Blog archives

Want to be a learning organization? Hit these six points, but make sure you find the right balance

Much of my client work deals with learning, including the translation of data into learning and learning into practice, the facilitation of cross-sector learning, and the practices of becoming a learning organization. If you're a regular ...
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We go high, Trump-era edition

[Note: Apologies to email subscribers who received an earlier draft in their inbox. I accidentally hit publish too soon.] One of the 2016 campaign's most enduring lines—from either side—belongs to Michelle Obama: "When they go ...
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One month later

I spent November 8th working at the polls. Not getting out the vote, or even monitoring the vote, but simply part of the electoral administrative machinery: keeping the lines orderly at PS 269 in East ...
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Digital news: a better format is possible

Here's a Friday afternoon idea for you to chew over: How much different are digital news articles today from what they were twenty years ago? Or what print news articles were fifty years ago? We get them ...
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Transparency and Accountability LEARN Workshop

Goldilocks facilitation, or the practice of mediocrity

Enough U.S. politics for a while. Back to our regularly scheduled programming... I've facilitated several workshops recently, and I've also had the nice opportunity to be a participant in a few others. It's great to see ...
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Is the Republican party coalition crumbling before our very eyes?

I've tried to write a post on the American election several times in recent months, but the zigs and zags of the campaign have made it hard to find a vantage point for offering anything more than a ...
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Operating in a world with no truth

Dear readers: This is a somewhat different post than normal. It addresses a question that's been on my mind for years (decades, really) but which seems more relevant and urgent this year: how do you ...
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I made fun of Google Maps for giving me directions to Nepal. Then I went to Nepal.

Back in May, I was wandering around DC trying to get to the OpenGov Hub—a co-working community space located near McPherson Square in DC. I grabbed my phone, opened Google Maps, and discovered that it wanted ...
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Creating Fit-for-Purpose Peacebuilding Evaluation: Three Key Investments (guest cross-post)

The following is a cross-post from friend-of-the-blog Andrew Blum; it originally appeared on the PeaceLab2016 blog. Beyond being a generally insightful post, I'm sharing it because a lot of the "adaptive learning" talk can tend toward ...
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Transparency and Accountability Initiative's TA LEARN workshop in Rio

Why is it hard to hire for learning roles? 3 early hypotheses

Folks: Learning is hot right now. At least, in the aid and development sectors. Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) teams are now monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL). Strategy departments have become "Strategy and Learning"; research departments, "Research and Learning" ...
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Adaptation is more than flexibility

Change actors of all stripes face a tension between the certainty needed to act at scale, and the uncertainty inherent to change at any level. On the one hand: The world is full of injustices and ...
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Problems are systemic, but solutions are specific (and frustratingly incremental)

Right now, as I type, I'm watching the Senate Democrats filibustering live. They've been going for about 10 hours so far. If you see this blog post tonight, you can watch live as well. Go there ...
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Three books worth of blogging (plus ten rules)

Posting here has been sparse recently. I've been to three recent events and have slowly clawed out of my reading backlog (thanks in no small part to Pocket—unsolicited endorsement), both of which have sparked a ...
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More books on complexity than you can shake a stick at—plus a mea culpa

Last month, Duncan Green was kind enough to post my overly ambitious multi-book review on complexity thinking in development on his From Poverty to Power blog. It covered three books: Ben Ramalingam’s Aid on the Edge of Chaos; Jean ...
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How peacebuilding and opening governance can work together

I had a guest post on Global Integrity's blog last week, based on a recent event in DC. The teaser: It takes two: What happens when the open governance and peacebuilding communities work together? Governance ...
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Complexity and development: still more theory than practice?

Yesterday I gave a guest lecture to John Gershman's politics of development course at NYU's Wagner School (mostly MPA students). The topic: how the development sector puts complexity thinking into practice. Prepping and giving the lecture helped me put together some thoughts on how ...
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Vague norms and specific proof

I've fallen off the blogging wagon in recent months. Whenever that happens, I find the best way to get back on is to post something small and easy. Fortunately, I had a bit of inspiration from ...
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Transparency and Accountability LEARN Workshop

Learning and adaptation depend on relationships (report from TA LEARN, part 3)

I got to spend a few days last week at the the third TA LEARN workshop, hosted by the Transparency and Accountability Initiative (TAI). Around 70 practitioners, researchers, funders, and the occasional consultant gathered to assess and ...
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Transparency and Accountability LEARN Workshop

Learning must be user-owned (report from TA LEARN, part 2)

I got to spend a few days last week at the the third TA LEARN workshop, hosted by the Transparency and Accountability Initiative (TAI). Around 70 practitioners, researchers, funders, and the occasional consultant gathered to assess and ...
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Transparency and Accountability Initiative's TA LEARN workshop in Rio

Learning is adaptation (report from TA LEARN in Rio, part 1)

Sorry for the radio silence in recent weeks. Take it as a sign that I haven't quite figured out the secret to freelance work/life/blogging balance. Fortunately, I had a chance to take a break last week. I headed ...
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Putting entrepreneurship in context: review of Elmira Bayrasli’s book

Entrepreneurship is the kind of endeavor that we place a pedestal. It carries a mystique. The same way that being an artist, joining the clergy, or writing a book mark unique career paths, creating a ...
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More on organizational learning

Several folks reached out in response to the last post, on learning and adaptation. It seems like establishing and promoting learning processes within organizations is on many people's minds. In that light, a few followup thoughts: ...
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Jama Masjid, Delhi

From M&E to L&A: Improving what we measure and why

I had a chance to catch up with Alan Hudson yesterday, and the conversation brought me around to an idea that I've been trying to articulate for a while. Though admittedly still a bit abstract, here's the ...
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Multidimensional empathy: a half-serious analytical framework

Progress requires action. Action in any form—political, commercial, charitable, religious, etc.—requires crossing the divisions that exist in the world. Crossing divisions requires trust. Trust requires empathy. Therefore: Progress requires empathy. Roughly, that's the thinking behind the ...
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Followup on social enterprises: roles in a market/ecosystem

My SSIR post seemed to get a fair amount of attention, which is always nice. But of all the retweets and shares, my hat goes off to Jennifer Lentfer for picking out one of the most ...
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What’s so special about social enterprise?

I had a post on the Stanford Social Innovation Review's blog last week. After years of wondering why everyone's so crazy for social enterprise, I think I finally get what's unique about the approach. And it ...
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Social movements v. social entrepreneurs

David Callahan wrote a great piece on Inside Philanthropy yesterday, describing how the rise of funding for social entrepreneurs hasn't been matched by a rise in funding for social movements. (HT Rakesh Rajani) Callahan points to the fundamental shifts ...
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Financing the Sustainable Development Goals: maybe $11.5 trillion is not enough

The UN's Financing for Development Conference is happening in Addis Ababa this week. It's the first of three events this year that could set the global development agenda for the next decade and a half. It'll be ...
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Be a language teacher: a new management metaphor

Management comes naturally to few people. It's an extension of a common ability to organize effort towards an outcome, but with a mix of communication, analysis, risk assessment, and (even) empathy that makes the practice notably less intuitive. Yet ...
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This new tag will challenge everything you know about writing.

The World Bank's blog posts have started carrying tags showing you what's "tweetable": a link on a specific sentence or pull quote within the post, which drops that sentence directly into a tweet alongside a link ...
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Always in design mode

I recently finished reading Ezio Manzini's Design, When Everybody Designs: An Introduction to Design for Social Innovation. In it, he puts forward an abstract description of the "design mode" as a combination of three things: a critical sense turned ...
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Two more posts elsewhere

Recently I've been more focused on external posting. This blog gives me too much freedom sometimes, while external sites force me to think about style and audience a bit more. So in case you didn't ...
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Five ways to indoctrinate young development professionals into better practice

There's a joke in Brian Levy's recent book Working With The Grain that World Bank staff hail from one hundred countries, but only ten universities. It might be less true elsewhere in the sector, but there's little doubt ...
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Mainstream or Silo: Where to put a new organizational priority?

An evolving social sector constantly adds new priorities, issues, and interventions. In their worst forms, these shows up as over-hyped trends or the proliferation of targets. But a more generous view on this phenomenon sees a learning sector and an ...
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Healthier feedback sandwiches

You're familiar with a "feedback sandwich", right? It's a fairly simple management tool for giving someone feedback: you start with something positive, then point out the area for improvement, then end on something positive again. The ...
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Next up…

For the past few years, it's been my privilege to help build and lead an incredible team at Reboot. However, like all good things, my time here is drawing to an end. What's next? I'm not ...
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Our bandwagon is a jeepney: A few thoughts on DDD in Manila

There were a range of interesting conversations at last week's "Doing Development Differently" workshop in Manila. I know a number of people will be writing about it from various angles. I have at least three ...
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Manila connections?

