Links & Contents I Liked 132

Hi all,

I was busy last week following the Save The Children-Tony Blair PR disaster (and I also have a fantastic day job that involves marking, teaching & researching ;)) and some great links have accumulated in the meantime: A great overview over another #globaldev controversy, BandAid30; measuring & ranking global slavery; 'Faking it' in charity communication; World Bank, water & wasted money; Firestone in Liberia; the industry in aid industry; against ‘agency’; UNICEF’s Ebola ICT; new publications on public broadcasting, big data ethics & transmedia activism; Out digital lives features thoughts on social impact; Silicon Valley’s liquid amorality; in Academia we look at the every-lengthening research chain & the 10 most popular Political Science articles per decade (for the geeks ;)…


Enjoy!

New from aidnography
Why Save The Children’s Global Legacy Award to Tony Blair matters for C4D
Learning organization #fail: Save The Children’s PR to defend Blair is almost worse than award itself

More on the Save The Children award controversy:
Save the Children staff furious over ‘global legacy’ award for Tony Blair

“We consider this award inappropriate and a betrayal to Save the Children’s founding principles and values. Management staff in the region were not communicated with nor consulted about the award and were caught by surprise with this decision,” it said.
The move has also raised questions about Save the Children’s (STC) integrity and independence because of close links between the former British prime minister and key figures at the charity’s helm.
Its UK chief executive, Justin Forsyth, was a special adviser to Blair for three years, and Jonathan Powell, Blair’s former chief of staff, is currently on the board of STC.
12,000 facebook shares and more than 2,400 comments on this article alone-boy did the Blair award backfire quickly...

Leaked email: Save the Children trying to “contain” damage from Tony Blair award
The American wing of the charity “simply did not anticipate anything sensitive,” Whitbread writes, “in the USA Tony Blair is widely seen very positively for his contribution to international aid.”
But rather than right the wrong and withdraw the prize to a man regarded by many as a war criminal, Whitbread seems more concerned with suppressing criticism and press coverage.
“Urgently, right now, a team is trying hard to contain the situation and stop things escalating further, detracting from our wider work for children,” she states. “The point has been made and more coverage of the issue will not help children.”
She complains that “Sadly there have also been leaks of internal emails to the media.”
Save the Children does what most international corporations would do to control the story, alas, STC is not a corporation but supposedly an international NGO...

Old* from aidnography
The Ironic Spectator (book review) (December 2013)

*After more than 300 posts and 3 years of blogging I decided to feature selected, interesting older posts that I wrote approximately 1, 2 or 3 years ago-partly to remind myself of 'good old days', partly to see which issues are still discussed and partly because new readers and students have joined and can find easier access to my blog archive.

Development news
“An Idiot Abroad” on Geldof
How Matters has collected a great repository of links surrounding the Band Aid 30 debate-bookmark it for future references!

The global slavery index is based on flawed data – why does no one say so?
It is understandable that Walk Free, a new player seeking to make its mark in a highly competitive environment, has succumbed to that temptation. Less forgivable are the weaknesses that mar the substance of the index and compromise its findings: a mysterious, inconsistently applied methodology, a raft of unverified assumptions and multiple, critical errors of fact and logic. Even the basic unit of measurement of “modern slavery” is flawed: the definition is self-created and, bizarrely, changes from one year to the next.
Global rankings are 'sexy', capture attention and create the impression of measurable and comparable data; but it also reminded me that some organizations are willing to improve their rankings and their methodologies as my own engagement with the Global Journal's Top 100 Ranking indicates (What I learnt from looking behind The Global Journal's Top 100 NGO ranking).

Faking it: charity communications in the firing line
But I think it’s also true you are less likely to change your point of view if you feel the person trying to persuade you is in some way deceiving you. There’s a failure in communication if we are talking about whether a video is fake as opposed to the suffering of the people in Syria or the 1800 kids that are not actors who have been shot dead during the war.
And one question leads to another. If you are really helping people; if your cause is just; if you want an honest relationship with me, why do you feel the need to make stuff up?
Benjamin Chesterton on some of the challenges that charity communication faces between capturing attention, creating a story and communicating truthfully.

