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Reaching Out From The Academic Grove

Tom Jacobson's picture

I am pleased to be able to return to blogging in this space after a rather extended stint in the land of higher education administration, and am welcoming a re-immersion in matters related to using communication to help facilitate development efforts.  One such matter on my mind following the administrative assignment is the relative lack of contact between academics that study development and practitioners who actually do development work. 

The gap is widely noted anecdotally, and a recent study confirms the anecdotes. The Center for Global Communication Studies at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication recently reported a study, conducted for BBC Media Action, on the reach and impact of Media Action’s work globally. One of their findings is that the world of practitioners underutilizes help that is available from academia: “…practitioners are less likely than other development stakeholders to consult academic research on the media…,” and “the policy community involved in funding media programs makes only moderate use of available research and evidence.” Of course, it goes both ways. Promotion up the academic ladder tends to reward theoretical inquiry regardless of real world impact.  And, thus, much research tends to be more useful theoretically than practically. Furthermore, for reasons there isn’t time to review here, the considerable number of communication research graduate programs that include development studies has atrophied in recent decades.

10 Killer Facts on Democracy and Elections

Duncan Green's picture

Ok this is a bit weird, but I want to turn an infographic into a blogpost. The ODI, which just seems to get better and better, has just put out a 10 killer facts on elections and democracy infographic by Alina Rocha Menocal, and it’s great. Here’s a summary:

Merit, Privilege or Slumdog Millionaires? Income Inequality and Social Mobility

Duncan Green's picture

In memory of Sebastian Levine, who liked to read these posts.

This post is written by Ricardo Fuentes-Nieva, Oxfam’s Head of Research (twitter @rivefuentes)

In Danny Boyle’s movie Slumdog Millionaire, the young character wins a large pot of money against all odds. The movie is a fantasy tale for all practical purposes. The hero knows the responses posed to him in a quiz show through a number of coincidences and lucky breaks. It was his only chance to become wealthy.

What type of societies give better, more just chances to everyone? What is the connection between opportunity and socio-economic disparities? There are, at the risk of being simplistic, two broad sources of inequality: inequality resulting from individual entrepreneurship and effort (I’ll call it merit inequality) and the inequality that reproduces privilege and elite capture (I’ll call it privilege inequality).

A simple way to discover whether inequality is actually a result of merit is to think how far effort and hard work can take us. I recently heard Kaushik Basu, the new Chief Economist at the World Bank, detail an anecdote about this during a meeting with civil society people in London.  When Basu visits his home city of Kolkata he goes for long walks and sometimes he wanders around a privileged district that stands in sharp contrast with the nearby slums. The close proximity of the two vastly different lifestyles ensures that slum dwellers also visit this district. Then Basu said, to the best of my recollection: “it is not fair to tell a kid in the slum that by working hard he will be able to achieve the wealth needed to live in that neighbourhood.”

The Spiral of Extremism

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Recent events made me think about a particular chicken and egg problem: What comes first, political polarization or media polarization? And how much damage can media polarization do in a political system? The answer to the first question is probably: they’re mutually reinforcing, but the media wouldn’t be polarized if there wasn’t a polarized audience to begin with. The answer to the second question is less obvious, but relevant to all political systems where the media can tip the scales toward one side or the other, or possibly one extreme or the other.

It is a commonplace by now that the fragmented media landscape in many countries, much amplified by online media, allows members of the audience to get exposed only to political content that they actually agree with. There is so much out there, you never really need to listen to the other side. In the recent Presidential elections in the United States, this led to a curious phenomenon. The media on the right, and also voters on the right that mainly focused on those media, were convinced that their candidate would win and were genuinely surprised when he didn’t. The media on the left played the same trick on its audience. The media in the middle covered the election as if it was a close race, which it wasn’t, in order not to scare part of their audience away. Overall, one had to turn to foreign media to lose some of the bias.

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

One
The Promising Game-Changers in Global Development: Social Innovators

“Turning on a light, warming a house, and using an appliance are activities that most of us take for granted. But in many parts of the developing world, access to electricity is scarce. Enter “sOccket,” a soccer ball that harnesses the kinetic energy of play to generate electricity. When kicked, it creates energy that can be stored and then used later to charge a battery, sterilize water or light a room.

SOccket has received a lot of attention recently – from the likes of Aneesh Chopra, the first White House chief technology officer, to former President Bill Clinton, who called sOccket “quite extraordinary.” The attention isn’t surprising – the invention is clever, it’s creative, it’s relatively cheap, and it takes on one of the biggest challenges in the developing world.”  READ MORE

Interview with Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Director of "Miss Representation"

Maya Brahmam's picture

At a screening at the World Bank of Miss Representation on March 8, I had the opportunity to interview the film's director, Jennifer Siebel Newsom. What struck me during the interview was Newsom's firm commitment to changing how women and girls are portrayed in the mainstream media and her use of social media to instigate a conversation and advocate for change. Newsom also mentions that she wants to build a bridge to men and boys, who are a big part of the solution and talks about an upcoming project aimed at men and boys. Hope the interview provides some insights and provokes discussion.

Maya Brahmam's Interview with Jennifer Siebel Newsom

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Homeless People as 4G Hotspots: Innovative Social Inclusion or Disrespectful?

Tanya Gupta's picture

South by Southwest (SXSW) is a company that plans and executes conferences, trade shows, festivals and other events.  Collectively, SXSW sponsored events are the highest revenue-producing event for the Austin economy, with an estimated economic impact of $167 million in 2011 (Wikipedia).

The biggest SXSW story that recently made the rounds was that SXSW, through the company BBH wired homeless people so that they can provide 4G hotspots to “make the invisible “visible”.  The BBH company blog says:

This year in Austin … you’ll notice strategically positioned individuals wearing “Homeless Hotspot” t-shirts. These are homeless individuals in the Case Management program at Front Steps Shelter. They’re carrying MiFi devices. Introduce yourself, then log on to their 4G network via your phone or tablet for a quick high-quality connection. You pay what you want (ideally via the PayPal link on the site so we can track finances), and whatever you give goes directly to the person that just sold you access. We’re believers that providing a digital service will earn these individuals more money than a print commodity.

Local Media Hype

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Imagine there is a hurricane sweeping through a region. Imagine that the weather forecasts say that it will be a sizable storm affecting a large part of the country, and that there will be considerable risk to life and property of citizens. Reasonably, the media, especially local television, plan to report on nothing else for a few days in advance and at least a week to come. What should the media do if the hurricane is weaker than expected? In particular, what should the local media do, whose job it is to keep their audience informed of locally relevant developments?

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