This weekend I'll be heading to Manila for the next iteration of the Doing Development Differently conversations. Luckily, I'll be able to stay in town for a few extra days after the event. I'm planning ...
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Operational models: Adaptive management in Northern Karamoja

In chipping away at my "reports to read" pile, I found an excellent one from Mercy Corps and Engineers Without Borders Canada. "Navigating Complexity: Adaptive Management in the Northern Karamoja Growth, Health, and Governance Program" provides a great ...
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Your brain: a user’s guide

I just finished reading Daniel Levitin's The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload. Although there's a lot written about "big data" for industry or research, this was an interesting look at what ...
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On the non-flatness of the world

My work involves a lot of conversations with people around the world. These are sometimes one-on-ones or larger meetings, sometimes with external partners/client or just with our internal team. Depending on the group and locations represented, I ...
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Nudging the World Bank (and the sector) farther along

I have two new blog posts over on Reboot's site, both focused on different aspects of the 2015 World Development Report: Mind, Society, and Behavior. If there's an overall framing for both, it's that the report ...
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Evidence gap maps, ambient accountability, and more things I learned this week

I’ve had an interesting week of new things. More on those in a second. First, a shameless plug: I have a new post about the intersection of design and behavioral economics over at Reboot's blog. It's ...
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Operational models: Entrepreneurship v. Organizing

I rolled out of bed earlier than usual last Thursday morning to take part in a twitter chat organized by ODI. The topic was: "how to be a development entrepreneur." (Check out the recap on storify.) Given ...
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Introducing Praxis / What is this blog?

I've started blogging more again in the past few months. Call it a new year's resolution, if you like: the holidays gave me a chance to reflect on what this blog has meant to my ...
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Goal-oriented v. Strategy-oriented

I've had several jobs where I'm in a position to read a lot of CVs and cover letters and talk to a lot of job candidates. There are certain phrases that I've learned to just ...
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Seven lessons for an evolving facilitation practice

Standing at the front of a room, all eyes are on you. The group might have only five people, or more than fifty. They bring a range of perspectives and knowledge and maybe a broadly shared goal, ...
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Technology and structural discrimination: thoughts on a recent discussion

I had a chance to spend a morning last week at a roundtable discussion on technology and structural discrimination, as part of the Technology Salon events. The conversation brought together activists, organizers, technologists, and few international development ...
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Building the X of Y

Entrepreneurs share something in common with artists, architects, poets, and other creatives: the ability to envision something entirely new and then make it real. We reward these pursuits with social status and financial reward (sometimes) because they make the ...
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On my mind for 2015: behavioral economics, design, complexity, and more

Last January, I kicked off the new year with a surprisingly popular post on the "hype cycle" in development. The conceptual framework looked something like this: And I took a stab at placing development concepts along ...
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Architecture and programs, objects and spaces

I'm halfway through a pretty fascinating book that I started over the holidays: Why We Build: Power and Desire in Architecture. It's leading me to think a bit more about space and structure, both physical and programmatic. Why ...
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Case studies as a tool for sector learning

How does a sector learn? What drives totally new practices, how do we verify and validate lessons from them, and which channels and mechanisms lead to their dissemination and iteration? These questions—which blur the line between ...
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Monitoring-and-Evaluation versus Feedback Loops

A lot of people (on twitter and elsewhere) seemed to like my recent post on Monitoring-and-Evaluation versus Management. That post was a response to the M&E Tech conference in DC two weeks ago. I made the case that ...
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“Action almost never achieves its purpose.”

It's hard to think about the new war against ISIS without being reminded of the contingent nature of history: America finds itself in a war again because of what it did (or didn't do) last time around ...
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Monitoring-and-Evaluation versus Management

I'm at the M&E Tech conference in DC today. It's two days of discussion on how to better use technology for monitoring and evaluation of development projects—and, relatedly, how to monitor and evaluate the use of ...
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Slow march for the climate: Now that you’ve got everyone, what are you changing?

I spent last Sunday at the People's Climate March in NYC. By most reports, it was the largest climate action in the US ever. Over 300,000 people from a broad spectrum of affiliations showed up to support ...
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Everybody is accountable to somebody

There's something incredibly valuable about concepts that cut across fields and contexts. They help us grapple with unfamiliar territory, facilitate reasoning by analogy, and spread lessons that can lead to unexpected breakthroughs. Accountability is one of ...
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Is America finally talking about police militarization?

If so, then that might be a small silver lining on the tragedy in Missouri this week. I was worried that it was just my social media feeds -- which admittedly skew lefty and political -- ...
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Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all traded unicorns?

As you might already know, one result of the famous Bretton Woods conference of 1944 (which established the post-WWII global economic order) was to set the US dollar as the currency for global trade. Apparently economics ...
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Inbox zero (but to-do list gazillion)

One of my favorite productivity tips: Use a tool for what it does best. Inboxes receive messages. To-do lists track tasks. If you're using "flags" or "stars" in your inbox to track tasks based on the ...
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Strategy is as strategy does

When I was in undergrad, I took an analytical writing course that focused on war and conflict. It was an odd mix: though we used essays and articles related to war as prompts, and the instructor ...
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You get a new org chart, and you get a new org chart! Everybody gets a new org chart!

It takes a special kind of development geek to get excited about something like the organizational structures of donor institutions. Accountability and voting shares? Sure. Policy priorities and disciplinary paradigms? Even those are just one step ...
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Summer reading list: back to paper

I've become less enamored with my kindle recently. Maybe because I hauled a few boxes of old books out of storage and put them on shelves -- which was made possible by moving into a new ...
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Capacity, institutions, and relationships

The World Bank blog had a great post last week that takes an interesting view on one of development's shibboleths: capacity building. Rich Mallet breaks down the concept a bit and notes how, in practice, it usually involves resources ...
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Zooming out from healthcare to systems thinking

I’ve written about health systems in a few other places recently: a post on Humanosphere talks about health systems in general, and a post on Reboot’s blog looks at lessons from governance reform. Both posts were sparked by a ...
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Who’s afraid of imported solutions?

We learn from both successes and failures. Yet there's an interesting difference in how we use what we learn. If we learn from it at all, failure is focused on driving changes in the programs and policies ...
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Information v. knowledge economy

The crux of the label we use to describe an economic paradigm is that it usually points to the main driver of value: industrial, agrarian, etc. For the last few decades, we've tried several ways to ...
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External conceptualization and spatial ideation through compact multichromatic adhesives

Flip charts. Dry erase boards. Slide projectors. Plasma TVs. We have lots of ways to display information for groups of people. Lots of ways to move it around in real-time as well. But somehow we keep ...
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Moderating the hype around development ideas

When I presented the hype cycle for development ideas in a recent post, I didn't bother to identify the causes or underlying dynamics that drive the cycle. I presented Gartner's framework, applied it to international development ...
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Randomize all the things: grad school and junior faculty posts edition

This morning's thought experiment is inspired by a recent conversation with a few colleagues about grad school. These particular colleagues went to a certain snooty uptown Manhattan institution; I went someplace a bit more downtown ...
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Coming clash of ideas?

Looks like previous post on the development ideas hype cycle stirred some interest. There are still the "so what" questions -- how individual actors should respond to the hype cycle, what systemic actions the sector ...
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Hype cycle for development ideas: 2014 edition

The "hype cycle" is a wonderful conceptual framework for understanding how technologies move from initial invention to widespread application. The basic path is simple:  whenever a new technology comes along, it usually gets hyped to ...
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Translation and multilingual workplaces

Anyone working internationally has encountered a multilingual work environment at some point. It brings unique challenges and power dynamics. Translation in such a context can become a contentious practice, though often it's treated as a ...
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Need a little help: Aid/development/international jobs in San Diego?

