Links & Contents I Liked 239

Hi all,

I'm at a workshop about communication for development in the context of Germany today hosted by the University of Leipzig. There should be plenty of material for a blog post next week!

In the meantime, enjoy your weekly link digest with plenty of interesting readings for the weekend!

Development news: New challenges for UN peacekeeping; Louise Linton marries; key trends in humanitarian funding; British Red Cross received a lot of useless 'stuff'; Colombia's gold rush revisited; tax avoidance & illicit flows; UN struggles with open data-one pdf at the time; even the Guardian falls into white savior trap; Helen Clark hit the glass ceiling; the limits (and opportunities) of 'small is beautiful'; a long read on Bridge academies; spatial analysis in Madagascar; the impact of edutainment; the geography of humanitarian knowledge; the future of evaluation; photographing Afghanistan; remembering a priest from Nicaragua.

Our digital lives: Reuters Institute Digital News report; being without a phone in South Africa; the rise of the thought leader; looking after yourself; practicing intentionality.

Publications: A review of digital initiatives to support refugees in Berlin & Germany.

Academia: A tweet storm about social media & academic communication; a long-read on the origins of today's extremely profitable academic journal industry.

Development news

Congo peacekeepers to leave CAR amid sex abuse allegations
The UN said the review of the Congo-Brazzaville deployment found "the nature and extent of existing allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse, in their totality, point to systemic problems in command and control".
"These problems have also been compounded by issues related to the preparedness, overall discipline, maintenance of contingent-owned equipment, and logistical capacity of these troops," it added.
BBC News with a sad example of what happens when you cut corners in UN peacekeeping...

A “white savior” memoirist widely mocked in Africa has married Trump’s treasury secretary
Linton’s memoir about her surprisingly harrowing gap year in peaceful Zambia, “In Congo’s Shadow: One girl’s perilous journey to the heart of Africa,” was ridiculed by Zambians and the literary world for relying on untruths and cliches, with some comparing her to the satirical Instagram creation White Savior Barbie. The self-published book has since been withdrawn from Amazon. Yet, the hashtag #LintonLies hasn’t affected Linton’s career—unsurprising in the current White House.
Lynsey Chutel for Quartz with a lighter contribution to this week's review-and a reminder that Linton's book on 'development' will forever be linked to her name...

Humanitarian funding: What were 2016’s key trends?

While humanitarian grants do play a vital and principled role, they are not the right tool to tackle the underlying risks, causes and long-term consequences of crisis that these ‘left behind’ populations face. This demands a much fuller toolkit, which we begin to map out in the GHA report – one which contains everything from insurance to contingency funding and long-term concessional loans. Understanding these and other instruments, and tracking how much is going where and how, is crucial for effective, context-specific responses. So, as the minutiae of Grand Bargain commitments are negotiated, those who care about saving and improving lives also need to become adept at watching this bigger picture.
Sophia Swithern for Development Initiatives. Last week I included a link to the report and this is a good narrative summary.

British Red Cross to sell excess clothes donated after Grenfell Tower fire

The charity says it has 40,000 excess boxes of donations, some of which will be available for Grenfell families, some of which will be sold through its shops and some of which will be sold for recycling
Rebecca Cooney for Third Sector with a reminder that generosity in times of crisis is a great idea-and that donating/sending 'stuff' rarely is a good way to support charitable efforts...

Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda face US sanction after used clothes ban

The move follows a decision by the six-nation East African Community – Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania and South Sudan – to fully ban imported second-hand clothes and shoes by 2019, arguing it would help member countries boost domestic clothes manufacturing.
Africa News with a coincidentally related story, because a lot of donated, used clothes will end up in 'Africa'...

After the Gold Rush: Colombian Town Counts Cost of Illegal Mining Boom

Buriticá has had a taste of gold, and how the riches it provides carry their own price to be paid. But there is no going back, not when the secret is out. One of the richest gold deposits on the continent lurks just beneath the surface. And if the Buritiqueños do not exploit it, then the outsiders, whether in the form of a multinational company, mafia mining magnates or young miners with little regard for even their own futures, will.
James Bargent for Insight Crime reports from Colombia with a an updated story of a mining town and the lure of gold that is much, much older.

