Links & Contents I Liked 165

Hi all,

A short break and long book review later, a new link review arrives for week-end reading pleasure!

How can IATI & OGP initiatives move from window-dressing to accountability ask 2 separate pieces? More on aid worker well-being and welfare-one of the top issues of 2015; we are looking at Amnesty’s social media strategy and the broader framework of organizational ICT4D strategies; we get to know Shawn Humphrey in a great podcast; Digital Lives with a new study on people believing in ‘pseudo-profound bulls…’; racist algorithms and helpful maps; great new report on digital lives in Ghana, Kenya and Uganda. In Academia 2 essays on the academic writing as freedom and how to lift the university from its current ‘ruins’.

Enjoy!


New from aidnography
A Mighty Purpose (book review)
The portrait of the influential UNICEF executive director Jim Grant who headed the organization from 1980 until his death 1995 is a fascinating account of personal and political leadership, UN history, global organizational culture and aid policy and practice during the commonly labeled ‘lost decade’ of development.
Development news
Is IATI benefiting anyone yet?
Four years on from the IATI Standard and more than seven years since the launch of the initiative, IATI has, by its own admission, had little to no practical impact on the lives of development beneficiaries. With its steering committee meeting this week, many are now looking for tangible results, while others wonder whether IATI has had enough time to demonstrate progress.
Helen Castell discovers what many in the aid industry have been knowing for quite some time: standards, handbooks, guidelines, data etc. don't do anything by itself. Only when they become part of critical, political discussions can they become helpful and IATI has a long way to go from the 'transparency is good' mantra to meaningful impact-not just on beneficiaries, but also on donors!

OGP Needs a Reboot
We have expanded very rapidly over the past three years yet the expansion is mostly superficial. We are increasing membership but not increasing Open Government, and civil society is increasingly cynical about OGP. Many are saying it is a whitewash, lipstick on a pig, giving national governments a nice pretty facade of openness behind which they write laws restricting access to executive emails, forbidding foreign funding of journalism, empowering universal surveillance, and even worse.
OGP is expanding too fast without delivering the real benefits the world needs and adding cities, expanding even further, is not going to change the outcomes.
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Its just not right that countries can celebrate baby steps at OGP events while at the same time passing odious legislation, sidestepping OGP accomplishments, buckling to corruption, and cracking down on journalists.
Steven Adler comments on another big digital initiative with development implications and reminds us that 'openness' is a contentious issue and that easy-to-join initiatives can be easily used and abused for political publicity rather than social change.

The Role of Staff Welfare in Improving Humanitarian Practice
Staff welfare strategies, in terms of addressing problems such as stress, burnout or post-traumatic stress disorder, must acknowledge the diversity of the sector if they are to be effective. What is seen as stressful or traumatic for a white expat worker may be very different from what a Kenyan worker feels and experiences for instance. From the data I’ve collected so far in my research I’ve found that addressing the mental and physical health needs of national humanitarian staff is a major challenge. This is partly to do with inadequate support structures that privilege the expat staff, and partly to do with the very different cultural understandings of how personal emotional difficulties are talked about and dealt with. One important way of addressing this is to consider the right language to be used for addressing these difficulties. Trauma, for instance, or the more general term ‘mental health’ are still stigmatised words, not only in Kenya but in many other contexts.
Gemma Houldey adds to one of THE debates of 2015: Aid worker mental well-being and the road to the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit.

Game-Changer
At this point the industry-wide implications of this landmark turn of events remain to be fully seen. But even at these early days, I feel comfortable saying that after 25 years of humanitarian work, this comes as close as anything I’ve seen yet to being “game changing.” Nope—it wasn’t the PUR sachets or the IKEA T-shelters; it wasn’t “big data” or “open data” or “crowdsourcing” or ICT4D; it wasn’t the fuel-efficient stoves or the solar powered cell phone chargers or direct giving.
The most game-changing thing to hit the humanitarian industry since its inception is simply an outside legal opinion that aid and development employers—from the UN system, all the way on own to the college sophomores who started their shoe-collecting charity—have duty of care obligation toward their employees. And further, that humanitarian staff have a right to expect proper training and preparation for work in high-risk places, as well as employer-provided care, and perhaps even compensation after the fact.
J. comments on the recent verdict against Norwegian Refugee Council and the 'duty of care' in humanitarian aid work. In connection with the debate on aid worker well-being these are topics that will redefine what we mean by 'professional aid work'.

