Links & Contents I Liked 258

Hi all,

Not much to report-the first part of the semester is done and lost of assignments are ready for reading and grading...

Development news: Humanitarian Evidence Week; Red Cross fraud in West Africa; why development finance institutions use tax havens; failed infrastructure projects in Ghana; local aid workers in Kenya; Oxfam & the aid industry's sexual harassment problem; how to fix Afghanistan? Inside Eritrea; Thousand Currents; Bright Magazine; development economics research; using social media for development research.

Our digital lives: The social cost of digital disruption in Nigeria; sexist travel Instagram.

Local aid workers in the Philippines.

Academia: Developing countries & predatory publishing; tech adoption in the classroom; open access fosters engagement.


New from aidnography

Development news
Gathering evidence on the diversity of humanitarian “languages”

From November 7th to 12th, you will discover, three times a day, initial evidence on the variation of terms used in humanitarian action. Based on an analysis of the geographical, sectoral and organisational diversity of actors intervening in crisis contexts, we will explore how this diversity is reflected in the way different groups of actors conceptualise humanitarianism.
The Humanitarian Encyclopedia with a range of interesting posts to mark Humanitarian Evidence Week.

Red Cross reports major fraud during West Africa Ebola outbreak

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has reported that as much as $6 million (5 million euros) may have been lost to fraud during the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
Sertan Sanderson for DW. Yes, fraud is always terrible-but a 5% loss seems neither totally unreasonable nor different from other industries I would imagine. Quite the opposite, the Pentagon would probably be happy if only 5% of its money was used in a fraudulent way...

Why Development Finance Institutions Use Tax Havens

The lack of evidence around the tax impact of using offshore vehicles is a thorny problem. The question of whether poor countries are deprived of tax revenues cannot be answered without specifying a realistic alternative, and that requires more than data—it requires informed but subjective judgements. But if it is wrong to ask DFIs to stop using tax havens, it is right to ask them to do more to enable public scrutiny of those investments. DFIs must invest effort into defining the tax implications of the offshore structures they use, and make that information public.
Paddy Carter for the Center for Global Development with an interesting addition to the #ParadisePaper debate and the complexities behind single and simple narratives of tax avoidance. But will there ever be enough 'good evidence' on this issue or is it better to reform offshore tax rules because it leaves aid organizations vulnerable to public critique?

Unfinished development projects in Ghana: Mechanising collective choice

The political economy of public service delivery is more complex than just corruption or the who-gets-what of distributive politics. It concerns collective decision-making in governments and the institutional structures and processes that shape it. While the example of unfinished infrastructure is a highly visible outcome of these interactions, it is far from the only one. Better understanding the relationship between these political and institutional forces is a task for reformers and researchers alike.
Martin J. Williams for VoxDev presents new research on infrastructure projects in Ghana.

Why a commonly held idea of what aid workers are like fails to tell the full story

Commitment and sacrifice, words so often associated with aid work, have different meanings in the context of nationals who are struggling to support their families as well as fulfil personal ideals and values.
In a country where swathes of the population still live below the poverty line, Kenyans do not have the same choices as many of their expatriate counterparts. This is an issue of concern to many other national aid workers in the global south. And this is reflected also, unfortunately, in the way aid organisations themselves treat their national staff.
The aid sector’s increased recognition of these disparities, and commitments to change, are encouraging; but this recognition needs to trickle down to field level so that all personnel have greater understanding of, and sympathy for, the specific challenges faced by national staff.
Gemma Houldey for The Conversation on local aid workers in Kenya.

Aid workers warn of 'cooling effect' after Oxfam sexual harassment scandal

Aid workers also called for tougher sanctions on perpetrators and tougher measures put in place to prevent staff from being allowed to leave their jobs before investigations are complete, something a number of those who spoke to Devex said is widely known to happen.
“I’d also like organizations to be required to document and keep records of perpetrators who resign and leave before a disciplinary process is concluded. I think there is a massive amount of this and it means there is nothing on their record about what they do,” the gender-based violence specialist told Devex.
However, for Mazurana, the fact that Oxfam has pursued seven cases against country managers is a sign of progress. Her research made clear that sexual harassment and abuse happens “at the highest levels” within aid organizations, and that getting senior leadership to change will be integral to shifting the culture.
“Good for [Oxfam] for taking a good look at the senior leadership … because what we see in our reports is it’s going on at the highest level and that’s exactly where you need to be looking,” she said.
Sophie Edwards for DevEx with a comprehensive update on sexual harassment in the aid industry that goes beyond singling out Oxfam.