Corporations secretly lobbying UN to allow tax avoidance in its anti-poverty agenda

Now, say advocates of transparency and global tax reforms, it appears that many large corporations, with the backing of the International Monetary Fund, are pushing the U.N. to alter its definition of “illicit flows” to only limit illegal activities and ignore legal means corporations avoid paying taxes.
Tom Murphy for the Humanosphere with another reminder that corporations talk the talk about 'development', but try to avoid walking the walk when it comes to issues that really matter and go beyond CSR and high-level window-dressing.

Two cheers for UN transparency

PDF files are readable to the naked eye, but stripping the formatting and layout to get to the words and numbers on the page often results in messy data. Aidan McGuire, of SensibleCode, which runs an online service to convert large PDF tables, says that for open data, PDF is “not an ideal format and should be avoided”. (IRIN has used the service on this and other PDF documents).
PDFs may attract scorn from open data advocates – they’re known sometimes as “data graveyards”, but choosing a format and type of report depends on who the audience is. The ASR report may be trying to be too many things to too many people, according to Simons. National government officials in aid-recipient countries may be well-served with narrative reports in PDF format, but NGO and civil society users often want the ability to sift and analyse data, he explained. UNOPS confirmed the report had a “wide audience with different needs and demands”.
Another loophole is that vendors can be anonymised at the discretion of the UN agency – more than $1.7 billion of contracts have an “unspecified” vendor. Tens of millions also have the vendor withheld for security reasons – a legitimate practice in high-risk countries.
UN managers may not relish opening their books so that civil society and journalists can pick holes in their spending.
Ben Parker for IRIN with an important reminder that 'open data' is often easier said than done and that organizations, even if they have the best intentions, may end up producing yet another 'pdf graveyard'; making data open and accessible requires effort, time-and resources, especially when the data is supposed to serve different audiences with different needs.

In a Guardian Story About an Environmental Conflict in Kenya, the White Saviour Rides Again

Isn't it interesting that there are wonderful empty places in this beautiful Kenya waiting for someone to fall in love with them? That you can land in a place you have never been, where “falling in love” gets you 88,000 acres of prime ranch land? The casual erasure of the colonial violence that made Gallman's acquisition possible, and the human and social cost of it, is striking.
This is not to say that the conflict in Laikipia is not complex, or that there are easy answers. Climate change is leading to more frequent and more punishing droughts. Add the mix of demographic pressures and politics is an explosive one. But we have to tell the story right. Framing the conflict as between a noble conservation queen and a savage mob of impoverished locals is not only irresponsible and cruel. It is also simply not the truth.
Christine Mungai for Global Voices with a reminder that global media, including the Guardian, need to listen to more 'global voices' in their reporting...

What is really going on within ‘shrinking civil society space’ and how should international actors respond?

Behind all this there was an underlying anxiety that framing all this as the ‘global civil society crackdown’ could be somehow overly Western. I have yet to see a comprehensive ‘Voices of the Poor’ type piece of research that asks different forms of civil society (including CSOs but also grassroots organizations, sports club supporters, cultural groups, faith organizations) how they see the current threats and opportunities, but one participant described the feedback his organization received as ‘you frame this too negatively – there are huge opportunities in disruption as well as negatives’.
As for how to respond:
Big focus on the limitations of global narratives. Problems and solutions are deeply local, with INGOs and other outsiders having only a limited role (and having to be careful about their actions making matters worse – eg by highlighting the aid dependence of their local partners). Outsiders need to make it a priority to canvass the opinions of and be led by local civil society organizations, and be cautious about launching into generic global campaigns.
Duncan Green for From Poverty to Power highlights one of the challenges that most 'global reports' face that feel the pressure to present key 'take away points', yet analyze a vastly complex phenomenon that is as much local as it it global.