Confessions of a humanitarian: The number of children we reached this month is ‘sometimes’
Check boxes are a sheer impossibility. This is like asking sub-grantees to go into the fifth dimension and report back with a pollen sample. If I lock the forms, so all you can do is check a box, they respond with one of the following:
Option one: They return the form blank. When asked to re-submit they send it again, still blank.
Option two: They frantically call and/or email (well after the reporting deadline has passed) asking for the password to unlock the form as it seems to be “broken”.
Option three: They print the form out, write their essay all over it, scan it and send it back to me as an illegible 24MB attachment.
Now, the aid workers’ most important maxim is to never, ever, be mean or impatient or condescending with someone who is not from your country (your own countrymen being fair game). So there is – we tell ourselves – little to be done at this point beside facilitate ANOTHER training because, if nothing else, we can then directly count the number of people who attended that training and report it to the hapless donor using whole numbers.
If it is any consolation for 'Dara Passano' I can assure her that higher education institutions are not much better...how have students addressed the learning outcomes? 2 ;)!

In Development Work, Plan for Sailboats, Not Trains
Politicians are not the sole culprits. Donors’ overly-monolithic thinking about what programs are “best” has been at fault, too. Donors are now beginning to understand that questions of how to get something done are fundamentally different from what should be done. Yet in their search for rigor, they are still enamored of randomized control trials and other forms of evaluation that are poorly suited to path-dependent, timing-sensitive questions of how to make change in complex systems
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New thinking can make development agents more impactful. But altering action requires confronting the political economy of our own bureaucracies. Are we brave enough to turn the lens inward?
You could probably argue that Rachel Kleinfeld outlines and summarizes key contentious debates for development of our time; yet, her post also feels a bit like 'everything has already been said-but not by everyone'. The quest for flexible programs, meaningful learning and sustainability is almost as old as the modern concept of 'development'; and in many ways, the relatively small sector is more self-critical and -reflective than many others.

Amnesty International – Social Media Case Study
What is the most important ingredient in a social media strategy?
Understanding your audience. A well-written, coherent strategy is only as valuable as what it delivers. You need to be able to listen, on each platform, to what your audience wants, as well as what kind of content they are engaging with on their social channels (which may have nothing to do with Amnesty!).
David Girling interviews Amnesty International's Dunya Kamal on the organization's use of social media, particularly Twitter.

Insights on developing an organizational ICT4D strategy
Salon participants highlighted hiring and human resources departments as a big barrier when it comes to ICT4D. It is often not clear what kinds of skills are needed to implement ICT4D programs, and human resources teams often screen for the wrong skill sets because they do not understand the nature of ICT4D. ‘I always make them give me all the CVs and screen them myself,’ said one person. ‘If not, some of the best people will not make it to the short list.’ Engaging with human resources and sharing the ICT4D strategy is one way to help with better hiring and matching of job needs with skill sets that are out there and potentially difficult to find.
In conclusion, whether the ICT4D strategy is to mainstream, to isolate and create a ‘lab,’ or to combine approaches, it seems that most organizations are struggling a bit to develop and/or implement ICT4D strategies due to the multiple pain points of slow organizational change and the need for more capacity and resources. Some are making headway, however, and developing clearer thinking and action plans that are paying off in the short term, and that may set the organizations up for eventual ICT4D success.
Linda Raftree summarized and interesting Technology Salon on ICT4D strategies.

