Musings on research, international development and other stuff

The twelve days of evidence


Yay – its almost Christmas! My christmas tree is up, the halls are decked and as a special gift to you I would like to present my festive reading list.

My actual christmas tree

It is pretty long and might take up a big chunk of your holiday… and in fact the reading itself is not that festive….. BUT, I have presented it in a format that can easily be incorporated into a well-know Christmas song. Hurrah! Enjoy – and feel free to add suggestions (and disagreements) via the comments.

12 non-fiction books worth buying

To start with, for those working in development, I reckon it is worth reading ‘The Trouble with Africa’, ‘White Man’s Burden’, ‘Dead Aid’ and ‘The End of Poverty’ (and possibly a few other books) one after the other and then trying to figure out what you believe in – not an easy task! My favourite book about science by far is ‘Bad Science’ – just read it – you will either learn loads of stuff or learn how to argue your case better with people who believe in silly stuff. Simillarly ‘The Undercover Economist’ is just awesome – you will see everything differently after reading it!  Then I would need to throw in a couple of comic books – the wonderful ‘Persepolis’ and perhaps ‘Safe Area Goražde’ (or another one by Joe Sacco). There are so many amazing books about Africa written by journalists – some fantastic ones include ‘My friend the mercenary’; ‘The Zanzibar Chest’ and ‘Its our turn to eat’ (and indeed anything written by Michela Wrong). And finally I found ‘My Traitor’s Heart’ an incredibly honest and moving book.

11 tweeps to follow

This was a hard one to narrow down but I have come up with @jonharle who is my friend who I suspect knows everything – please follow him and ask him a question just to test this #askjonharle; @kenyanpundit who is worth following particularly for her fabulous, procrastination-inducing #sundayreads; @jkainja who is my best source of african politics (without the hype); @nadiae who manages to keep me up to date with Cairo protests AND make me laugh; @afrolicious who is the most poetic and philosophical person on my timeline; @wmarybeard who is my celeb twitter crush; @rubystartweet and @anoikis cus they are my sister and husband respectively; @calestous cus I seriously don’t know how that man manages to read so much (does he never sleep???) and @aalex_a and @bubbalou who are continually thoughtful and thought-provoking.

10 Intdev bloggers

There are so many good, interesting development blogs its almost embarassing but for starters I recommend: Project Diaspora; How matters; Blood and milk; View from a cave; Good intentions are not enough (which also wins prize for best title); Chris Blattman; Wait… what?; Aid on the edge of chaos; Texas in Africa; and Tales from the hood.

9 controversial blog posts

Martin Robbins series of 5 post on the Aid propoganda machine he encountered in Kenya are absolute must-reads. He describes a series of staged visits which were organised for him and a group of other western journalists – and his growing discomfort with his minders’ attempts to hide the complexities and the truth in order to reinforce the dominant and accepted narratives about Africa. I will single out this one, about President Obama’s granny since, judging by the comments, it seemed to be the most controversial – but it also has links to the others. One of the most amazing blog posts I read this year is this description of aid work in Haiti – I find the honesty of it brave and important. I loved this spririted post from Jimmy Kainja in response to Hilary Clinton’s visit to Malawi. Also from Malawi this excellent post from Steve Sharra on homosexuality and human rights created a bit of a stir. This blog from Duncan Green on use of Theories of Change in DFID was widely discussed within DFID (hope you’ll be putting that in your logframe Duncan ;-)) where staff are also seriously considering how theories of change can improve research uptake rather than being seen as just another reporting hoop to jump through. This short article on mental health issues in South African slums should be immediately sent to every person who spouts the cliche that “people in Africa are so poor but they are also so happy”. This article suggesting that western donors worry too much about corruption was definitely controversial and it certainly made me think. This stinging satirical piece on ‘How to give foreign aid’ by Elnathan John left me wondering if I should laugh or cry – the Aid Prayer at the end is particularly brilliant. And finally, moving away from internation development, one of the most vicious twitter-storms I saw this year was provoked by this article by Mehdi Hassan who argued that being anti-abortion is compatible with being left-wing.

8 world-wide novels

I feel that you can learn just as much, if not more, from reading fiction than from non-fiction so this is my list of novels which have really taught me something about a different place: ‘The Poisonwood Bible’ which is set in DRC, was harrowing, painful, cringeworthy and remarkable. ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ and ‘Purple Hibiscus’  are fantastic reads and will give you an amazing insight into Nigerian life and history. I loved both ‘Coconut’ (from South Africa) and ‘The Slap‘ (from Australia) for helping me see inside other people’s heads and helping me realise just how differently people can view the same thing. Another South African book, ‘Cry the Beloved Country’ may be my favourite book of all time. ‘A Fine Balance’, which is set in India, was amazing and epic and made me cry. And ‘The Thread’ was both an amazing, compelling read and a gentle reminder of how little I know about European history.

