Links & Contents I Liked 354

Hi all,

Last week's review focused more on #globaldev professionalism; this week ICT4D, tech & researching, doing & reflecting on development in 'difficult places' are key themes!


My quotes of the week
They are recurring and systemic acts which affect society as a whole and involve us all. They emanate from historically unequal relations of power between men and women, which have established relations of domination and discrimination (...). One should, therefore, draw the coverage of these violences out of the miscellaneous news or «news in brief» columns where they are too often confined and approach them as societal phenomenons which deserve to be reported on the frontpage or in prime time in order to highlight their structural character.
(“The coverage of violence against women fluctuates between silence and sensationalism”)

In order to change that, for the past two semesters now, I have made it a practice of together with my students sending positive feedback emails to the authors we read. With these emails, we aim to let the authors know how we engaged with their work, to recognize and thank them for their work, and to share with them how this has been beneficial for us.
(Practicing Academic Kindness in the Classroom)

Development news
Stella Nyanzi marks release from jail in Uganda with Yoweri Museveni warning

After the ruling, Nyanzi said: “Why was I in court for all these months? Why is the current regime of Uganda oppressing Ugandans who are expressing their constitutional rights? I am the voice for the opposition of Uganda.
“Museveni must go. Yoweri Museveni you are on notice. I give you notice, Museveni. You can do whatever you want. We are ready for you, Museveni. We are tired. Stop oppressing Ugandans,” she said.
Samuel Okiror for the Guardian with some good news from Uganda.

Why did this UN ad irk women aid workers?
Intended as a flagship public service announcement for a UN campaign called “What It Takes”, which also profiles other aid workers, the new glossy 90-second ad projects character traits needed in the job. The spot has caused a flurry of debate in aid worker circles on social media since its 12 February release across the Web and on social media.
Ben Parker for the New Humanitarian. I'm a bit ambivalent of the video/campaign, certainly see some of the flaws and wonder how the UN could respond to the criticism and/or engage in further debates.

The Pentagon lost track of $715 million in weapons and gear funneled to anti-ISIS allies in Syria

While Military Times rightfully notes that the audit doesn't indicate that any of these weapons ended up in enemy hands, the audit suggests that the lack of clear accounting makes it impossible to determine what gear, if any, may have ended up where it doesn't belong.
Jared Keller for Task & Purpose. Next time someone shows you how WFP lost a truckload worth of flour in Yemen, remind them that there is no bigger waste of money than the US military-industrial complex...

Digital Technologies Are Part of the Climate Change Problem

This second part of the trilogy of posts on digital technologies and climate change has argued that the digital technology sector is very largely based on business models that have been designed specifically to be unsustainable.
Moreover, these technologies and their use have very significant impact both on the environment in general and also on the constituents of the Earth’s climate. As these technologies become used much more widely their negative impacts will increase.
It is as if these technologies are themselves preventing humans from understanding their environmental implications. Someone living in a their own virtual reality in a smart home in a smart city bubble, being moved around in autonomous smart vehicles when required, and communicating at a distance with everyone, will perhaps no longer mind about the despoliation of hillsides, the flooding of valleys, the carving out of canyons to feed the machines’ craving for minerals…
Tim Unwin for ICTworks. In light of the previous post I feel a bit ambivalent about the arguments: Yes, digital technologies are not 'sustainable', but given how much waste their is in this world (e.g. fossil fuel consumption of US military), I wonder whether we need to be more strategic about 'bad' actors with bad faith and their impact on climate and 'good' actors that may contribute in many, often positive, way and yet haven't solved the sustainability conundrum in a consumer capitalist world...

The Challenge of Sustainable Chocolate

While cacao farming may be hard to regulate, in another sense, Reay said, it’s “one of the success stories of consumer pressure.” Customers’ interest in sustainable chocolate in recent years has driven many companies to look to eco-friendly options.
From layering crops to pruning branches, these solutions are fairly simple and low-tech, which helps on small farms with limited resources. And they don’t only apply to cacoa: Many of the techniques that help improve cacao yields and environmental effects can also be put to work on other crops, so long as there are food lovers willing to invest in more sustainable practices.“We do not need a specialist in cacao,” Zapata said. “We need to educate people in agriculture, on innovative techniques they can apply in their farms and the farms of their families, friends, and communities.”
Melody Schreiber for New Republic. While I'm always skeptical about the influence of consumers on multinationals, this is an great example of 'solutions journalism' that combines small, practical improvements with the bigger picture and challenges around cocoa.

It’s time to decolonise project management in the aid sector

We’ve come a long way since the ‘70s, and of course there have been huge progress in the way do project management. And yet the military-style “expert”-led, logframe approach continues to haunt us.
But if we fund courageously, trust generously, measure differently, and be a bridge instead of an expert, then maybe we can begin to decolonise project management, and put local values, knowledge and experience at the heart of our work.
Although Arbie Baguios' article is from October 2019 it has popped up several times this week in my networks-so worth (re-)sharing...