Can a Tech Start-Up Successfully Educate Children in the Developing World?

All the teachers I spoke to appreciated the regular paycheck. But they chafed at how they were managed, often by unseen bosses communicating with them via text or robocall. Some Bridge staff members described what they saw as a stark contrast between their hopes for Bridge and a grittier reality. One school administrator, an academy manager, described how the pressure to ensure that parents made their payments on time was disheartening. ‘‘I didn’t realize how hard it would be to talk to parents,’’ he said. ‘‘They’re ill, they’re out of work, they had a fire. No one is in the house who’s making any money. How can they pay when they have no money for food?’’ And working at Bridge, teachers said, can disrupt a career: Instructors are required to sign an employment agreement that includes a noncompete clause that prevents them from working at other nearby schools for a year after they leave.
Peg Tyre for the New York Times with a long-read that takes a nuanced look at Bridge academies in Liberia and Kenya. I don't think it's sufficient to answer the question in the title with 'it's complicated' or 'it's too early to tell with certainty'. The bigger question is whether 'more education', a mantra many organizations follow, can really lead to more employment, a brighter future and social transformation in an uncertain labor market on the verge of the 'digital revolution'.

Helen Clark: I hit my first glass ceiling at the UN

“I won the public vote, I won the social media scene, I won the staff votes – all of that, but it didn’t matter at all,” says Clark pragmatically, without bitterness. “Clearly, the security council wasn’t looking for someone like me, from a small, independent-minded country, having been an independent-minded leader, who looks at the evidence and makes decisions accordingly.
“That’s fine. That’s the outcome.” Clark’s experience of the process is the subject of a documentary, My Year with Helen, that screened last weekend as part of the Sydney film festival.
Elle Hunt's interview with Helen Clark for The Guardian somehow escaped my initial attention, but it's well worth the read now, of course!

Small is beautiful. Small is also, er, small.

Were the civil rights, feminist or LGBT movements seeded by small grants? What about democracy or human rights movements overseas? Can small grants really make a big difference? I’d like to see more evidence. That said, putting money and power into the hands of poor people and communities makes more sense than the old-school, top-down approaches. The bottom-up style of grant-making has also influenced others in philanthropy to become better listeners, so that today’s clean-water or cookstove projects are more likely to succeed than past efforts. Supporting grass-roots groups also strikes me as more likely to be effective than starting yet another NGO or “social enterprise.”
Marc Gunther for reviews 'Smart Risks' for Nonprofit Chronicles.

Please Use Spatial Analysis And Stop Asking People to Walk All Day

CRS Madagascar contacted the spatial analysis company ESRI, to estimate walking times for project constituents to figure out where they could better place food distribution. ESRI estimated walking times based on steepness, streams, and walking speed in different conditions.
This process created a distance map that told CRS where were the best sites to place food distribution. New locations were based on an optimal walking distance that was no more than 5 kilometers for most participants. Once CRS moved the distribution location based on walk times (not proximity to roads as most of us do), they recorded a 30 percent increase in participation.
Kathryn Clifton for ICTworks on using digital tools for real impact.

Ten concepts everyone in ICT4D should know

These particular concepts have helped me not only to frame problems in a particular lens, but to also guide the process for how to move forward. Or just fun conversation.
Gabriel Krieshok with an excellent overview over 10 ICT4D core themes-definitely bookmarked for my teaching next semester!

The rise of edutainment: taking stock of the evidence

Victor Orozco, a World Bank economist deeply involved with a multi-partner evaluation of MTV Shuga, has come to praise edutainment as one of the most cost-effective ways of getting people to do things differently. Conducted in Nigeria with 5,000 young people, the evaluation found that those who had watched the show in community screenings were twice as likely to go for an HIV test half a year later. Viewers were 43% more likely to think that HIV is a punishment for having multiple partners. Among women, chlamydia infections dropped by 58%.
However, the study also highlighted that viewers felt sympathy for a character who committed domestic violence. This finding demonstrates the importance of media development organisations systematically checking audience responses to their programmes.
Sonia Whitehead for BBC Media Action on the impact of edutainment programs.