There's a lot of interesting research into industrial organization and geography. For all the talk of a flat world, location still matters. Los Angeles is built around the entertainment industry. If you don't work "in the ...
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Time constraints in governance reform practice

The Kennedy School event that I mentioned previously included an interesting panel about new practice in governance reform. It featured Peter Harrington of the Africa Governance Initiative, Jennifer Widner of Innovations for Successful Societies, and Nadim Matta of ...
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Role of diaspora in development

I snuck out of the office last week and pretended to be an academic for a day at an interesting event at the Kennedy School. The focus of the event was recent work on governance reforms, ...
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How to be a macromanager

No one likes being micromanaged. And few people even like to be a micromanager. The whole thing seems like a waste of time. But the crime of micromanagement is about more than just inefficiency. It's ...
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Not even a title comes to mind

A few folks have asked for my take on the recent attack in Nairobi. I was living there last year. More than one of this blog's posts were written at Westgate's Artcaffe. My interest in ...
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“Purposive muddling” and the limits of institutional reform

I've spent my last few flights reading The Limits of Institutional Reform in Development, by Matt Andrews. It makes a significant contribution to our understanding of why so many institutional reform efforts fail to accomplish much, ...
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Smart targeting: Reframing the ethical questions around RCTs

Randomization with learning is better than haphazard implementation without learning. RCT proponents use variations on this refrain to defend against ethical questions about randomization. While I'm sure there are people who are troubled by the ...
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Reboot is hiring

My recent posts about staffing and growth didn't just come out of nowhere. They were prompted by a lot of internal planning that Reboot's been doing recently. The practical upshot of which is: we're hiring. In ...
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Growth as a staff retention strategy

I wrote last week about how your people are your organization's most important asset. That's why recruitment, retention and staff development are critical functions in an organization. But at least recruitment -- undervalued as it ...
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Your people are your organization

Recently I've been thinking a lot about staffing and organization growth. Our world is full of organizations of all kinds: NGOs, contractors, churches, orchestras, football teams. They have different goals, methods, structures and all -- but ...
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Something on the internet changed and I’m very upset about it!

Google Reader closed today. Most of the world won't notice, but a lot of people I know are waking up this morning, seeing this... ...and thinking the same thing: Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal ...
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When development evaluation gets too honest?

For anyone who's ever written a methodology section, treading the thin line between acknowledging limitations and completely undermining the findings.... There should be a development/RCT/M&E version of this: More here ...
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“Men now live think and work at express speed.”

Thought for the day: People like to say that change is occurring more rapidly and the world becoming more complex than at any previous era in history. But what if our predecessors were saying the ...
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Ideas borne out of experience (Yes, I’m reviewing J’s new novel)

If you read aid blogs, then you've seen other reviews pop up for a certain novel: Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit. I can't think of the last time I've seen a book reviewed on so many aid ...
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Politics and design thinking: more in common than you think

Last week, USIP's Andrew Blum wrote a great piece (on Tom Murphy's A View From The Cave) about the limitations of design thinking when it comes to politics. Blum makes the solid point that design thinking works best ...
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Bridging the divide

I just realized that I passed my three-year blogoversary a few weeks ago. I guess I celebrated by not posting in over a month?My blogging volume has an inverse relationship with my degree of employment: ...
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Delivering Development: learning about complexity from a few cases

I just finished reading Ed Carr's excellent book Delivering Development: Globalization's Shoreline and the Road to a Sustainable Future. The book is anchored in Carr's field research in Dominase and Ponkrum, two villages in central Ghana, over ...
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“Go with your gut”? Just how useful is intuition in a complex situation?

I recently finished reading Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow. Four stars out of five. It's a fascinating book full of insights from decades of research, interspersed with anecdotes about how those ideas developed over time. Great ...
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Make networking easier with a more specific elevator pitch

"Willing to do anything" is a badge of honor among the professionally itinerant. It's a strength and also an affliction, most commonly found in grad students, young professionals, and those suffering from career wanderlust. What ...
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Matatus in Brooklyn and telenovelas in India

Last night I caught up with a high school friend over dinner in Brooklyn. I learned two fascinating new things about the world. First, when I mentioned the 14-passenger vans known as matatus that are so common ...
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Overdue followup on the roots and webs post

Several folks chimed in on last month's post about complexity and traditional views of causality. They offered a few links that I have just now gotten around to checking out. (Apologies -- it's been a long ...
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No Ordinary Elections

IRIN News has done a multimedia documentary on Kenya's upcoming elections. It includes interviews with a variety of civic leaders, activists and artists. Worth checking out. The introductory video is below. Go to the site itself for ...
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Forget about roots and embrace the webs: What complexity means for our traditional views on causality

Our tools for identifying cause-and-effect in the world are matched by a particular view of how causality works. Ideas from complexity theory are forcing us to update our views on causality, so our tools must ...
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A few links on Big Data for Development

The idea of Big Data for Development (or "BD4D" -- you saw it here first, I'm coining it update: um, nevermind.) seems to be gaining momentum. The practice of mining large datasets has been around in private business ...
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What I learnt from looking behind The Global Journal’s Top 100 NGO ranking

[Note from Dave: The following is a cross-post from Tobias Denskus's excellent blog, Aidnography. Given my critiques of the Global Journal's Top 100 NGO list, I thought it only fair to host an alternate take ...
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Monitoring and complexity

Commenting on a paper about monitoring, Rick Davies notes: Complexity theory writers seem to give considerable emphasis to the idea of constant change and substantial unpredictability of complex adaptive systems (e.g. most human societies). Yet ...
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Once again with the top NGOs list?

A year ago, something called the Global Journal published a list of the top 100 best NGOs. It was a terrible idea, as I described at the time in a post titled: "Lies, damned lies, and ...
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Pritchett, feedback loops, and the accountability conundrum

Last week I attended a seminar given by Lant Pritchett at the Center for Global Development where he discussed his new working paper (co-authored with Salimah Samji and Jeffrey Hammer), “It’s all about MeE: Using Structured ...
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Complexity, politics and management — upcoming posts

My number one piece of advice for new bloggers: Write whatever you would want to read if you weren't writing it. Later on, you can worry about things like your writing style, scope, target audience, ...
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Could Puerto Rico be 51?

Early Wednesday morning, my social media feeds were full of comments and links on various political topics: The presidential race, of course. The various ballot measures on gay marriage, marijuana and other issues. The historically high -- ...
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Watching the US election from Kenya

I'm watching election coverage with a few expat friends and colleagues in Nairobi this morning. We're switching between MSNBC and BBC -- where the Brits are having quite a hoot trying to explain the Electoral ...
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Charity contests: Crowd-sourcing, PR, or accountability punt?

[Note: This was an early post on the blog -- from June 2010. I've been thinking about this issue recently and might post on it again soon. In the meantime, I thought I'd give this ...
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Complexity theory, adaptive leadership, and cash-on-delivery aid: one of these things is not like the others

How do you make decisions and manage resources in the face of complexity? It's a tough nut to crack. Owen Barder recently wrote several blog posts on the implications of complexity theory for development. The whole series ...
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“Be so good they can’t ignore you.” (In which I get uncharacteristically personal.)

For some people, the start of the New Year provides an opportunity for reflection and goal-setting. For me, that always happens on my birthday. That’s today. I won’t share how old I am, but suffice ...
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How organizations grow: Zidisha Microfinance founder Julia Kurnia on expanding their reach

Zidisha Microfinance is an online platform to facilitate direct peer-to-peer microlending. Starting from an initial group of borrowers in Kenya -- "zidisha" means "grow" or "increase" in Kiswahili -- the platform now serves over 560 borrowers ...
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The Last Hunger Season: highlighting slow but positive change

I recently finished reading The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change by Roger Thurow. The book chronicles the lives of four smallholder farming families in western Kenya over ...
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Citius, Altius, Fortius: Why the Olympics are the pinnacle of civilization

Guys, I love the Olympics. Please humor me by hitting "play" on the following as you read this blog post. 1. The Olympics For the next two weeks, my productivity will drop substantially as I ...
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Contractors, NGOs, CBOs, or governments: What’s the best channel for bilateral aid?

That's a trick question. The answer is: It depends. What does it depend on? That one's harder to answer. Last week, John Norris wrote in Foreign Policy under the provocative title: "Hired Gun Fight: Obama's aid chief ...
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On planning

Whenever I start a new job, I learn how to plan all over again. I'm not talking about big, strategic planning at the programmatic or organizational level, but rather the daily/weekly/maybe-monthly planning we each do ...
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Public institutions are different: Watching the UVA fiasco half a world away

I'm struggling to keep up with the current mess at the University of Virginia. It started when the board suddenly fired the president a few weeks ago. The board's action failed to meet any basic ...
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Everyone’s office is someone else’s field

I'm back in Nairobi and catching my breath this weekend. For the past three weeks, I've been visiting our regional offices throughout Kenya. My travels took me from the border with Uganda to the coast ...
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Rebranding African cuisine?