DIGITAL DIVIDE: ‘The uncritical adoption of technology is particularly risky in humanitarian crises’

The uncritical adoption of technologies in crises may reinforce the ingrained power dynamics of the sector or violate humanitarian principles, either through a shift to digital registration that unintentionally excludes those most in need, or humanitarian independence being compromised through partnerships with the private sector, including the surveillance and security industry.
Instead, these new tools will require active correction and contextual knowledge to be adapted to particular humanitarian crises, in order to include and protect the people humanitarian assistance is intended to serve. In some cases, tools such as biometric registration or mapping of improvised settlements may not be appropriate, with poor data protection practices presenting unacceptable risks to populations made vulnerable by persecution, conflict, or displacement.
ODI's Barnaby Willitts-King talks to CIVICUS. This is a good overview over current debates in the humanitarian & #globaldev industries around the limits of technology to 'fix' things.

‘Humanitarian Star Wars’ As A Meme Critique of the Aid Industry

Chonka argues that other than generating a few laughs for humanitarian professionals, the use of the Star Wars universe was meant to speak to apparent truths about how (primarily Western) development professionals actually work with, for, and toward populations in the “Global South”.
Given critiques of Star Wars’ racialisation of its non-human characters and the fact that all of its main (original) heroes were white, Chonka writes that it was ”an interesting choice of popular culture material for meme creators parodying an industry plagued by its own set of racial politics and power imbalances.”
With critiques of the racial and imperial connotations of the (Western) pop-culture mythology itself in mind, Chonka’s article takes an interesting and unusual case study to explore the use of western pop culture as a vehicle for commentary on an industry at work in the “Global South.”
Carolina Are summarizes Pete Chonka's recent open access article for Humanitarian News Research Network. Working on a humanitarian meme project myself I can clearly see that this is only the tip of the humorous, subversive iceberg...

As peace deadline nears, the show goes on for South Sudan’s ‘Wise Kidz’

The group performs short, comedic skits on different issues facing the camp community, from health epidemics like cholera and Ebola to social problems like early marriage, street gangs, and domestic violence.
“Some people don’t get the message through radio, so they have to get it through drama,” said Gai.
Alex McBride for the New Humanitarian with some great visuals from a 'theater for development' performance in South Sudan.

Rethinking Empowerment and Accountability in ‘Difficult Settings’

Donors, policy makers and external actors can make important contributions in these settings, but more careful and grounded approaches are needed, with more appropriate expectations and measurements of outcomes. In particular, attention must be paid to measuring the intangibles, building trust, overcoming fear, strengthening solidarity, and appreciating small scale steps towards change. Donors themselves must also learn to work differently, to avoid the risk of discrediting or undermining local efforts.
IDS' John Gaventa for EADI shares some interesting lessons on working in 'difficult settings' (see also the IDS paper in publications for some methodological innovations in that area).

International development frameworks force civil society to mimic western NGOs

My research in South Sudan finds that international development processes that often assume ‘NGOs’ as the vanguard of civil society has led to a nurturing of civil society groups that mimic international NGOs. This narrow perception of how civil society should function to be legitimate has led civil society actors to deprioritise connection with their communities as a means of deriving public authority.
Jimmy Awany for Africa At LSE. In some ways very sobering findings from research into NGOs in South Sudan as the question of equating NGOs with 'civil society' has been around for a good 2 decades now and donors seem really unable or unwilling to learn & change...

Our digital lives
Carnival Cruises, Delta, and 70 Countries Use a Facial Recognition Company You’ve Never Heard Of

“I worry that the focus on Amazon and others allows these major companies like NEC and Idemia to fly under the radar, even though they’re the primary providers of this technology,” says Garvie, from the Georgetown Center on Privacy and Technology.
Because the technology that matches your face against a local watchlist, or an FBI database, is more likely to be built by a company like NEC than a tech giant from Silicon Valley.
David Gershgorn for OneZero with your weekly dose of dystopia...

What’s the ‘Added Value’ of Male Peacekeepers? (Or – Why We Should Stop Instrumentalising Female Peacekeepers’ Participation)

How realistic and how fair are the expectations that we place on the small minority of female peacekeepers to bring an ‘added value’ to peace operations? Not at all, I argue in this brief, which examines the instrumentalisation of female participation and suggests that it is time to move beyond the question of an ‘added value’ that often translates into ‘added burden’.
Both male and female peacekeepers are needed for operations to be efficient, and therefore the focus should be on making the working environment more attractive for all. The first and necessary step to such a transformation is recruiting female and male leaders who are able to connect and communicate and who value diversity and inclusion.
Nina Wilén for Egmont with an interesting policy brief on gender & peacekeeping!