Conversations: the Future of Development Evaluation

In development banks, the appraisal of projects should include a comparison of the proposed solution with alternative options. Only: in practice that hardly ever happens. And, I do believe that an update to the evaluation criteria could incentivize the evaluation practice to address issues of importance to decision-makers. For instance, an evaluation that would evolve from an assessment of project relevance in its policy context to one that produces evidence whether the most impactful development challenge was addressed – as suggested in our blog series – would be a step towards answering questions in a more complex and uncertain world.
The World Bank's Caroline Heider and OECD's Hans Lundgren talk about the future of evaluation.

In the Light of the Conflict: Photographer Andrew Quilty’s experience in Afghanistan

I do not think of myself as a huge risk taker. A lot of planning goes into travel outside Kabul: we do not just jump in a taxi and head for the hills. I was inexperienced and a bit ignorant in Badakhshan, and probably pushed my luck more than I would these days. Now, working with colleagues, I’m often the one who questions going here or there and often I’ll be the one telling journalists to wrap up their interviews because it feels like we have been in one place too long; but at the same time, I think I have a better sense of what is reasonable risk than someone sitting behind the desk in New York, or London, or even Kabul. It is something you can only learn from experience, and I trust my instincts and those of most of my colleagues on that.
Then Zahra and her mother kneeled by the grave, it was probably more confronting, for me, than when I took the picture of their dead father and husband on the operating table in the ruins of the hospital. Photographing children in pain, I find, is the hardest thing to see. And it’s so intrusive to be that close in moments like this. I suppose I try to diminish myself – make myself small and quiet, take the minimum number of photographs necessary.
Jelena Bjelica portraits Andrew Quilty for the Afghanistan Analysts Network.

The Geography of Knowledge in Humanitarian Action

For example, know-why is essential to humanitarian action as it tries to understand the causality of things like why people are hungry or sick, why violence is taking certain forms and why people are displaced. Know-who is important if humanitarians are to understand who is affected, who is responsible, who is vulnerable and who is capable. Know-that in humanitarian action is the base knowledge of certain facts, particular humanitarian disciplines and the laws and rights that govern armed conflict and displacement. Know-how represents the art of practice in humanitarian action – the skills, practices and expertise which help to protect, assist and respect the human being in extremis. All these different types of knowledge come together to form humanitarian knowledge – a body of knowledge that is the opposite of ignorance in humanitarian action.
Hugo Slim's short Keynote Address at the Launch of the CERAH Encyclopaedia of Humanitarian Action.

A Hero and a Priest
But many remember him as a principled advocate for downtrodden nations throughout the world, unafraid to seize the floor of aloof international bodies to advance local struggles. This readiness to repurpose imperial institutions in the service of anticolonial objectives was on full display in 1986, when he had faced down the United States in international court — and won.
Jonah Walters for Jacobin with a reminder about how differently 'development' was discussed in the 1980s-and how modern day 'celebrities' have replaced bottom-up revolutionaries...

Our digital lives

Interviews with Brilliant Women: Mary Ann Clements

Add the fact that in INGOs and NGOs there are usually more women employed in the first place – although, despite all the proclamations and commitments to women’s rights – often there are still more senior men – and you begin to see a pattern where our change making sectors are actually reliant on woman working over-hard and not thinking too much about their own needs. There is irony here of course as many of our organisations also work on women’s rights but working on these things at a distance without really thinking about the radical things we could do internally to make these commitments a reality is an example of the values disconnect I was talking about. Where our values are not being fully lived and that again contributes to burnout and a sense of frustration for us, for staff, in not-for-profit organisations.
Mary Ann Clements for Hermosas Chispas on looking after you as an aid worker and human being.