Nice try, ugali -- but you're not fooling anyone ...
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Admit complexity: a few takeaways from MSF’s “Humanitarian Negotiations Revealed”

I snagged a free copy of a recent volume published by Médecins Sans Frontières (aka Doctors Without Borders). Humanitarian Negotiations Revealed: The MSF Experience is a series of case studies from a range of humanitarian contexts, combined ...
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I’m not a global health expert, but now I can fake it…

...thanks to a new e-book called What's Killing Us: A Practical Guide to Understanding Our Biggest Global Health Problems. It’s written by Alanna Shaikh and published through TED Books. That makes it pretty much self-recommending ...
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The double standard and the development of institutions

Tom Murphy recently shared a chart that he created in collaboration with Carol Gallo and David Week. It lists the "double standards" of how certain political activities are described, depending on where they take place --- e.g. in ...
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In praise of interdisciplinarity at the World Bank

Blogging is like exercising: if you fall out of the habit, it can be hard to get back into it. Last month I started a new job that's kept me pretty busy. Of course, compared ...
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Worth reading

The last two weeks I’ve been too busy to blog much, but I've kept track of some interesting reads that have crossed my desk. Yes, many relate to Kony 2012. I've been happy to see ...
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Guest post: Kony 2012 and a look inside the Invisible Children organization

[Note from Dave Algoso: The following is a guest post from David Hong. He's an international development professional, a friend-of-the-blog, and a self-described former "roadie" for Invisible Children. All opinions expressed below are entirely his.] ...
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Kony 2012: history, nuance, and advocacy’s Golden Rule

I resisted. I really tried. But here I am anyway. Writing about this campaign. If you're on Facebook or other social media, you don't need me to include the video itself, since it's popping up everywhere ...
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Dignitas Project: supporting community schools in Nairobi’s Mathare slum

Picture an urban slum in a developing country. Walk around a bit. Think about what's missing. We can move from the concrete up to the more abstract: there's little in the way of pavement, proper ...
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Sanergy: making a sustainable business out of the sanitation value chain

Sanitation is a major problem in urban slum areas. With so many neighbors and so little infrastructure, residents have few good options for dealing with human waste. Often they resort to "flying toilets": plastic bags ...
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Trust and the development of institutions: reviewing “Liars & Outliers”

I managed to snag an early copy of Bruce Schneier's new book, Liars & Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive. It's a bit different from the books you normally see reviewed on development blogs ...
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Measurement at the agency level, part 3: One Acre Fund case study

This is the third and (probably) final post in a series on measurement at the agency level. Part 1 discussed the basic idea and the challenges involved. Part 2 looked at how Mercy Corps has dealt with these ...
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Measurement at the agency level, part 2: Mercy Corps case study

Last week I discussed why NGOs might want to measure results at the agency level, rather than just at the program/project level, in order to improve management decisions or better make the case for the agency's ...
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What does it all add up to? Measurement at the agency level, part 1

You’ve already heard my thoughts on how any effort to rank NGOs will descend into absurdity. The major difficulty with such an endeavor stems from the remarkable range of organizations that fall in the “NGO” ...
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Regarding the job I thought I had

Someday I'll tell you a cautionary tale about funding-contingent positions. But not on this blog. It will only be told over drinks, with names changed to protect the innocent. In any case, it's a story ...
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Soundtrack for your travels

By the time you see this, I’ll probably be somewhere over the Atlantic, en route to Nairobi. I'll be living there for at least the next year. Between moving and starting a new job, I've ...
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More than just hot air

My fellow aid and development bloggers have a lot going on. Somewhere in between blogging and full-time jobs, many of them squeeze in some fascinating side projects. Here are a few new ones and a ...
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So long, New York.

I said goodbye to New York City last weekend. Next week I'm starting a new job in Nairobi (more on that another time). Leaving NYC was bittersweet. I've always felt like I should live in Manhattan at some ...
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Lies, damned lies, and ranking lists: The Top 100 Best NGOs

Sometimes I don't feel like being clever or coy with the headline. Sometimes I just want to make the point up front. This is one of those times. Allow me to underline it: Ranking lists ...
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ICC to move forward with trials of four Kenyans

Yesterday, the International Criminal Court announced that it will move forward with trials for four suspects in cases stemming from Kenya's 2007/2008 post-election violence. The four suspects going to trial are Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto, ...
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Show me the money.

Despite my absence from blogging over the past week and a half-ish, I've still been thinking about the use of money and conditions in development. Following my previous post about Cash on Delivery (COD) aid, I was ...
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Articulating my discomfort with Cash on Delivery (COD) aid

There are a lot of positive things to say about CGD's innovative Cash on Delivery (COD) aid concept. Go here if you need the basic background. Despite all the great work that Nancy Birdsall and ...
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Next on the reading list…

My aforementioned increase in book consumption continues. The following are underway or next in my queue: Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (I feel like I've had a steady trickle of Kahneman's work from other authors ...
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Reading in parallel: Future of Power, Great Stagnation, Thinking in Time

A couple weeks ago I got a Kindle Touch. The result has been a massive uptick in my book reading, especially when I'm travelling. I'm making some serious headway into the backlog of book recommendations ...
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Tuesday has no feel

I've got a few draft blog posts underway, but lost the drive to finish any of them. Until it returns, enjoy the following almost-midweek distractions. 1. Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. 2. Yo, Is ...
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My year in review

Here are my top posts from the year. As measured by me. This list has no basis in the site stats (which tend to spike whenever I mention a celebrity in the title). These are ...
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Speaking of teaching kids to argue…

As a follow-up to my post on teaching kids to argue, and perfectly timed for the holidays: (Hat tip to most of my facebook friends.) We'll return to our regularly scheduled programming shortly. Until then: ...
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Why kids should study rhetoric

The term "rhetoric" is usually pejorative, especially in political discourse. "It's just rhetoric" means someone is using fancy talk that doesn't really mean anything. A "rhetorical question" is usually meant to evoke an obvious, often ...
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Recent work on peacebuilding and conflict sensitivity

Of course, those two aren't the same thing. Nevertheless, a couple interesting pieces related to both topics have come across my desk recently. I thought the following were worth sharing. Applying conflict sensitivity in emergency response: ...
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So that thing Kiva just started doing? Zidisha was already doing it

Last week, I wrote about Kiva's new pilot program for direct peer-to-peer microlending -- called Kiva Zip -- which differs from their current system of indirect microlending. The new program struck me as pretty innovative. The commenters on ...
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Kiva starts doing what we thought they were doing all along

Two years ago, there was a pseudo-controversy around Kiva’s business model. The organization had received great acclaim as an innovative person-to-person microlending platform. Lenders in rich countries could browse profiles of micro-entrepreneurs who lacked access to other ...
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Out of the ordinary

My apologies if subscribers received a post that looked like nonsense earlier today. I was configuring something new on the blog and it went haywire. Sorry. Let me make it up to you. How about a ...
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Hopeful continent? The Economist goes long on Africa

In May 2000, the front page of The Economist ran the words "hopeless continent" above an image of an anonymous black man holding a weapon, cropped in the shape of Africa. The accompanying article focused on all the ...
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Technology for transparency, accountability and good governance

I spent yesterday morning at a discussion on the above topic. The issue at hand was the fact that a bunch of groups have been doing government accountability and transparency work for decades, and a bunch ...
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What the smart people are reading

Every year, Foreign Policy puts out a list of the top 100 "global thinkers". This year's list is a bit confusing. Many of the winners are more do-ers than thinkers, and there are well more than 100 people on ...
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Midweek distraction: Move. Learn. Eat.

I love this series from filmmaker Rick Mereki. Reminds me a lot of the "Where the Hell is Matt?" videos from a few years ago, but better. (Hat tip to Clare Kelley.) ...
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Analysis vs satire: a short case study on “participation”

Below are excerpts from two different pieces criticizing the way that development agencies use "participatory" methods. Neither one disagrees with the value of participation, but both take issue with its implementation. Let's compare and contrast these two ...
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Hey, can we talk about opportunity costs for a second?

I'm pretty sure the concept of "opportunity cost" is covered in the first week of every introductory economics course. It forms the foundation of more complicated econ concepts. But it's like we just completely forget about ...
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Business, conflict sensitivity and peacebuilding

Violent conflict is bad for most businesses. Unless your business is actually related to conflict -- say, arms sales or some form of security contracting -- it's generally pretty hard for commerce to thrive in ...
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Round-up

Since Google Reader sharing met an untimely death, here's a round-up of interesting links that I thought you might like. Most of them are totally unrelated to aid and development. Sorry. Quick fun Best statistics ...
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Google Reader and international aid: If you’re not paying for it, then you’re not the customer. You’re the product.

I'm a long-time fan of Google Reader. Most bloggers and many of our readers rely on it to manage our information consumption. When Google rolled out Google+ last summer, we wondered why there was no integration between GReader ...
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What’s in a name? Johnny Cash teaches us about branding

Over at the Peace Dividend Trust blog, Scott Gilmore posted this morning under the title: "We hate our name, discuss." Here's the summary version: We chose the name in 2004. At that time PDT was merely ...
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Bringing politics into the aid effectiveness agenda

I just came across a recent ODI working paper by David Booth: "Aid effectiveness: bringing country ownership (and politics) back in." Booth brings a critical eye to how the concept of "country ownership" influenced the ...
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Protests in New York: the American Tahrir Square, Seattle 1999 redux, or progressive Tea Party?