“The coverage of violence against women fluctuates between silence and sensationalism”
The coverage of violence against women fluctuates between silence and sensationalism too often. Even if the situation has evolved since the launch of the #MeToo movement, in most societies a heavy silence still surrounds the issue. However, although many journalists do an excellent work, when the media tackle the subject, sensationalism and hype are persistent, as was recently the case with the coverage of the violence committed by Daesh against Yezidi women, for instance, or with the use of rape as a weapon of war in the Eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The European Federation of Journalists talks to Anne-Marie Impe about the new UNESCO Handbook Reporting on Violence against Women and Girls.

Mining for Change

Mining for Change: Natural Resources and Industry in Africa presents research undertaken to understand how better management of the revenues and opportunities associated with natural resources can accelerate diversification and structural change in Africa. It begins with essays on managing the boom, the construction sector, and linking industry to the major issues that frame the question of how to use natural resources for structural change. It reports the main research results for five countries-Ghana, Mozambique, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia. Each country study covers managing the boom, the construction sector, and linking industry to the resource. Mining for Change argues that good policy can make a difference and sets out ideas for policy change and widening the options for structural change.
UNU-WIDER's John Page & Finn Tarp with a new open access book.

Governance Diaries: An Approach to Governance Research from the Ground Up

(H)istories of violence and fear mean that it is hard to change internalised norms and deep emotions (fear, powerlessness) that affect the possibility of voice. The overwhelming majority of the households felt disempowered all the time. There were, however, interesting ways of coping with this marginalisation –of rationalising their situation and relative impotence in being able to solve governance issues. In one of our locations, when crimes were committed and criminals were known, people would resign themselves by saying about the criminals, ‘What to do? They are being resourceful; they are also getting by.’When people had no access to health care, they chose deliberate ignorance, choosing not to find out about their illnesses as they could not afford the treatments and it would make them feel more helpless. Fate was often invoked as an explanation, and in one setting we were also asked why ‘God’ was not among our list of potential public authorities.
Miguel Loureiro, Anuradha Joshi, Katrina Barnes & Egídio Chaimite for IDS with a new working paper on methodological insights on using 'governance diaries' for research.

Practicing Academic Kindness in the Classroom

In my experience so far, these emails are overwhelmingly well received, both by the authors but also by the students who partake in writing them. Responses from authors highlight that reading our feedback ‘made their day, even their month’, and that our practice is generous, helpful and much appreciated. Many have in return articulated wonderfully encouraging comments directed to the students, and thereby accepted our invitation to practice kindness amongst ourselves. For instance, Cynthia Enloe, in her usual yet remarkable kindness, observed that ‘it’s wonderful to think that we all are stretching our feminist curiosities together!’ – and encouraged students ‘to keep doing research that will stretch me.’ The students similarly appreciate this practice, and the opportunity it offers them to directly enter into conversation with the authors they read in class.
Philipp Schulz for Duck of Minerva with small & practical steps to share more kindness in #highered.

Macho research: bravado, danger, and ethnographic safety
These are all cases of male researchers doing research (largely) with men. At some level their gender identity conditioned their perception of risk-to-self, essentially granting them access to field settings which may be less open to women.
Whilst calling men’s research in dangerous settings “macho research” is admittedly something of a provocation, there is a serious point behind it: as men we ought to be conscious of the male ego, our libido dominandi, and the temptations of bravado in our methods. Likewise, we should take care not to write sensationalist accounts that valorise the risk-taking, intrepid, white and male ethnographer star. Neither is male bravado easy to switch off outside the field for many researchers of violence, with embellished stories of near misses exchanged regularly and nonchalantly at academic conferences.
Adam Baird for LSE Latin America and Caribbean shares some reflections on ethnographic research, danger & masculinities.

What we were reading 5 years ago

(Link review 143, 15 April 2015)
Are NGO & civil society regulations the development version of 20th century copyright laws?

Similar to the copyright debate, outdated NGO regulations do not benefit the organizations or the public at large, but serve as legal and political sticks to ensure that the large companies of the music industry enjoy revenues and the conservative political establishment enjoys unchallenged power-especially when it involves unsustainable development initiatives at home or abroad.
To be honest, I had almost forgotten about this post, but I think it actually aged quite well...

The critical role of humanitarian critique

But in addressing challenges related to the functional mechanics of the humanitarian system and the operational practices of its members, those calling for reform have adopted a technocratic language drawn from corporate capitalism, giving continuation to a long history of exchanges and communities of practice involving the commercial and legal sectors and humanitarians. As humanitarian critique has taken technical form, it has narrowed in scope and ambition, and has often been ‘short-sighted and historically disconnected’; a point made by Professor Bertrand Taithe in the blog post ‘The Poverty of Humanitarian Critique’ in which he cites the MSF report ‘Where is Everyone?’ as an example of historically and politically decontextualised critique.
A timely reminder to visit the ALNAP blog(s) again!

Telling the story of the Syrian conflict; digital storytelling methods

Here are a few examples I’ve come across of interesting campaigns and stories around the Syrian conflict, all of which evoked strong emotions for me.
5 years later may be a good opportunity to revisit some of Zara Rahman's storytelling examples and discuss what has (and has not) worked and for whom...


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