The World Bank's water failure in Tanzania
And so governments and international financial institutions continue investing hundreds of millions of dollars to keep the project going, despite evidence that it hasn’t succeeded. Plus $102.9 million more has been committed to the program in the past year alone, and the deadline for completion of the first stage has been extended for a third time, to December 2015. Meanwhile, revelations about the transfer of $122 million from Tanzania’s central bank into overseas private accounts led a dozen funders, many of the same ones who backed the project, to halt payments.
(...)
The project’s failures thus far raise serious doubts about the ability of international donors to achieve lasting progress anywhere, even as institutions pour billions more dollars into global water pipelines. In Tanzania, the setbacks have a direct impact on millions of Tanzanians.
Tom Murphy reports on a large, largely unsuccessful and expensive World Bank funded project in Tanzania-I'm sure the Bank, open data lovers that they are, will publish all the necessary documents so we can see for ourselves how this project went...

Firestone and the Warlord: The untold story of Firestone, Charles Taylor and the tragedy of Liberia.
In fact, during its decades of operation, Firestone had built a nation within a nation. The company provided housing, schools, food and health care to workers and their families. Some 80,000 Liberians lived within its borders. Firestone introduced currency, built roads and opened up the rural interior.
At the same time, Johnson Sirleaf said, Firestone has sometimes failed to live up to its obligations to the country whose people have provided it with so much over so many years. Over the decades, the company has faced accusations that it exploited its laborers, received unfair concession deals, despoiled the environment and exacerbated corruption.
Said Johnson Sirleaf: “It is a mixed story.”
A proper review of the full eBook of the ProPublica story will follow shortly! Must read!!

Aid. Industry.
There is inherent qualitative value and quantitative efficiency in understanding how the aid industry works. Historically, and in my opinion much too often, the assumption is simply that the aid industry is an endearingly incompetent version of a for-profit sector. Not only is this insulting and offensive to those of us who have intentionally planned for and implemented professional careers in the aid industry, but it’s just plain incorrect. Like any other, the aid industry has its own unique dynamics, its internal political economy, its underlying values and core assumptions. Being successful in the aid industry requires understanding the aid industry.
It’s not unheard of for airline execs to take over as the CEO of NGOs. I want to see the day when a relief manager gets head-hunted for top leadership at a Fortune 500 company.
J. and his brilliant take on Who is 'the development industry'?

Against ‘agency’, an academic affectation that does not help development practice
Unfortunately, the nonsensical, either-or, language of structure and agency is now entrenched in many of the books and journal articles new generations of social scientists are made to read. As advisers to social development and governance programmes, young graduates have carried this into the world of practice.
As a result, the philosophical allure of ‘recognising agency’ is often hard to resist, pushing aside simpler, cleaner and more evidence-based thinking about development options.
David Booth on the emergence of the 'agency' discourse; I'm not sure I agree entirely that there are 'simpler, cleaner and more evidence-based' options that make our analytical so much easier.

Key ICT Features in UNICEF’S Response to Fighting Ebola
How is UNICEF utilizing technology to help make an impact?
(...)
UNICEF’s C4D response is becoming increasingly more vital as those infected with Ebola continue to suffer. Regional C4D officers are on the ground working in Liberia to breakdown the walls of misconceptions, issues of denial that one can get sick, and the stigma and discrimination that Ebola victims sometimes face.
Amidst the suffering, trauma and challenges around Ebola, some organizations seize the opportunity to learn and innovate to be responsive to the situation on the ground.

Stop Trying to Save the World
The ability of international development projects to speed up this process is limited. Remember how I said the deworming project had a 60-to-1 ratio between the price of the pills and the increase in wages for the kids who got them? The increase was $30. Not $30 per year. The kids earned $30 more over their lifetimes as a result of the deworming treatment. You find this a lot in the development literature: Even the most wildly successful projects decrease maternal mortality by a few percent here, add an extra year or two of life expectancy there.
This isn’t a criticism of the projects themselves. This is how social policy works, in baby steps and trial-and-error and tweaks, not in game changers. Leave the leaps and bounds to computing power. If a 49-cent deworming treatment really does produce a $30 increase in wages for some of the poorest people on Earth, we are assholes for not spending it.
This has already been shared very widely-which doesn't make it any less important or interesting. 'Development' is only one piece of a very large puzzle to make people's lives 'better', but we still should pursuing it and make its little impacts count!