This poster was designed by Adbusters for the “Occupy Wall Street” protests that are taking place right now. Regardless of how you feel about the protests, the visual juxtaposition in this poster is beautiful. And while ...
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What’s worse than DIY foreign aid?

Last year, I wrote a bit about the “do it yourself” foreign aid concept (and then I wrote a lot more about it). I find the DIY aid attitude to be misguided and potentially harmful. But ...
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CSR: J., Charlie Sheen, Karl Marx and Office Space

J. has started organizing a virtual Aid Blog Forum, in which he’s encouraging a lot of bloggers to write on the same issue in a single week. It’s a great idea. The inaugural topic: corporate ...
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Blog survey findings 5: why the audience reads blogs

(This is the fifth post in a series reporting topline results from the recent aid/development blog reader survey. Please go here for full results and other commentary.) This was the most interesting question for me, ...
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Happy Peace Day

I’ve been so wrapped up with the blog survey (and, you know, work) that I almost missed the International Day of Peace. That's today! Promoting one day of peace! It's a bit more modest than some of ...
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Blog survey findings 4: issues of interest

(This is the fourth post in a series reporting topline results from the recent aid/development blog reader survey. Please go here for full results and other commentary.) We only had one question that asked about ...
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Blog survey findings 3: reading habits

(This is the third post in a series reporting topline results from the recent aid/development blog reader survey. Please go here for full results and other commentary.) Although I presented the demographic data first, the ...
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Blog survey findings 2: demographics and professional status

(This is the second post in a series reporting topline results from the recent aid/development blog reader survey. Please go here for full results and other commentary.) Half of the survey addressed demographic and professional ...
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Blog survey findings: introduction and methodology

Over the past few weeks, dozens of aid and development bloggers have collaborated to promote a joint survey of our readership. This project was essentially market research. We wanted to know who actually reads these ...
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ICC, Rift Valley, media, land, politics, economics — and peace

The ICC is currently holding pre-trial hearings on the Kenyan cases. These hearings will determine whether there is enough evidence for the cases to go to trial. The defendants – referred to as the “Ocampo ...
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Aid and development blog reader survey

Still haven’t taken the international aid and development blog survey? Please click here to take it now. The survey form will remain open for another week, so please tweet it, blog it, and otherwise share ...
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Clarify

Two of my favorite bloggers have recently delved into why they do aid work. They’re both senior, established professionals in the field, so I recommend you read what they have to say: Testify, by J ...
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50 Cent to feed all of Africa, and then some

Via the Huffington Post, we have this news: Moved to action by a recent trip to famine-torn Africa, 50 Cent has launched an energy drink whose profits will feed 1 billion kids in the region ...
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Who are you?

Who reads blogs written about international aid and development issues? Bloggers don’t know much about our audience, beyond what we can infer from some basic site stats and the comments section. In order to learn ...
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Multinational civil society

I’ve never quite understood the automatic negative reaction that some people have to NGOs. Being anti-NGO makes about as much sense as being anti-business or anti-government. Every human institution has failures and successes. I suppose ...
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Prospects for agricultural research to prevent famine

As I discussed a few weeks ago, the causes behind the Horn of Africa famine are more political/economic than they are ecological/agricultural. That said, when facing a mix of causes, there should be a mix of ...
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Haircuts, as they relate to perceptions of race and ethnicity

Yesterday I got a haircut at Eldoret's new (only?) shopping mall. It reminded me of a post I wrote last year, when I was living in Mbale, Uganda. The title of the post was "I'm ...
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Development debates: Micro-level contradictions

My earlier post started with the observation that the big-picture development debates seem to have died down recently. See Ranil Dissanayake’s post at Aid Thoughts for more on that. I also wanted to comment on ...
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Development debates: Theory Of Everything

Ranil Dissanayake at Aid Thoughts recently posted some comments on the state of development debates. He started by observing that the big debates over the nature of development have died down recently, but not because ...
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“In Kenya, everything is road.”

My daily commute can be described in one word: muddy. I walk about 20 or 30 minutes (the muddier it is, the longer it takes) without a speck of tarmac or concrete from the point ...
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Evaluating peacebuilding

Several interesting reports related to peacebuilding evaluation have come across my inbox (and RSS reader) in the past few weeks. The first two reports below resulted from a series of meetings held by the United ...
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Trading places: Headlines we might someday see

Recent events have left me pondering a question that I’m sure has crossed the mind of many developing country leaders: Why don’t rich, developed nations face the same international meddling that they so frequently impose ...
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Famine

It feels a little odd to be here in Kenya but not blogging about the famine. To be honest, I don’t know much about food security issues. My work here is not connected to the ...
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Evangelical aid: elaborating on Kristof’s recent column

Nicholas Kristof and I have had our differences. But his recent column comes to the defense of evangelical charity in a way that I completely support. Here's a snippet: Evangelicals are disproportionately likely to donate ...
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New page: book recommendations

Books? Yep, I’ve been known to read a few. I’m clearly a fan of blogs, but the format can only do certain things. It’s not suited for constructing an in-depth argument or exploring the nuances of ...
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American vs. Norwegian approaches to justice

The difference between American and Norwegian approaches to justice has gotten some attention in the wake of last Friday's tragic attacks in Oslo and Utøya. Some Americans feel that Norway's system of justice is too ...
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Housekeeping: content sharing on multiple platforms

At some point I stopped doing round-ups of interesting articles and blog posts (like the one below). I stopped doing them about the same time that I started to actively use the “share” function in Google Reader. If ...
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Worth sharing: a round-up of links

1. What makes Nairobi's iHub work? 2. Naive or professional? 3. MIFFS: middle income, failed or fragile states 4. Insurgent groups exhibit learning curve 5. Superman saves the world 6. Differences between movie stars and sports stars 7. Becoming an Aid ...
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USAID shifts away from large contracts and looks to build internal capacity — prompting advocacy from development contractors

A month ago, the Coalition of International Development Companies (CIDC) sent an email to my Find What Works email address.* I can only assume they want me to blog about it. The email itself was ...
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A response to “The Nexus of Aid Work & Islamic Extremism” that was way too long for the comments section

Shawn Ahmed recently shared some fascinating reflections on his Uncultured Project website. The post is titled: The Nexus of Aid Work & Islamic Extremism. I like the post because it goes deeper than the standard defense/COIN conversation ...
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Conflict-sensitive programming vs. peacebuilding

...international actors often fail to make the important distinction between conflict-sensitive programming and peacebuilding. Conflict sensitive assistance has at its core 1) an analysis of the context, 2) an understanding of the interaction between the ...
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You may find yourself planning a survey in western Kenya. And you may ask yourself: where will I get population data?

If you’re like me, you’re currently in the process of planning a baseline evaluation survey for a youth program covering 9 counties in western Kenya. You might be interested in some good population and age ...
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Development vs. Human Rights? The Case of Colombia

[Note from Dave: The following is a guest post from Brandon Wu, a grad student at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs. He's currently living in Bogotá, Colombia, conducting research on the conflict ...
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Right now on Kenyan TV

I get 22 channels on my television antenna here in Eldoret, Kenya. This is what they're showing right now: Some World War 2 movie South Sudan independence ceremony South Sudan independence ceremony South Sudan independence ...
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Goodbye for now, New York. Next stop: Kenya.

Tonight I'm leaving New York and flying to Kenya for a new job. I'll be based in Eldoret for the next few months, with occasional travel to Nairobi and elsewhere. I'm sure the new job ...
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Revolution in Egypt — and PDT’s new blog initiative

Two quick things today. First, I have a guest post over at the Peace Dividend Trust (PDT) blog: Revolution in Egypt: both political and economic? Here's the opening: The big questions for Egypt’s political revolution seem to ...
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Social cause marketing is Made to Stick. But can we also Make it Not Suck?

Imagine you're a typical American. You have a job and maybe a family. You're comfortable by global standards, but you don't feel rich. You worry about the household's bills, your father's health, and whether your ...
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Shifting the paradigm: Kuhn, Chambers and the future of international development

In 1962, Thomas Kuhn introduced a remarkable idea with a book called The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. He argued against the simple narrative that scientific progresses occurs through the gradual accumulation of knowledge about the ...
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Advocacy is hard to do — and almost as hard to evaluate

Successful advocacy efforts are characterized not by their ability to proceed along a predefined track, but by their capacity to adapt to changing circumstances. The most effective advocacy and idea-generating organizations, such as the Center ...
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A tangential issue: management differences across sectors

After writing two posts on what an MPA is and why I got one, I've been thinking about a tangentially related issue: management differences between private businesses, nonprofits/NGOs, and the public sector. This is a ...
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Why I got an MPA: Because organizations matter

My previous post gave a little background on what a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree is. Since I just finished my MPA a few weeks ago, this post will describe why I got one. So, ...
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What is a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree?

