A View From The Cave last week brought to my attention a working paper at the Harvard Business School by Ryann Manning entitled, “FollowMe.IntDev.com: International Development in the Blogosphere.” It’s a short read but Tom provides a good summary and offers some additional points to consider here.
Manning essentially uses two frameworks to examine the international development blogosphere, that of public sphere and an “invisible college,” i.e. intellectual community. Like Tom, I think it’s useful to get an outsider’s perspective. I offer a few of my thoughts on Manning’s read and a challenge for the group as well.
1) Manning should question our inclusiveness. No one who has their own blog has an obligation to share that platform with other voices. But what if those of us with popular blogs did? What if we featured or invited more people outside of our little world, and outside the capital cities, to write guest posts? It’s something I dabble in, but admittedly have not yet done strategically.
2) Manning suggests that like political blogs, international development blogs may be separated by ideology. This happens in the international development world overall. Whether it be academics and practitioners, those concerned more with evidence or power, or large scale vs. small scale initiatives, we in this space (even beyond the blogosphere) often operate with very different sets of values and ideas of what’s needed to end global poverty. We rarely acknowledge this and because of the lack of inclusiveness in the development discourse, many alternative perspectives remain under-represented. See point #1.
3) Ahh, snark. Yet another ideological separation? Thank goodness Manning describes it for me as a “norm enforcer.” For years, I just thought people were being spiteful and rude. Those pesky middle America values of mine! Being clever and ironic may feel good in the moment and even be interesting to read, but does it build the discourse or end up making it even more exclusive? See point #1.
4) I’ve never bought the “I’ve been doing this for fifteen years” as a wholly valid argument for why what you say is right. Professionalization of the aid industry is a nice idea but will it stop the stream of naïve do-gooders that join our experienced do-gooder ranks every day? Always having to resist the next round of SWEDOW is exhausting. But this industry has too many serious flaws, of which we’re all responsible, to not see what new and alternative voices (those not bringing stuff) could bring to the table. You guessed it. See point #1.
I realize it’s much too easy to say “Yeah, more participation!” To carry it out is another thing. But if we know that the aid industry needs many more people to help build functional and practical client/beneficiary feedback mechanisms, then why don’t we model the spirit behind this in the international development blogosphere?
Manning says we have the “first-mover advantage.” Let’s use it. Can we commit to one guest post a month, folks?