The Man Who Thought He Could Fix Afghanistan
His sardonic wit made it easy to miss, but Guggenheim had always struck me as an optimist as long as I had known him. In recent times, though, the very thing that had drawn Guggenheim to Afghanistan in the beginning—the impossibility of the project—was now thwarting him. He had good days and bad days, but overall, he seemed to be losing faith in his ideals and his ability to implement them. It wasn’t clear whether this was because the aid system was broken, which it was; or because Ghani had modeled his vision for Afghanistan after Western versions of capitalism and democracy, which were coming undone; or because of the simple fact that “he has never manned a big organization or a big project before.”
Around then, the death threats that had become a regular fixture of daily life in Kabul had increased in frequency and specificity, and the posters with Guggenheim’s face on them now loomed larger in his mind.
May Jeong for Politico with a great portrait of Scott Guggenheim which doubles as fantastic long-read on contemporary developments in Afghanistan.


A Visit to 'Africa's North Korea'
The ambassadors are by no means downplaying the conditions in Eritrea. They are sharply critical of human rights violations, the lack of transparency and the rule of law, and the security forces' immunity from prosecution. Nevertheless, they say, most of the people who leave the country are not politically persecuted, but leave because of their poor economic outlook and to avoid the indefinite military service. According to the EU envoys, these push factors are augmented by a pull factor: the extensive protection granted to Eritreans who have made it to Europe.
Bartholomäus Grill for Spiegel International with insights from Eritrea which actually isn't the North Korea of Africa...

Funder Spotlight: Thousand Currents

You’ve mentioned “trust” quite a bit. In your opinion, what’s the role of trust in philanthropy?
Trust-based philanthropy is the only way to go if we want to effect the type of social transformation we want. If we want to create a world based on equality and justice, then we have to trust the ideas and vision of people from the communities we’re working in. We have to work in relationship with our partners and know that we are in service of their work. We must trust that they know as much, if not more than, what we funders know about solving social problems. A trust-based approach allows us to achieve our goals better than without it.
Solome Lemma talks to The Whitman Institute. It's always great and inspiring to read positive stories of social change and about organizations that challenge traditional development discourses!

BRIGHT Magazine Launches Today

Fast-forward five years, and I’m ecstatic to be launching BRIGHT Magazine, which I hope will be a new home for solutions-oriented reporting on a range of social issues. From global health and education to sustainability and gender, we tell compelling, nuanced stories that inspire dialogue and impact. We cut the jargon, avoid tired tropes about international development, and bring panache, creativity, and optimism to our work.
When it comes to reporting on social issues, mainstream storytelling often tends to fall into one of several narrative clichés. Many stories use issue-specific jargon, making them accessible only to a narrow audience. Others talk about faraway people and places with “otherizing” language that flattens unfamiliar issues and experiences. Some topics rely on a small cadre of privileged voices to do the storytelling, while presenting “beneficiaries” of non-profit largesse as being free of agency. And there are relatively few places online to have nuanced, sprawling, troll-free conversations.
Sarika Bansal outlines her vision for Bright Magazine. If the Development Set project is any benchmark this is going to be a great development communication project!

What’s the latest in development economics research? A round-up of 140+ papers from NEUDC 2017

NEUDC is a large development economics conference, with more than 160 papers on the program, so it’s a nice way to get a sense of new research in the field.
Thankfully, since NEUDC posts submitted papers, I was able to mostly catch up. I went through 147 of the papers and summarized them below, by topic.
David Evans for the World Bank Development Impact blog with an interesting overview over some surprising as well as less surprising findings from development research aka as RCTs ;) ...

“Can you say that again, but faster?” Research communications lessons from Instagram and storytelling

The two media of our choice, Instagram and spoken storytelling, appear diametrically opposed. One is based on pictures and 15-second videos, very much a product of the 21st century. The other one is a time-honoured practice that is central to how we perceive the world and ourselves. Nevertheless, both start from the same premise: what is the story? What is the kernel of truth within pages and pages of research findings to be shared with a larger audience?
Judith Krauss for Global Development Institute blog on how to communicate (development) research in the digital age.