7 articles on evidence-informed policy

Possibly my favourite article on evidence-informed policy this year, was actually written last year – it is this article by Justin Parkhurst who describes eloquently why we need to concentrate on building governance systems for use of evidence as well as supporting the supply of evidence. This article by Alex Ademokun and this article by me make essentially the same point. I enjoyed this article which highlights how development thinking has moved forward on issues around use of evidence and makes the excellent point that “many things that everyone “just knew” to be true are actually false”. This article, with the wonderful title ‘No, you’re not entitled to your opinion’ makes a compelling case for backing your arguments up with evidence and this article is a wonderful rebuttal of some common critiques of use of evidence to inform policy decisions.

6 tools to improve your communication

Anyone who ever uses powerpoint should really check out this fabulous slideshow called ‘Death by Powerpoint’ but it is also worth checking out Prezi to see if it could make your presentation slides more interesting. If you are converted to the idea of using beautiful images to enliven your presentations, I highly recommend doing an advanced search for creative commons licensed photos on flikr and also check out morguefile– there are bizillions of fab and free to use images out there – just remember to keep it legal by attributing them. I am just starting to try out piktochart for infographics and it looks fab. But as you may have noticed from previous posts, my favourite graphics software remains… Paint!

5 GOLDen thread-related THINGS

The golden thread narrative has received a great deal of attention in the last year. Some have criticised it for either repeating old messages or for not taking into account new research findings. My personal feeling is that it is a welcome step away from some simplistic narratives of international development which assume that all that is needed to relieve poverty is more aid. I think it is important to consider who the message of the narrative is aimed at – for inteligent non-experts it may be a useful step towards discussing the complexity of international development – but it will of course seem like an oversimplification for those who have spent years studying and analysing the issue. Anyway, overall, I am happy to see more attention being paid to the fascinating but complex debates about what works in international development. A couple of articles that analyse golden thread issues are this and this. I also think that David Booth’s work on going with the grain is highly relevant to these discussions since in some ways it is an alternative approach – see here for an example of his thinking, here for a strong rebuttal of it from a developing country perspective and here for Heather Marquette’s thoughtful discussion of the issues.

4 blogs with funny pictures

I like drawing pictures and have been inspired by some other rather wonderful bloggers who use pictures to convey important (or sometimes silly!) messages. I really enjoy the combination of feminism, science and pictures on elodieunderglass – check this one out for starters. I also highly recommend the funny posts and beautiful pictures of Imissyouwheniblink – see here for example. There is a whole wealth of funny cartoons to keep you amused on the oatmeal (health warning – some of these are quite rude).  But the queen of awesome pictures on a blog has to be hyperboleandahalf – sadly she is on a blogging hiatus but luckily there are lots of lovely blogs in her archive to look at – I recommend starting here and here.

3 struggling believers

I am really interested in religion and how it affects what we do and how we treat each other. I learn a huge amount from three wonderful bloggers (here, here and here) who all bravely choose to share their ongoing struggles with belief with the world.

2 online networks

If you are interested in research evidence and international development then I recommend that you join one or both of these networks: the Evidence-Based Policy in Development network run by the Overseas Development Institute and the Knowledge-Brokers Forum run by the Institute of Development Studies. In fact, as a further recommendation, I do wish that the people running both those networks would find a way to just join them into one so that we only had to be a member of one 😉

….and a forest plot full of pear trees!

Have a great christmas everyone and I’ll see you in the new year!


6 thoughts on “The twelve days of evidence

  1. I personally would not recommend “Dead Aid” “The White Man’s Burden” or “End of Poverty” since those books take a sort of extremist view on development and aid and contain inaccuracies, especially in “Dead Aid”

  2. Oooooh thank you!

    Sent by Magic, please excuse brevity and typos.

  3. Certainly can recommend Persepolis

  4. Pingback: Brett Keller – global health & development » Monday miscellany

  5. Great post Kirsty.

    Interesting recommendations. Half of yellow sun is one of those works of fiction that has crossed the line into a semi-historical document. I remember that certainly into the 2000s’ Nigerian school children were not taught about the Biafra war and many young people had their first interpretation of the times through this book (I wonder if that has changed). If you are intereted in this period in Nigeria’s history I would recommend Chinua Achebe’s recent biography, There was a country. It is a very fascinating if indelicate book for understanding the war and it’s impact on Nigeria. I would also recommend Chimamanda Adichie’s review of it here:

    To the world-wide novels list I would add Ngugi wa Thiong’o the river bewteen. For something more recent, playful and funny whilst discussing a serious issue I would recommend the Secret lives of Baba Segi’s wives by Lola Shoneyin.

    For non-fiction, Looking for Transwonderland is a wonderful tour of Nigeria by Noo Saro-Wiwa that explores the diversity of culture, communities, landscapes and people that make up that beautifully complex country, Nigeria.

    I have mixed opinion about recommending Dead Aid, it raises some very interesting questions which we should engage with but it’s interpretation of historical evidence and it’s recommendations are, in my opinion, flawed. I always recommend reading a book and judging yourself so I would not exclude it.


  6. Great post Kirsty

    Robert Klitgaard’s “Tropical gangsters” may be old now, but is still relevant (and a fun read)

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

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