Hot off the (digital) press

In the Service of the Public - Functions and Transformation of Media in Developing Countries
A substantial 300 page publication from Deutsche Welle

Out of the Shadows, Into the Streets!
Drawing on extensive interviews, workshops, and media organizing projects, Costanza-Chock presents case studies of transmedia organizing in the immigrant rights movement between 2006 and 2012. Chapters focus on the mass protests against the anti-immigrant Sensenbrenner Bill; coverage of police brutality against peaceful activists; efforts to widen access to digital media tools and skills for low-wage immigrant workers; paths to participation in DREAM activism; and the implications of professionalism for transmedia organizing. These cases show us how transmedia organizing helps strengthen movement identity, win political and economic victories, and transform broader consciousness.
Free book from MIT Press!

Big Data ethics
The speed of development in Big Data and associated phenomena, such as social media, has surpassed the capacity of the average consumer to understand his or her actions and their knock-on effects. We are moving towards changes in how ethics has to be perceived: away from individual decisions with specific and knowable outcomes, towards actions by many unaware that they may have taken actions with unintended consequences for anyone. Responses will require a rethinking of ethical choices, the lack thereof and how this will guide scientists, governments, and corporate agencies in handling Big Data. This essay elaborates on the ways Big Data impacts on ethical conceptions.
Interesting new open access article.

Our digital lives
13 thoughts on start-ups and social impact
Our topic for this Salon was broad – how can technology increase social impact? – but lead discussants (Jussi Hinkkanen of Fuzu, René Parker from rLabs, and Mika Valitalo of Plan Finland) brought inspiring personal stories, fundamental questions, practical experiences, challenges and questions that made for an intimate and lively conversation that incorporated expertise from everyone in the room. The discussion raised a number of key points for social impact start-ups and those working in the development space
Linda Raftree with excellent food for thought from a big tech conference in Helsinki

Silicon Valley's culture of liquid amorality — water will find its way
And the amorality of winning at all costs even when you are winning.
Look at the secret conspiracy by Silicon Valley's most successful and richest companies, Apple, Google, Intel, Intuit, Adobe, against their own workers, to hold down their salaries and restrict their career moves; Zynga's admission of nasty revenue scams; Uber's uber-sleazy growth strategy; Twitter's demands for tax relief simply for locating its HQ in San Francisco's poorest neighborhood — an economic burden for the city.
Silicon Valley companies have discovered the simple fact you can have your cake and eat it because there's always more cake. You can be shitty and behave despicably and never have to eat humble pie because there will always be more cake.
And like water, this culture of amorality doesn't set out to be evil, but it also doesn't set out to do good — it sets out to see what it can get away with, what holes it can find to win and keep winning.
Ten years ago Silicon Valley aspired to be more than this.
Tom Foremski on how the Silicon Valley culture is really just an extension of very traditional capitalist developments-often on venture capital steroids...

Academia
The ever-lengthening research chain
The upshot of all of this is that the research chain is lengthening. Whether it is insurers or private risk assessment companies, the distance between the researcher and the researched is becoming greater. The reasons behind this are not always connected with facilitating better research. Indeed, having heard a number of colleagues talk about their frustrations at university interference with their research agenda, I suspect that we may see increasing numbers of academics conducting their own research as quietly as possible – avoiding ethics committees and the research impact tsars simply because it is too onerous, and adds little to the research process. There are all sorts of dangers along this path (not least connected to ethics and the danger of ‘rogue’ researchers) but if the process is too complicated, it will be rational to avoid complications.
Roger MacGinty on how the research process becomes more 'professional' on the one hand side, but with an increased risk that bureaucratic procedures and neoliberal control aspects take over yet another key aspect of academia...

Online - Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet
What is the connection between digital media religiosity, Online jihad on Facebook, Virtual Christianity, religious topics in fan fiction, Kopimism, trans-European adaptions on Neo-Orthodox Tibetan Buddhism, Jainism online, Muslim Women on YouTube and online religion in contemporary Georgia? - It's all subject to the new edition of online - Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet!
Some really interesting discoveries-and open access!

Top 10 Political Science Articles by Decade
Here are the top 10 Political Science articles by decade. To be clear, these are the most-cited articles from that particular decade, not those who were the most cited back then.
Interesting list for bibliometric-minded colleagues and those who want to (or are forced to) think about 'impact' of academic journals and articles.

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