Our digital lives

Time to acknowledge the social cost of mobile and apps driven disruption

Whether its Uber and Taxify grabbing customers from traditional taxis, or the ease of an online purchase of airtime eating into Mama’s recharge card sales, the long awaited and much hyped transformation of African economies by ICT is arriving at a much higher cost than noted anywhere in media, or in research reports on mobiles for “social good.”
Literate youth quick to pick up new skills have no choice but to adapt and adopt. Its the older traders, the taxi drivers, the less literate, the long established service providers in the urban informal economy who are shouldering the brunt of this disruption.
Niti Bhan with an important reminder that any 'disruption' or transformation will have short- and possibly medium-term negative social implications before the bright digital future ICT4D future will of benefit to everyone (if that day ever comes...).

Meet the travel Instagrammer hitting out at sexist Instagram

"I often wonder if that’s the only formula for success on Instagram which is unfortunate, because I don’t feel that male travel influencers necessarily have to adhere to the same standards," she says.
“No one is being forced to do anything but there’s a very specific aesthetic that’s one of the clear paths to success for most women in the travel space – this whole looking away from the camera, very carefully crafted photos, typically with the hat.
“It’s a very deliberate thing and that potentially puts pressure on women to dress a certain way, take pictures of certain places, pose a certain way, create a certain fantasy that may not be reflective of their travel experience, or other’s travel experiences.
Ronan J O'Shea for The Independent with an interesting case study of social media, gender and contemporary tourism trends that often evolve 'exotic' people, places or animals...

Four years after Yolanda: New book honors the pioneering achievements of Filipino aid workers

More than just personal portraits, these stories attempt to create and fuel conversations around how the sector can support and empower local humanitarian workers. It is an invitation, an open space to reflect on the ways we can improve the conditions in aid work by understanding digital technologies in the humanitarian sector through their contexts of production, and through the eyes of aid workers themselves.
The book recounts not only the difficult stories of working in an emergency context, but also their personal challenges, including experiencing house damage from Yolanda themselves, losing jobs and switching industries, working with expats in large global aid agencies, and piloting technological innovations never before implemented in disaster contexts. At the same time, the book highlights the professional opportunities they experienced after their pioneering work, including leading international assignments and pursuing graduate studies in prestigious universities overseas. The book features evocative photographs from renowned photojournalist Geric Cruz. Book designer and National Book Award winner Karl Castro worked on the eloquent structure and typography of the feature.
The Newton Tech4Dev Network with a really interesting and innovative way of how to communicate research and the people behind it!

Why developing countries are particularly vulnerable to predatory journals

Not all universities fall into predatory traps. Research indicates that over a ten-year period, research intensive universities had less than 1% of their publications in journals that showed strong evidence of being predatory. In the same period, five other universities – which are less research-intensive in focus – had more than 10% of their publications in such journals.
This suggests that having a strong research culture is key. If there is a general sense that academic publication is about knowledge dissemination rather than meeting performance targets or accruing incentive funding, academics and universities become less vulnerable to these vultures.
Sioux McKenna for The Conversation with an important reminder that predatory publishing effects a lot of scholars and institutions on the global higher education periphery and that research cultures need to change over time.

How to keep up with new technology in online learning

More importantly, it doesn’t make sense for institutions to make institution-wide decisions for most teaching technologies, partly because of wide variations in subject discipline needs, but mainly because with constantly emerging technologies, it’s better for the grassroots instructors and students to adopt as appropriate, hence ensuring more innovation in teaching and learning.
For instructors, usually technology adoption enables them to solve a teaching problem, such as not enough interaction with students, students not attending in bad weather or with long commutes, difficult concepts to teach abstractly, etc. Since the teaching problems often vary from instructor to instructor, it is best to leave such decisions to them. However, instructors can be ‘nudged’ by instructional designers/learning technology support staff, who should be constantly looking for potential new applications of technology, and for faculty who may be interested in trying them.
Tony Bates with an important reminder that I only know too well from my digital teaching practice-one size fits all models make global companies rich, but do not allow for the flexibility that teachers need to make technology work in their classroom!

Open access academic books downloaded, discussed and cited far more than traditional books

A report from Springer Nature launched today shows there is a tangible benefit to publishing academic books using immediate, or ‘gold’, open access (OA) models. The research found that such books are:
Downloaded seven times more: On average, there are just under 30,000 chapter downloads per OA book within the first year of publication, which is 7 times more than for the average non-OA book.
Cited 50% more: Citations are on average 50% higher for OA books than for non-OA books, over a four-year period.
Mentioned online ten times more: OA books receive an average of 10 times more online mentions than non-OA books, over a three-year period.
SpringerNature on the benefits of open access publishing. While I certainly do not doubt the overall findings (open access leads to more engagement!), I am also aware that Springer is keen to explore new revenue models in addition to the now widely criticized subscription model.


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