There are a number of possible career paths for people interested in working in international aid/development (broadly defined). Many of those paths involve graduate degrees, and there are many possible degrees. It would be a ...
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IRBs in development? Accountability mechanisms matter

Yesterday James Fearon asked an interesting question: "Why aren't there IRBs for the development industry?" Academic researchers must answer to Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) on questions related to ethical research practice and treatment of human ...
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Birther movement heads down the “Ivoirité” route, providing an opening to discuss what it means to be American

After the release of Obama's long form birth certificate a few weeks back, I had some twitter conversations about what would be next for the birther movement. I figured they would double-down on their belief ...
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My last post ever? Thoughts on uncertainty, religion & development

It's easy to mock Harold Camping and his followers. They've decided that the end of times starts today at 6 pm. They've come to this conclusion with some fancy math based on Biblical statements, despite ...
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I’m an international development blogger — and you can be too! (Or: Why development students and professionals should blog)

I started this blog almost exactly one year ago. It's time I stopped thinking of myself as someone who blogs, and instead admit that I am a blogger. Yes, it's an identity. Now that I've ...
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Graduate school? Check.

As of last night, I'm done with my graduate degree. Whew. You can expect more blogging over the next few weeks as I reflect on grad school, catch up on my Google Reader backlog (260 starred ...
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How we respond: two true quotes and one fake

Two quotes bounced around my twitter feed on Sunday night. This one: "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles." - Proverbs 24:17 And also ...
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Limitations of RCTs: a post script

I wrote a few posts recently on the implications of politics and context for randomized controlled trials (RCTs). See here, here and here. I've received a few offline comments about them. Some clarifying points are ...
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Innovation and Humanitarian Action — a long overdue conference recap

A couple weeks ago I attended the 4th annual Frontiers of Humanitarianism Conference: Innovation and Humanitarian Action. It was organized by the Consortium on Security and Humanitarian Action, and hosted by Fordham. There were four ...
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Pentagon strategists propose greater focus on intellectual capital, sustainable security, & environmental sustainability

It is time for America to re-focus our national interests and principles through a long lens on the global environment of tomorrow. It is time to move beyond a strategy of containment to a strategy of sustainment ...
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Limitations of RCTs (part 3): How context influences program execution

(This is the last in a three-part series on the limitations of randomized controlled trials (RCTs). See the first and second posts. The series responds to a recent set of essays in the Boston Review.) The ...
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Limitations of RCTs (part 2.5): Green jelly beans linked to acne

The last in my three-part series on the limitations of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) is still in the works. In the meantime, here's XKCD* on the dangers of atheoretical, post-hoc subgroup analysis. * XKCD: The unofficial ...
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A Day Without Dignity: Counter-campaigning against TOMS Shoes

Saundra Schimmelpfennig over at Good Intentions Are Not Enough has declared today A Day Without Dignity. Here's how she explains it: A Day Without Dignity is a counter-campaign to TOMS Shoes A Day Without Shoes ...
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Limitations of RCTs (part 2): How politics and context confound measurement

(This is the second in a three-part series on the limitations of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) in development. As mentioned in my previous post, a recent set of essays in the Boston Review looks at the role of behavioral ...
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Limitations of RCTs: Politics and context

A recent set of essays in the Boston Review looks at the role of behavioral economics in development. The collection gives a good introduction to the impact of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) on development thinking in ...
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Cote d’Ivoire violence continues to escalate

Mark Leon Goldberg at UN Dispatch quotes a message from health researchers who work on programs in Cote d'Ivoire: Over the last few days, we have received increasingly dire reports from our colleagues. They describe ...
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On the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire: What about unions in the developing world?

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. The disaster resulted in 146 deaths, largely because factory management was in the habit of locking the exits and stairwells. The event ...
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Recent interesting articles related to democracy and transitions

The title above says it all. I'm slowly working my way through my Google Reader backlog and thought I'd share the following. These winds of change may now reach across the Sahara. Nobel prize winner ...
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Not the most likely face of gender equality…

Bond. James Bond. He's the man who every man wants to be. Living a life of fast cars, awesome gadgets, beautiful women, and questionable morals. And now, the face of an ad to promote gender ...
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Would you hire me if I disagreed with you? What if I did it publicly?

While speaking on a panel at NYU Wagner yesterday, I encouraged my fellow grad students to start blogging. One guy asked me a sensible question about what happens when you write something that might be ...
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Peace Corps: America’s most extensive SWEDOW (stuff-we-don’t-want) operation?

The Peace Corps turns 50 today. In the last half century, over 200,000 volunteers have deployed to 139 countries. But is the agency still as relevant as it was in the 1960s? Charles Kenny argues that ...
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Really, Mahmoud? Really??

From Robert Mackey at NYT comes an update on the uprisings in Libya, including the following priceless clip from Iran's state-financed satellite channel: "Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has criticized Libyan rule Muammar Qaddafi, for threatening ...
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Working where you don’t speak the language

I just got back from three weeks of work in Kosovo. Most of the people I worked with are native Albanian speakers, and a few others are Serbian speakers, though they all speak excellent English. In the ...
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Ongoing protests in Cairo: a revolution being televised?

I'm no expert on Egypt or the Arab world. I was in Cairo a week before the protests started, and I had no idea what was coming. Actually, that doesn't distinguish me from the experts: ...
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Think tanks: vital but overlooked?

Think tanks may get a bad rap around Washington for being partisan and/or corporate tools, but a column in The East African argues that local think tanks in developing countries deserve more donor support: As Ghana’s ...
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The halo effect and personal mission creep: Clooney, Smith, Jordan, Schwarzenegger, Gates, Bono and Bieber

George Clooney's involvement with the Satellite Sentinel Project has sparked renewed discussion on celebrity forays into social causes. (See below for a round-up of related posts.) I've been chewing over the issue, because celebrities are going to ...
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Round up of stuff that works and stuff that doesn’t: partnerships, taxes, evidence, and failure

1. Partnerships. Small is Beautiful...Grants, That Is. Jennifer Lentfer describes small grant programs in two parts. Part 1 focuses on the "why" of small grant programs. In short: because local, community-based organizations are vitally important ...
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Career advice (from people smarter than me)

I have a guest post over at whydev.org. Here's the summary version. Ah, the New Year. A nice time to pause and reflect on life’s path. If you’re thinking about your career, here’s a compilation of ...
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What’s up in South Sudan?

I'm catching up on the news and interesting commentary about South Sudan's ongoing independence referendum. Here are some things that caught my eye. A necessary secession. The nuts and bolts overview if you're unfamiliar with ...
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Lunch in Cairo

For lunch today I had a falafel sandwich and a chicken shawarma sandwich (total bill: LE 7.50, or about US$1.30). The guy working the register spoke English, like many Egyptians, but the guy making the ...
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A month of travel

You may have noticed that this blog went silent for a couple weeks. The holidays conspired with a whole slew of other work to keep me from posting for a while. Now I'm back -- ...
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Foreign involvement in constitutional reform processes: DRC, Rwanda, Kenya

I'm very interested in the role of outside actors in a country's political development. A term paper for a recent course gave me a chance to research this role as it applies to constitutional reforms. I ...
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Tools/toys: Google’s ngram viewer and news archives

Google now has a tool for graphing how words have come in and out of fashion over time: Books Ngram Viewer. (h/t to Audrey Watters at ReadWriteWeb.) The tool is still in "lab" form, so take results ...
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Things that work: migration, mockery, meta-things and more

Migration Pulling up the ladder. Owen Barder makes the case for the development benefits of migration and outlines the political obstacles to better policies in the UK. The Most Effective Development Intervention We Have Evidence ...
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Dear Mr. Gandhi, We regret we cannot fund your proposal…

From Search for Common Ground's manual on M&E for peacebuilding programs. If only he'd done a log frame ...
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Best book I’ve read in a while: “The Trouble with the Congo” (Autesserre)

I just finished Séverine Autesserre's excellent book, The Trouble with the Congo: Local Violence and the Failure of International Peacebuilding. If you have any interest in peacebuilding, conflict, the DRC, or the UN, then I highly ...
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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 ...
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What to watch — videos to help you procrastinate

It's almost the Thanksgiving holiday in the US. Maybe you haven't turned your brain off entirely, but you certainly don't want to read something. Here are a few videos that have come across my desk recently, ...
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How to summarize a whole debate in one sentence: justice v. peace

As long as justice is treated as synonymous with prosecutions alone and peace-building is reduced to the process of negotiating peace agreements, then peace and justice will remain at loggerheads. That line comes from an ...
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From Impunity to Accountability: Africa’s Development in the 21st Century (conference review)

I spent yesterday at the New School's conference on development challenges facing African countries. There were several interesting talks. Here are a few highlights: Bill Easterly described a double-standard in democratic accountability for the rich ...
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What is an “entrepreneur”?

