A grad student’s guide to the international development blogosphere

Several friends have recently asked me which blogs I read and how I manage my reading. This post is targeted at my fellow international development grad students, but other young professionals should find it useful as well. Let’s start with why to read blogs, then move on to the how, and finally the what.

1. Why should I read blogs? I do plenty of reading for class/work already…

I’m a fan of reading blogs. No big surprise there. Reading blogs should be part of how you get smart about your field. You read the news, right? New York Times or the Economist or whatever? Well newspapers write for general audiences. They won’t get very far into the complexity and nuance. You read a bunch of scholarly articles for class too? Well most journals are written for academics. They generally won’t tell you what the academic theories mean for the actual work of development.

Blogs cover many of the same issues as both newspapers and journals, but with an eye toward what they mean for practitioners and policy makers. You’ll get stories from the field, scathing critiques of the latest development fads, and heated debates on everything from microfinance to conflict minerals. The blogosphere is the one place where geography is no barrier to the conversation. Academics, journalists, donors, Washington think tank-ers, UN or NGO staff — they all bounce ideas around here.

For a grad student, blogs also provide a check on what the professors say. You’ll find out pretty quickly which issues are actually top-of-mind for practitioners and which issues only matter to the Ivory Tower types. And if classes don’t allow you to delve far enough into an issue you care about, blogs can make up for that.

2. Blogs can be overwhelming. How do I manage the information flow?

First and foremost: You do not need to visit every blog’s website to check for new posts. In fact, you shouldn’t. You can subscribe by email if you like (see the widget in my right-hand column) but even that can be overwhelming as blog posts mix with your normal emails.

There’s an easier way to read blogs. Instead of subscribing by email, you subscribe to the blog’s RSS feed. RSS means “really simple syndication.” You just subscribe to the RSS feed using a feed aggregator, and you’ll get all of your blogs in one place.

Some email programs (e.g. Outlook) can act as feed aggregators. I prefer to use Google Reader; if you have a Google Mail account, then you already have a Google Reader account. When I’m on the road someplace with spotty internet connections, I use a free program called FeedDemon; it’s a little clunkier than Google Reader, but it can download posts for viewing when you’re offline. On my iPhone, I use another free program called MobileRSS. Both FeedDemon and MobileRSS sync with my Google Reader account, so my RSS subscriptions or starred items will always be the same in all three. (There are also many other options for feed aggregators. Follow this link to read Owen Barder’s recent reviews of a few others.)

RSS

Once you have a feed aggregator, start subscribing. Most sites with feeds will have a link that looks like this orange square. Click on it to subscribe. Often you can just type the site’s URL into the feed aggregator, and it will figure out the rest.

The practical upshot of this feed aggregator stuff is that you can go to one place and see all of the new posts from all the blogs you follow. You can also “follow” your normal news (more on this below). This keeps you from being overwhelmed, so you’re more likely to keep up with them.

3. Okay, I’m sold. What should I be reading?

In my opinion, there are six must-read blogs for any development student.

Following these six will keep you up to speed with the debates of the day, and you’ll get links to the most interesting posts from other blogs. Seriously, if you read nothing else, at least subscribe to these six.

4. C’mon. Only six? I can handle a few more.

I hoped you’d say that. Here are a some others that I highly recommend.

Most of the blogs above are pretty general, though everyone brings different perspectives and interests. There are also many issue/region-specific blogs you may want to check out. Here are a few that I recommend:

I generally steer away from the blogs of NGOs and donor agencies. The content tends to be fluff. Of course, if you work for (or want to work for) a particular organization, it might be worth following them. There are two that I would recommend as generally thoughtful and interesting:

Finally, there’s news. Almost every news website does RSS feeds, so you can subscribe to them through Google Reader. I get the Economist, the New York Times Africa feed, the East African, Foreign Policy, and others bundled together with my blogs. I also subscribe to TED talks, xkcd, Gallup World polls, and more. If a site publishes regular content, it probably has an RSS feed. I barely even go to websites anymore.

5. But Dave, you forgot about…

Am I missing anything? Feel free to fill the comments section with suggestions.

Please don’t be offended if I failed to include you or your favorite blog above. This isn’t meant as a definitive list. Here are some more blogs I think are worthwhile. The full list of what I follow is longer still. The above is simply meant to get people started — and I don’t want to scare off the newcomers.

54 thoughts on “A grad student’s guide to the international development blogosphere

  1. Thanks for the link! I’m not sure I contribute much in the way of development commentary on Transitionland, but I hope my blog gives aspiring aid workers and development wonks a sense of the emotional and physical challenges of doing development in conflict and post-conflict zones.

    • That’s exactly why I included your blog in the list. You provide great stories and commentary on what it means to actually do this work. That’s worth a thousand journal articles and a hundred MDG/CGI/whatever conference summaries. I wish I knew of a few more like your blog, actually.