The Profound Emptiness of ‘Resilience’
But where ‘‘resilience’’ can suggest new avenues for civic infrastructure — admitting that disaster can’t always be diverted and shifting the focus to survival strategies — it is indistinguishable from classic American bootstrap logic when it is applied to individuals, placing all the burden of success and failure on a person’s character. ‘‘It’s pretty much the same message that’s drummed into us by Aesop’s fables, Benjamin Franklin’s aphorisms, Christian denunciations of sloth and the 19th-­century chant invented to make children do their homework: ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,’ ’’ the social scientist Alfie Kohn argued in an op-ed article in The Washington Post.
Parul Seghal's NYT piece is definitely relevant for the development sector as well: When 'resilient' communities are praised it often means that they survived the impact of capitalism, climate change and the side-effects of growth-forces outside their control.

059: Shawn Humphrey on La Ceiba Microfinance, Tribal Teaching and Creating a Culture of Commitment in the Classroom
Our hardest work is inside of us
Special shout-out to Shawn Humphrey - a dear digital friend, fantastic public intellectual and great supporter of aidnography!

Our digital lives

Scientists find a link between low intelligence and acceptance of 'pseudo-profound bulls***'
A new scientific study has found that those who are receptive to pseudo-profound, intellectual-sounding 'bulls***' are less intelligent, less reflective, and more likely to be believe in conspiracy theories, the paranormal and alternative medicine.
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In a fairly damning passage from the paper, it says that those who were more receptive to the bulls*** statements and who tended to rate them higher were "less reflective, lower in cognitive ability (i.e verbal and fluid intelligence, numeracy,) and are more prone to ontological confusions and conspiratorial ideation."
Poor Deepak Chopra ;)...definitely interesting to read the full open access paper.

Why Organizations Don’t Learn
Why do companies struggle to become or remain “learning organizations”? Through research conducted over the past decade across a wide range of industries, we have drawn this conclusion: Biases cause people to focus too much on success, take action too quickly, try too hard to fit in, and depend too much on experts. In this article we discuss how these deeply ingrained human tendencies interfere with learning—and how they can be countered.
Articles from HBR usually come with my own disclaimer that they are, well, from the Harvard Business Review...Francesca Gino and Bradley Staats's long essay points out some well-known and often repeated challenge in any sector, including the aid industry. But when 'use bigger data better' becomes one of the 'solutions' I just start rolling my eyes...still a good overview over learning and knowledge management today.

Racist algorithms: how Big Data makes bias seem objective
If the police are stop-and-frisking brown people, then all the weapons and drugs they find will come from brown people. Feed that to an algorithm and ask it where the police should concentrate their energies, and it will dispatch those cops to the same neighborhoods where they've always focused their energy, but this time with a computer-generated racist facewash that lets them argue that they're free from bias.
Cory Doctorow highlight an important aspect of big data, machine learning and algorithms: It is usually is biased humans who provide the initial data and 'training' and in return we we get 'racist algorithms'-with real implications for real actions.

How Maps Helped Fight Ebola (Part II)
This new case study “GIS support for the MSF Ebola response in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone” looks at the response across the three most affected countries and the experiences and performance of the nine GIS officers who were deployed on a total of 16 missions.
While the results are not very different from the first case study, it puts the lessons learned in Guinea on a much more solid foundation.
The thing that I found most surprising while talking to MSF staff was how quickly operational staff have embraced maps – not just in epidemiology and logistics, but particularly in outreach and health promotion.
It is clear that better maps and other GIS products can have a profound positive impact on operations. But it is also clear that this very much depends on the GIS officers’ skill to proactively communicate what he/she can offer to operations.
Timo Luege on maps and humanitarian operations-a positive application of ICT4D in the digital age!