I try not to be nitpicky about words. Some people are really into language activism -- insisting on using or not using particular terms (e.g. greeting a mixed gender group with, "hey you guys") because ...
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What I’ve missed — Sunday evening round-up

A few bits from my weekend reading that are worth sharing. Health A case study of when things work well in global health. Karen Grepin highlights the pending launch of a new vaccine against meningococcal A meningitis ...
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DIY follow-up, part 5 of 5: Future of the issue: More debate, and more nuance

(This concludes a 5-part series which responds to the responses that I received following my Foreign Policy post about Nicholas Kristof’s D.I.Y. aid concept. For more background, also see Part 1: How complicated can things really be?) 5 ...
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DIY follow-up, part 4 of 5: So what is the role for people who don’t fit your definition of “professional”?

(This continues a 5-part series which responds to the responses that I received following my Foreign Policy post about Nicholas Kristof’s D.I.Y. aid concept. For more background, also see Part 1: How complicated can things really be?) 4 ...
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DIY follow-up, part 3 of 5: Improving the development industry. (Or: Don’t the professionals screw things up too?)

(This continues a 5-part series which responds to the responses that I received following my Foreign Policy post about Nicholas Kristof’s D.I.Y. aid concept. For more background, also see Part 1: How complicated can things really be?) 3 ...
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DIY follow-up, part 2 of 5: Questions of elitism. (Or: Just what is a “professional”?)

(This continues a 5-part series which responds to the responses that I received following my Foreign Policy post about Nicholas Kristof's D.I.Y. aid concept. For more background, also see Part 1: How complicated can things really ...
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DIY follow-up, part 1 of 5: How complicated can things really be?

Last week, I posted on this blog with my brief response to Kristof's DIY aid article. On Tuesday, I posted a longer version on Foreign Policy's blog. Since then, it's been commented on, summarized, and ...
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Gates and Coca-Cola: What can development learn from corporations?

I finally got around to watching the talk Melinda Gates gave at TEDxChange last month (see video below). I try not to link to TED talks because, well, it's kind of cliché. Some of them ...
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I want to say something nice about Kristof’s new column

I really do want to say something nice. But it's so hard. I'll come back to it in a bit. How about some background first? The column is titled "D.I.Y. Foreign-Aid Revolution" (full text here). It's ...
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The power of local power: Somali kidnappers release Save the Children staffer

A British staffer for Save the Children is on his way home after being kidnapped in Somalia last week. The articles aren't entirely clear on who kidnapped him (pirates? al Shabaab?) but what I found ...
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Follow-up on “indicator alphabet soup”

Looks like my post on indicators and indices was more timely than I thought. This week saw the release of the 2010 Global Hunger Index. More detail here. I guess snazzy maps now come standard ...
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Indicator alphabet soup: GDP, HDI, MPI, GPI

Discussions in a couple of my classes recently have reminded me of an old management dictum: You get what you measure. The idea is that the process of measuring something focuses our attention on it, and ...
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Soldiers discuss rape in the Congo

Christopher Albon (Conflict Health) has posted a video in which former Mai Mai soldiers describe why they committed rape. See below. I haven't got much more to say, except to add the (admittedly banal) comment ...
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The least interesting ICC prosecutor in the world?

I just attended a panel at NYU Law tonight where ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo spoke about Sudan sat at the end of the table without saying anything for the first 90 minutes, and then proceeded ...
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Round-up: Wal-Mart, Kibera, Gladwell, North Korea, Brazil, Somalia, Tanzania

"Wal-Mart should buy Massmart not only as a platform for expansion but also for its management talent." -- an HBS perspective on Wal-Mart's move into Africa. Kibera: the largest slum in Africa. Maybe. Malcolm Gladwell argues ...
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Truth in advertising: ChildFund, Kiva, and Bolsa Família

I had the pleasure of attending a "tweetup" in NYC on Tuesday with a bunch of development and ICT4D* bloggers/tweeters. It was good to put faces with the writing. There were a number of interesting ...
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Why the Tea Party Movement doesn’t bother me

I don't comment on US politics much here. In my first couple years out of undergrad, I worked for nonpartisan advocacy organizations trying to influence public policy in a decidedly partisan world. The dissonance grated ...
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Round-up: Powerpoint, Captain Planet, “Africa”, the DC metro, and more

"The revolution will not come by Powerpoint." Via Jina Moore, who credits @sonjasugira, comes a phenomenal take-down of the development industry by Martin Kimani. Happy Birthday, Captain Planet! The star of one of the most ...
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Hipsters: the true sign that China is an emerging superpower

The New Yorker has an interesting story on how good old Pabst Blue Ribbon is branding itself in China with references to being "matured in precious wooden casks." They're charging over $40 for one of ...
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What does complexity mean? What do we do about it?

Back in July I wrote a long, slightly rambling and overly philosophical post about chronocentrism. I used the concept of rising complexity to illustrate how chronocentrism promotes sloppy thinking (i.e. we misinterpret present conditions based ...
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Round up of interesting links

A story about making Ushahidi. Favorite line: "Technology is only 10% of the solution needed. The rest is administration and messaging." J. (Tales from the Hood) coins a wonderful phrase: confident humility. How language shapes ...
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Menus as microcosm

This story is from my time in Mbale, Uganda. The characters are a Ugandan entrepreneur and a well-meaning American NGO volunteer. Their tale presents a microcosm of the international development industry, and it will end ...
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What would you say you do here?

In Friday's Independent, Johann Hari described what he terms the "management consultancy scam." He draws from a recent string of memoirs by former management consultants. As one of them described the industry: We were proud ...
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Interesting posts — Where am I from? edition

I attended a good friend's wedding in Colorado last weekend, and found myself constantly stumped by difficult questions like "Where are you from?" or "Where are you living these days?" Some of you might understand ...
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Parting thoughts

My flight out of Nairobi leaves in a few hours. I'm first heading to Denver for an old friend's wedding, then to the DC area early next week, and back to NYC in the week ...
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Whodunnit? The NGOs, with the lead pipe, in the Library…

A provocative question has been bouncing around a few blogs recently. It takes various forms: "Is philanthropy killing Africa?" -- R. Todd Johnson, whose answer seems to be a resounding "yes." "Is philanthropy killing business in ...
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Development stories from around the web

I've enjoyed my last weekend in Kenya by wandering around downtown Nairobi, finally getting my hands on a Kenya national football jersey, and hanging out with some American embassy staff. I also prepped for my ...
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Looks like victory for Kenya’s new constitution

Early results indicate that the new constitution has passed with about 67% of the vote. The "No" team has conceded defeat. On the whole, the referendum went rather smoothly. It wasn't perfect of course: see uchaguzi ...
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Measuring multidimensional poverty

Oxford researchers have developed a new Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) for the UN. The Economist provides a general guide for the newbie, and Duncan Green gives more analysis. The MPI brings together indicators on health, ...
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Watching history happen in Kenya: looks just like politics

Kenyans are voting on a new constitution on Wednesday. It will almost certainly pass, according to recent polls. In the past month, I've come to realize just how historic this change will be. I won't ...
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Hello, Nairobi!

I took a matatu from Eldoret to Nairobi on Friday with Maurice, the Mercy Corps Kenya program director. Our driver was a bit of a maniac the whole way, making ill-advised passes on the highway ...
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Eastern Congo 2: academic-activist partnerships

There were several follow-up posts on the conflict minerals debate yesterday: Laura Seay (Texas in Africa) gave a history of the conflict. Summary version: it's complicated, but it has a lot to do with ethnicity, ...
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Eastern Congo: conflict, minerals and political activists

There's been a good debate on conflict minerals activism today. The debate revolves around the recent US legislation that requires greater due diligence in supply chains of minerals coming from eastern Congo. This legislation was ...
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Design tools, paradigm shifts in economics, the AU summit, and climate change mitigation/adaptation

I've caught up on the rest of my RSS backlog, and I'm glad I did. Turns out there were some real gems worth sharing. 1. Tools for design Via IPA's blog, there's now a set of ...
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Hakuna matata. Kuna referendum.