  2. This is a very useful post Dave and I just wanted to (cheekily) suggest a site that I am involved with – whydev.org. It is a site by and for students, graduates and young professionals in international development.

    Also, we have been creating a Bundle over at curated.by – http://www.curated.by/whydev/development – that is a collection of blogs, sites and places on development, aid and human rights. Most of the sites you listed are there I think (including yours).

    I really enjoy reading your posts and would welcome a guest post by you over at whydev.

    Brendan

  3. Way I suggest, for those interested in Africa, but also for geo-political economy, allafrica.com. I always found that, although the level of journalism aggregated from various sources can appear absolutely horrendous sometimes, the site provides a level of insight that is difficult to attain without being local.

  4. Hi Dave, I am going to suggest my blog, but only really for people thinking about becoming aid workers. It focuses on the human side of being a development worker, which means: aid work + everything else (family, kids, juggling two careers…)

    so you’ll find anything from potty training to post conflict projects, although usually focusing on what it means to bear witness as a person. I wish someone had given me a heads up about how normal (and not normal) it can all be when I was in grad school.

    http://www.onmotherhoodandsanity.blogspot.com

  5. Dave, great post, and thanks including my blog since its rather new compared to the others. I’ve posted a remix of Linda’s remix on our internal blogging system since I’m constantly trying to encourage my colleagues to read more development blogs.

  6. I am in rural Yunnan Province, China, and my focus is water development, working as a volunteer engineer on a one-year leave of absence from my consulting job back home.

    If interested, feel free to check out the blog I’ve been keeping; the first few posts introduce what I’m up to: http://hydrophilicmission.blogspot.com/

    I know your list of blogs is growing, but besides working directly to help developing communities, one of my goals is to raise awareness – so if you like it, it would be an honor to join the list.

  7. Hi Dave,

    FYI- I collect nonprofit blogs (from teams, individuals, organisations, projects,…) on Delicious – check: http://www.delicious.com/nonprofitblogs (there are a about 800 of them so far).

    I aggregate the content from these 800 blogs on http://www.nonprofitblogs.info and http://humanitariannews.org/nonprofitblogs

    Believe it or not, there were some blogs in your list that I had not discovered before.

    Try also http://www.aidblogs.org for the aggregation of aidworkers’ blogs

    And I would not mind having mine added to your list: http://www.theroadtothehorizon.org ;-)

    Tnx and keep up the good work.

    Peter

  8. Fantastic post Dave! Going to share it with all my classmates studying Environment and Development at King’s College, London.I’ve only recently started blogging regularly. India predominantly dominates my thinking. Would love to have your thoughts on them. Once again, thank you for this awesome site. Will keep visiting.

  9. Hello Dave,
    Do you know of any good blogs from local aid workers? I enjoy reading all these blogs from western-educated aid workers like myself, but we do tend to have a fairly similar way of looking at things, so it’d be great to read something from a different perspective. Any suggestions?

  10. Hi! Thank you for this handy compilation. How on earth will I follow all these interesting-sounding blogs – I hardly find time to write the odd post for my own, which I use as a public notebook of sorts.
    For blog collectors: It is called http://www.developblog.org and features personal musings; links to tools that may be useful in development thinking, planning, monitoring and evaluation; summaries of interesting projects I have worked on, inspiring texts I have come across or conferences I have attended; and more… All this seen through the eyes of a well-travelled woman who specialises in evaluating human rights and gender justice work.

  11. Thanks for the links, they are useful reading. While I agree with the importance of blogs to keep up with the world, I am also curious to the more theoretical ideas you’re learning in grad school. Could you recommend a list of the best books/authors/theories that inform your understanding of development?

    And obviously, please don’t limit it to a single discipline. I figure Said’s Orientalism is just as relevant to development studies as much as Easterly’s

    • Tim, that’s such a great question. It’s also a huge one. I like your example because Said’s book has influenced my thinking a great deal, but I probably wouldn’t have thought to mention it. My understanding of “development” is closely tied to my understanding of everything else. It would take me a while to sit down and think of a list that comes anywhere close to comprehensive. Maybe sometime in the coming months, as I finish grad school and transition (hopefully!) into actual employment, I’ll write up a post or series on things I’ve learned.

      In the meantime, among those specifically in the “development” field: Bill Easterly, Paul Collier, Lant Pritchett, Amartya Sen. Stretching the definition a bit, I would throw in Saul Alinsky, Mahmood Mamdani, Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky.

  12. I am two years late, but noticed that two of your “must read” blogs are no longer updated. Didn’t get to see all the ones in the other list yet, but planning on an update of this post by any chance?

    Tell us what you are reading up these days and such.

    Thanks!

  13. Fantastic post Dave! Going to share it with all my classmates studying Environment and Development at King’s College, London.I’ve only recently started blogging regularly. India predominantly dominates my thinking.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s