Hot off the digital press
Our Work 3 – Digital Lives in Ghana Kenya and Uganda
The title says it all – we’re deeply curious about what digital lives look like, how people get on-line, what motivates them to do so, and how digital is starting to weave in and out of user’s physical lives. There are some unsurprising things in the research – Facebook usage dominates, for instance – but there are some things that intrigued us, such as the concept of ‘visual CVs’ where users post a picture of themselves performing their job on social media with their phone number beneath, to act as an ersatz LinkedIn.
After chapter one’s executive summary & introduction, the report is broken down into four sections; chapter two is a synthesis of expert interviews to discuss how internet access is changing in the era of drones and balloons, chapter three introduces the findings from the user research in a narrative form, chapter four introduces our ‘digital day’ graphic and looks at the individual user research, and the appendix is a substantial literature review.
Really looking forward to reading this new report from colleagues at Caribou Digital!

7 essential sourcebooks for development communications professionals
Are you into communications? To be specific, if you are into development communications and need to develop a communications strategy for your organisation or a campaign, what steps do you follow?
A great overview/introduction to some key, open access resources on Communication for Development and Social Change, compiled by Sanjib Chaudhary.

Building aid workers' resilience: why a gendered approach is needed
This article will discuss the need to support aid workers to build resilience, for their own well-being and also for the effectiveness and sustainability of the essential humanitarian and development work they do. It will advocate for the need of embracing a gender-focused approach in the study of aid workers’ resilience, and more generally, in the study and promotion of aid workers’ well-being. The article draws on a qualitative study which found international women aid workers face specific stressors within the organisations they work for, in working relationships with national staff, and in their personal life.
Alice Gritti's article in Gender & Development (open access) is an interesting addition to the aforementioned links on aid worker well-being and the concept of 'resilience'.

Academia
Revisiting a Writing Process: Ode to Academic Freedom #humanrights
The idea behind this book started to form in the first years of the new millennium, receiving its first concrete articulation in the summer of 2007. After successful funding applications, work for the book got started in 2009, with author invitations sent out in 2010. We held two respective book meetings, in Autumn of 2011 and Summer of 2013.
We worked on the introduction for months. More than seems reasonable in retrospect – and definitely more than many of our seniors thought advisable. Much of this time was due to the other increasingly frowned-upon feature characterizing this venture: from the start, it was an open-ended query, not guided by a clearly cut vision of just what exactly it addressed, via what ‘methods’, theoretical framework(s) – or even concepts. Figuring these elements out was thus an integral part of this book’s working process, both for the chapters jointly as well as for the introduction separately.
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To top it all off, the outcome of all this work is an increasingly frowned-upon edited volume, rather than the much more prestigious special issue of an international peer reviewed journal. Yes, admittedly none of this makes any sense – and sadly most of it translates poorly in quantified assessment exercises.
However, to us none of this really matters.
I appreciate Miia Halme-Tuomisaari and Pamela Slotte's reflection on their journey to publish and edited volume on the history of human rights concepts. I also agree with many of their insights on academic freedom and the need for 'useless' projects to challenge dominant discourses. But why does the end product have to be a book for USD 125? If you are not aiming for 'impact' and enjoyed the process as much as the outcome, shouldn't you aim at more accessible publishing options to share the results (and get citations-so it's a win-win)?

Les Back: Scholarly Life and the University in Ruins

Secondly, we need to take risks in order to expand not only what can be thought but also what counts as academic writing and communication. It means also aspiring to be a communicator of ideas not just on campus or within the pages of academic journals but in a wide variety of public and educational arenas. Thirdly, we need to see that what we do is not just a job but an intellectual vocation or craft. I think that is what Jerry Watts’ lesson if you followed the line and moral force of his argument. Specialisation and professionalisation institutionalises narrowness and results paradoxically in anti-intellectualism. Being a slave to specialism is self-confinement: “I can only talk about ‘my own area of expertise.'” It promotes individualism in that we academics become conservative with our time and shut ourselves away in our offices or become campus absentees. Perhaps lessening the hold of the imperious specialist on the university might result in cutting academic vanity and self-importance down to size. My fourth principle is to value teaching and to see the university primarily as a place of learning. 
An interesting lecture by Les Back wraps up this link review and makes me wonder once more whether we sometimes spend a bit too much time on reflecting on Academia...

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