Highlights from my week: Being greeted by a Kenyan friend of my Kenyan colleague with: "Welcome to Kenya! Hakuna matata! Kuna referendum." (There is no worry! There is a referendum.) Getting cut off by some ...
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Blessed are the peacemakers

Alanna Shaikh wrote an excellent guest post on AidWatch earlier in the week: Is Impact Measurement a Dead End? Her main critique focuses on the problem of quantifying the unquantifiable, and the incentive distortions that ...
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Planned obsolescence in development: DSTV, Grameen phone ladies, laundromats, and bathroom scales

What's the connection between DSTV, Grameen phone ladies, laundromats and bathroom scales? They run on basically the same business model. I'm not talking about the direct satellite TV that you get in the United States ...
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Dawning realization that my graduate education is actually useful…

Over the past few weeks with Mercy Corps, some of the things that I've learned in grad school have turned out to be relevant. Shocking, right? For any classmates pondering fall classes, here's a quick ...
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Have I been shrinking?

It took me about two months in East Africa to figure out why I had to cuff my pants here. I wasn't devoting much mental energy to the problem, but every once and a while ...
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Time is a funny thing

The issue on my mind is chronocentrism. It's the tendency to think that the present time is somehow special or different from past or future eras. I've been stewing over this post for a few ...
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If I were Tom Friedman…

...then this post would be about how I ate dinner at an Indian restaurant called Mamma Mia in Western Kenya where they provided me with a bottle of real Louisiana-made Tabasco sauce. And all of ...
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Malaria, GM mosquitoes, acrophobia and more

(It's a crazy Saturday night in Eldoret, and I'm catching up on my news and blogs. Here are the things that caught my eye this week, along with appropriate commentary, snarky and otherwise.) Scientists have ...
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Kenya’s proposed constitution — and a US proxy culture war

Last Sunday, before the World Cup final, I sat down on the sideline at A-STEP's "Sports for Peace" program to watch the local under-17 team play against the elders' team. I soon found myself surrounded ...
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Somewhere between savior and tourist

Several of my favorite blogs have been discussing Nicholas Kristof recently. The short version: he has conceded that he often uses a "white foreigners as saviors" narrative when writing about Africa. In his own words: ...
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Al-Shabab attack in Kampala

A flurry of emails and facebook posts on Monday confirmed that everyone I know is safe. Our internet has been on the fritz since Monday (unrelated to the attack -- I'm in the next country ...
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Don’t try to understand ’em. Just rope, throw and brand ’em.

I spent most of yesterday with "Copacabana" stuck in my head. It's been replaced by "Rawhide" today. I haven't heard either song played in months. In honor of the latter, here's a round up (get it?) ...
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World Cup witchcraft (plus, K’naan!)

My favorite commentary on the infamous psychic octopus comes from the blog of Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper: Octopus Paul simply witchcraft from West Key quotes (cause I know you're too lazy to click on the ...
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When are IDPs not IDPs? When the government says so.

Yesterday I tagged along with a couple journalists who are doing a story on the Mercy Corps "Sports for Change" program. In the afternoon we went to a "transitional camp" in an area near Eldoret ...
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Africa lacks potential?

Not so, says Africa Investor and The Africa Group. Their recent report is covered in a three-page story in this week's East African. Full story here. The report quantifies potential increases in output from human ...
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Inventory: the things I carry

I arrived in Eldoret yesterday, and this morning I procured a Safaricom sim card. That brings my current inventory to: 1 netbook 2 different outlet adapters 2 cell phones 3 sim cards from 3 different ...
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Interlude: What have I learned today?

Years ago, I had the privilege of working with a man named Sam Gresham. When we were close to wrapping up the day's work, Sam would often say: "So, what have you learned today?" That ...
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Did Uruguay cheat?

Yes and no. Sorry if that seems wishy-washy, but it's just a complicated question. I was rooting for Ghana, along with two dozen Ugandans watching the match in the tiny and un-ironically named "Cozy Point" ...
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Running and development blogging

Chris Blattman recently took up running. He ponders: What does running have to do with development economics? The question is prompted by the fact that Owen Barder is evidently an ultramarathon-er and author of a ...
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Dealing with irregular internet connections

Dealing with irregular and slow internet connections in Uganda has forced me to find new ways of operating. Thought I'd share a couple things that might be useful to others who are on the road ...
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Launch of East African common market

Today marks the launch of the East African Community's Common Market. What actually changed today, I'm not entirely sure. Various protocols have been designed to allow free movement of labor, capital and investment among Uganda, ...
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Green to Collier: It’s the politics, stupid!

Duncan Green has posted a great review of Paul Collier's new book, The Plundered Planet: How to Reconcile Prosperity with Nature. Read Green's review here. Regular readers of this blog know that I like analytical ...
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Barack Obama for Mbale mayor

Ugandans love Barack Obama. I haven't got much insightful analysis beyond that. I just wanted to share the flyer pictured above, which was hanging in one of Mbale's internet cafes. I'm not sure if Obama ...
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Three days in Kigali

Last night I got back to Uganda after the aforementioned roadtrip to Kigali. I've got a few reactions to share. Caveats: This is neither scientific nor comprehensive. I didn't see the whole city (though I walked ...
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Wikistrat for international development

A beautiful nugget aligned with the "find what works" ethos came across Thomas Barnett's blog* earlier this week. Read the full post here. He describes a start-up consulting company which is devising a new approach ...
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Road trips that rhyme: From Mbale to Kigali in 24 hours

The following is a rough transcription (with embellishment) of my travel notebook over the past day. Wednesday, June 23 7:30am Wake up to sound of rooster and kids running around house. Actually a pretty nice ...
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Carothers/Green on fragile states, politics of development

Earlier today Duncan Green offered some great notes on a talk by Tom Carothers at a recent DFID conference. Full post here. It's worth a read, especially for anyone interested in the interaction between governance, ...
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I’m looking less Asian today

A month ago, shortly after arriving in Mbale, I offered some initial reflections on what it means to be an outsider and specifically a muzungu. A few days later, I learned that not everyone was ...
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Leapfrogging: Energy scavenging

I just came across an interesting article in the Economist on wireless electricity transmission. The technology has been commercially available for a few years, but only for charging cell phones at very short ranges (e.g ...
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Unimpressed by “Dead Aid” (Moyo)

I've been occupying myself on long bus rides around Uganda with Dambisa Moyo's Dead Aid. My notes and reactions are below. This is another late book review, as I never seem to read books when ...
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Maybe the t-shirt guy was right…

I've been thinking recently about how to define and assess needs. The practice brings all kinds of baggage and biases with it, both cultural (if you're doing an assessment outside your own community) and institutional ...
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Social enterprise, Mbale-style

Veronica Mungoma is a social entrepreneur, but I don't think she knows it. Veronica isn't one for buzzwords. She's probably never heard of Skoll, or TED, or even Ashoka. Veronica is just woman who finds ...
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Why bad ideas get good press

Check out this great post about Paul Romer's charter cities concept by Ranil Dissanayake at Aid Thoughts, and The Atlantic article he cites. The key critique from Ranil: The problem is not that economists think that rules ...
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In which I am a curiosity

During our visit to the MAPLE project in Lira, I spent much of my time interviewing local entrepreneurs. Most interviews took place under a shady tree, in relative quiet. Until school let out. While interviewing this ...
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Learn something from everyone

I returned to Mbale tonight after spending some time in Lira and its surrounding villages.  Long bus rides and new towns allowed me to practice an old habit: learning something new from everyone I meet ...
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Bududa Trip: In which I learned, acted like a cliché, and saw two ends of the spectrum

Last weekend, I traveled to Bududa with another MAPLE volunteer. We went to this small rural town an hour from Mbale for three reasons. First, we were visiting an orphan’s program to explore partnership possibilities ...
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J-PAL studies demand, forgets about supply

I'm back in Mbale after a weekend trip to Bududa, a small town that was devastated by mudslides in March. Over the course of two days I learned new things, acted like a total cliché, ...
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The mocking hits close to home

I'm normally an appreciative consumer of snarky commentary on the development industry. Wronging Rights is consistently funny in this regard, Aid Watch has its moments too, and HRI is pretty good. But sometimes you recognize yourself ...
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Muzungu wouldn’t lie

I've had a couple days to adjust to Mbale. This morning I woke up fully adjusted to the time zone. Of course, I woke up at 6:30am when the rooster that lives in the yard ...
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Megatrends

Owen Barder had an interesting post yesterday on "megatrends" affecting development organizations over the next five years. He offers the following list: Climate change. Technology, especially communications. The post-bureaucratic age. Changing role for aid towards ...
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Aid transparency and internal evaluations

There's been lots of interesting movement and commentary on aid transparency recently, including the following: Owen Abroad blogged today on why donors and others should just put the data out there, rather than focusing on ...
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Praise and criticism for “Fixing Failed States” (Ghani and Lockhart)

I just finished Ashraf Ghani and Clare Lockhart's "Fixing Failed States" - only about two years after it came out. So I'm a little behind on my reading list. Are the ideas out of date? ...
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