeping just a few metres away from your office, you have no choice but for this to become your life. As a result, your personal life back home suffers and, as it can feel, your sanity.
There’s no ‘cure’ exactly, for burnout, but the good thing is it can take just a short time to recover if you put the right things in place.
Emily Gilbert for MSF. Why aren't there more aid organization that encourage this kind of reflective and critical engagement with the industry?!?

Our digital lives
Facebook's fundraisers now help you raise money for yourself and friends

But to stick to social good, the new personal fundraisers can only span six categories: education (like tuition and books), medical (like procedures and treatments), pet medical, crisis relief (like natural disasters), personal emergency (like house fires or theft), and funeral and loss. As the product rolls out, however, Facebook hopes to include more categories and evolve them over time.
Matt Petronzio for Mashable. To me, this seems the perfect American solution to individualizing risk and outsourcing systemic issues to 'the crowd'. Why should the school board pay for Mrs Adam's books (one of the screenshots) when 'the community' can do it as well? And don't buy insurance (or maybe you won't qualify for it)-your garage catches fire and you ask your 'friends' to fix it...also very disturbing in terms of transparency: "Hi 798 facebook friends, my mum is really sick and I need to see her but can't pay for my ticket because I just lost my job-can you help?"

“Do-Good” Exploitation

This kind of rhetoric reveals the seedy underbelly of “benevolent” capitalism. When capitalists play the do-good card to squeeze more performance and loyalty out of their employees, and then conveniently cite business necessities when it benefits them, then doing good becomes little more than their latest exploitative tool.
But Agrawal’s rhetoric also reveals the inherent conflict between the needs of companies and the needs of workers. And that is the structural reality of capitalism, no matter how personally altruistic individual capitalists might be.
Sarah Ngu for Jacobin with an important reminder to always question the latest wave of 'do-gooding', philanthropic, Silicon Valley-style capitalism!

The AI Misinformation Epidemic

This pairing of interest with ignorance has created a perfect storm for a misinformation epidemic. The outsize demand for stories about AI has created a tremendous opportunity for impostors to capture some piece of this market. When founding Approximately Correct, I lamented that too few academics possessed either the interest or the talent for both expository writing and for addressing social issues. And on the other hand, too few journalists possess the technical strength to relate developments in machine learning to the public faithfully. As a result, there are not enough voices engaging the public in the non-sensational way that seems necessary now. Unfortunately, the paucity of clear and informed voices has not resulted in a silent media. Instead, the void has been filled by charlatans, bombarding the public with incessant misinformation, much of it spread by opportunists, eager to seize upon the public’s interest.
Zachary C. Lipton for Approximately Correct with a preview of his critical writing on the tech-industrial bubble speak 'something with robots' industry.

#NakedDiplomacy in a Changing World

With regard to the use of technology and social media for the resolution of today's armed conflicts Tom cautioned against hyper-optimism. The Iran deal was not tweeted live, traditional diplomacy carries on far away from the screen. Where social media can be very important is in mobilising public constituencies behind peace which then forces elites to make compromise. On balance we can remain positive as each time there has been a technological leapforward in the quality of democracy this has promoted coexistence and reduced conflict.
Guy Banim introduces a interesting new book by Tom Fletcher.

She’s Hot: Female Sessional Instructors, Gender Bias, and Student Evaluations

While I can’t provide recommendations about what kind of system should replace student evaluations, what I can say is that based on the feedback that I’ve received and conversations I’ve had with other female instructors, gender bias in the classroom, and academia, is a serious problem that needs to be addressed openly, with honesty and compassion. Not only do these biases end careers, but they also deprive students of superb instructors.
Andrea Eidinger for Active History with an detailed criticism of the gendered implications of student evaluations.

How Elsevier plans to sabotage Open Access

A mere € 232.40 per open access article might seem like a fairly good price for an open access article, but there is more. The ‘pilot’ comes with major restrictions on who can publish where.
The first requirement is that the corresponding author, typically the first or last author on a paper, should be affiliated with a Dutch institute. A fair requirement perhaps, for this is a Dutch deal, but not very open minded for a multinational such as Elsevier. Also this restriction is anything but accommodating for researchers working in international partnerships.The second devil is in the seemingly long list of details: the journal titles eligible for open access.
Sicco de Knecht for Hackernoon dissects the recent open access deal between Elsevier and Dutch academia. In the end, it is just another source of revenue for the big players and most unlikely to change any mindsets and business models.

Can universities be locally and globally engaged?

concerning university policies there are at least two communities and they don’t come together, they don’t even talk to each other.
We tried with the report to bring together the global community and the competitiveness community. These are two separate sets of academics and politicians and we have tried from the beginning to have this mix in every chapter. But I must confess that they had different opinions and did not reach a common view. That is interesting in itself. People – researchers of higher education – are studying universities and university policies from each perspective and coming together as a community but not talking to the other community.
It shows how difficult it will be to attain the dual engagement we are talking about. There is a dominance in the day-to-day work of universities of local demands. They are on the table of rectors every day, the demands of society. So that is prevailing and the discourse about the global needs, if there, is present in a softer way.
It should not be like this. And that is why our final conclusion is making a call to universities to include the global perspective in their mission, not just bring it into their day-to-day work, but into the definition of their work.
Brendan O'Malley talks to Francesc Xavier Grau for University World News. An interesting discussion that reminds me to some extent of similar ones in the aid industry: Why should 'we' give to 'them' when we also have needs here...?!?


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