Me, My Phone and I? - guest post by Shari Thanjan

My time in the field and comparison with my own phone really made me realize, that even though statistic screams that South Africa has 100% mobile penetration, it is not even so. South Africa is a majority poor country. Yet, although there are many mobile interventions deriving from policy, pushed into South African programmes, it seems that end user was not considered, basically, the people of South Africa. In almost every interview I did, or people I met throughout fieldwork could not afford the phones imagined for the mobile interventions.Going back to my drama, my fieldwork really showed me that a phone is not everything, and one can actually live a happy content life without it.
Shari Thanjan for Media Africa on how losing a phone can lead to a winning auto-ethnographic reflections ;)!

The Rise of the Thought Leader

The idea of “disruptive innovation” caught fire in Silicon Valley, Drezner argues, because it “conformed to a plutocratic worldview in which success favors the bold, risk-taking entrepreneur.” Atop this enthusiasm, Christensen built a lucrative brand, producing eight books and founding the Forum for Growth and Innovation at Harvard, his own consulting company, and a boutique investment firm.In 2014, however, nearly two decades after Christensen debuted disruptive innovation in the Harvard Business Review, historian Jill Lepore eviscerated the theory in a widely read essay in The New Yorker. Lepore found that Christensen’s case studies were ambiguous and overblown:
What intellectuals need is the same as what everyone else needs: a society that prioritizes human flourishing over private profit, and strong political networks that guard public goods against the prophets of an atomized, high-tech future.
David Sessions reviews Dan Drezner's book for New Republic

“It’s Not Magic; It’s Intentionality”: Janis Reischmann Talks About Her Reflective Practices with Mark Sedway
Why do you think reflective practice is important to philanthropy practitioners generally?
JR: It helps us gain insight into what we’re doing and what we need to pay attention to. It’s not magic. It’s intentionality. When we were planning the reflective practice workshop, I took the concept to my book club of women who have worked with funders. From their experiences working with funders, they were really excited about it for organizations, not just individuals. How do you move philanthropic organizations to a state of reflection? We can be so full of ourselves and oblivious. It’s the failing of our field. How do we listen better, reflect on what’s working and what’s not, get out of our protective place, and recognize that our voice isn’t the only one in the room?
Mark Sedway talk to Janis Reischmann for Philanthrophy's Reflective Practices-excellent food for thought for impatient academics, too ;)!
Hot off the digital press
Digital Routes to Integration

Scores of innovative digital projects were created to coordinate this engagement and support the process of refugee integration. Two years one we asked – what has happened to these projects? And what potential do digital approaches have for refugee integration? This report is a product of our research, comprising 78 interviews with digital projects, refugees and volunteers.
New report by Ben Mason, Lavinia Schwedersky and Akram Alfawakheeri for Better Place Lab.
The biggest question for me after skimming through the report is how dependent all of this, albeit excellent work, is on Berlin as a city and 'space'. How can innovations (on a similar scale) happen outside the few urban hubs in Germany and Europe? There's also a RCT study waiting to happen, comparing migrants in Berlin who did/ did not receive support with other groups outside that hub. To put it a bit more provocatively: What kind (if any) of 'filter bubble' is Berlin and how does it affect innovation-and will it lead to social transformation in a city that is notorious for its shortage of jobs in certain segments of the labor market?


This is a great conversation from Twitter: 

Is the staggeringly profitable business of scientific publishing bad for science?
But history shows that betting against science publishers is a risky move. After all, back in 1988, Maxwell predicted that in the future there would only be a handful of immensely powerful publishing companies left, and that they would ply their trade in an electronic age with no printing costs, leading to almost “pure profit”. That sounds a lot like the world we live in now.
Stephen Buranyi for The Guardian with his long read. He is re-visiting the debate on high scientific journal publisher profits and how their paywalls limit access to scientific knowledge; his historical excursion is quite interesting, linking the foundations of today's model to the rise of a publishing mogul during the Thatcher years of economic transformation.


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