29 June 2012

An Open Reporting Experiement

You may or may not have noticed that I am slowly moving in the direction of providing fresh reporting. I have been doing many interviews, reading and research for articles that end up on this space. It is a deliberate personal and professional move. Blogging is generally reactionary, which is what makes it fun and easy to read. However, there is a lot of space for more humanitarian reporting and to introduce new people, ideas and projects.

I am going to use this space for some small scale experimentation with the process and what is actually published. This blog does not make a dime for me and I have no intention of adding advertisements to this space. With that said, I am making it my aim to make this workable, useful and sustainable. I was hesitant to see blogging as my avenue for participating in aid and development. Avoiding that truth is ultimately fruitless as I enjoy writing immensely, the freedom of being largely independent, and the ability to learn and share information about various parts of the humanitarian endeavor.

Freelance work will be one way to make this work, but I want to prove the value of this space and aid blogging in general. Aaron Ausland acutely pointed out the shortcomings of aid blogging last night with his post and this drawing:

Ausland is absolutely right when he writes:
A few blogs are actually deeply informed by direct experience with aid beneficiaries – those that we often lazily referred to as ‘the poor’. And these are special things (think Owen Scott’s series on PlayPumps). But many blogs are simply opinionated responses to op-eds and articles and other blogs. It seems we write for each other about each other as often as not. It’s not so much navel gazing as it is cliquey aloofness.
I would extend that statement to some aid reporting. Projects are touted as the next great solution without any evidence of their efficacy. My hope is to continue to learn more. Through that process, I hope to find ways to report on and discuss openly aid and development work.

Given the present state of media, a mix reporting and blogging seems to be the trend for written work. It is why the young liberal bloggers like Klein and Yglesias have grown to succeed. Aid is not as popular as the American economy, but there are people who want to stay informed and care to participate in large and small scale discussions.

Improved reporting and discussions can be useful, but are not aid work. The two should not be confused, but the former should not be abandoned entirely for the sake of the later. Nor should writing about aid ever take a place above the work and the very people that it affects. Being good on Twitter or at blogging does not mean that someone is anything more than successful on narrow internet-based social media tools.

There are many limitations, but also opportunities. An article by Spencer Ackerman this morning shows how social media is being used to push forward the discussion in the realm of security policy and terrorism. Aid experiences that to a small extent already, but it can go a bit further. That is why I believe that reporting is a way to balance out the downfalls of social media use.

I am not going to hide behind wanting to take this mainstream. Growing an audience is going to be a goal not for attention, but for changing the way that people understand aid, development, foreign policy, poverty and so on. Right now a lot of this is within the echo chamber. Reporting may be a way to break through. Success might mean this blog moving to become part of a larger brand and I have no illusions of it happening given the state of reporting, but am at the same time I am not deterred from making the case through my work.

The experiment aspect of this will be to do it in an open manner. I am going to share information as I gather it, talk about story ideas and publish notes from recent interviews. It will be a sort of open sourced reporting. My hope is that it will elicit feedback, resources and ideas.

To kick it off, here are a few stories/angles that are in various stages of development. Let me know what you think and feel free to make suggestions about my overall plan and the list below.

  1. Transparency in aid - It is talked about a lot, but few are actually doing it. The idea is to look at how transparency has taken shape in aid, what is being done now, who are the innovators, what are the obstacles and what is to come.
  2. The Sahel - A few angles here, but I am focusing on Chad right now. Am also interested in the now popular term 'resilience.' What does it mean in theory for different actors? How should it be implemented? What is the reality of building resilience? Zooming out a bit further, how are actors responding to disaster on the individual to institutional levels?
  3. MVP - The project has strong opponents and supporters. What is the reality of the project? Is it succeeding? What comes next if it fails/succeeds?
  4. Microfinance - A long overdue review of Roodman's book. Also, why does the evidence from RCTs show little evidence of it working yet organizations still champion successes? What accounts for the gap?
  5. Post 2015 Agenda - What are the lessons learned from the MDGs? Will they be applied to the next set of goals? Does Rio+20 portend what is to come?
  6. Religion and Aid - To what extent does one influence the other? How does faith inform the way individual donors respond to stories and information about aid?
  7. Conflict Minerals - It looks like the present legislation in Dodd-Frank is not going to pan out. If it fails, what should come next. If implemented, how will the legislation impact mining companies, miners, the DRC, individuals in the region and rebel groups?
  8. Global Health - To what extent does the vertical approach to health problems impact global health efforts overall?
  9. Private Sector - What are private sector actors like Merck and Unilever doing to support aid interventions? Why are they doing it? Get a bit into the CSR debate as well.
  10. Aid Comms - To what extent are aid organizations able to connect their programs with marketing? Is there space to add further complexity, including failures, into communications and maintain/grow support? How do aid communications shape expectations for donors and possibly programs?