KM on a dollar a day

Musing on knowledge management, aid and development with limited resources

Aid blogging matters – beyond the front lines

with 5 comments

J from Tales from the Hood who is probably the best and most well known anonymous aid blogger out there recently blogged about why aid blogging matters.

In it he makes well the case that aid blogs do have an important role because they provide an opportunity for those interested in aid to hear the truth about how the aid world works in practice from aid workers “on front lines”. In particular they present an unvarnished truth that you never see presented in official communications and rarely in the media. This is an  important role, one which J and others play an important part in fulfilling.

But I have a slightly different take on why aid blogging matters – informed partially no doubt because while I’m blogging –  I’m not a front line aid worker anonymously sending dispatches on the real situation in the field – and it seems a lot of other aid bloggers aren’t either – and I hope we are not wasting our time.

In particular J asserts that:

All of the cutting edge technical conversations in aid – the real ones – are happening elsewhere. In real life, mostly.

He further goes on to say:

But if you know how and where to look it is possible to find most everything you could ever want in the way of existing industry standards, best practices, and so on. I’ve yet to see an aid blog that fills any real void in the technical conversation, let alone really pushes the envelope. We don’t need blogs to tell us the objective facts so much, or to educate us about techniques.

I respectfully disagree. I see several areas where aid blogging can play an important role in advancing technical thinking, and also in helping diffuse that knowledge and get it applied in practice. Blogging on technical issues can:

1. Help highlight important but obscure development knowledge and bring it to a broader attention both among aid workers and development experts and potentially broader audiences such as journalists, people thinking of setting up their own NGOs, potential donors/funders etc. Blogs play a role in helping bring this information to wider attention and also in “humanizing” this information to make it more interesting and relevant. This can make in much more likely that it will be found and actually be used.

2. Blogging, and commenting on blogs can help connect people working in similar areas on similar topics who might not already be connected. It can allow them to share knowledge and also publicly debate approaches in ways that don’t happen behind closed doors in programming or cluster meetings. It doesn’t work equally well in all areas of development, and hasn’t reached its potential, but there are a number of areas where technical exchange and debate does happen online, examples of which include ICT for Development, development economics and it’s application in the real world and to a lesser extent evaluation and research techniques. This type of exchange also has the advantage that it is real-time.

3. Aid blogs are also a form of personal advocacy for those issues that bloggers care about whether they be the need for a reality check in aid from the front lines, or some obscure corner of methodology used in Knowledge Management ;-). I think many aid bloggers blog because they believe have some insight, knowledge or opinion that they feel ought to be taken into account by others in to improve aid work, but for which there isn’t an existing channel for them to get their message out, or to engage with other like minded, or even opposed individuals.

Of course whether anyone is listening to aid blogs, and whether it has any impact on others depends on the quality and relevance of what the blogger has to say, as well as how well they can make their case. And J is right that many of the technical discussions  don’t take place on blogs but elsewhere – but I think blogs and other social media are becoming more important as alternative ways of disseminating technical information and using it to engage with others and influence them and be influenced by it. I know if my knowledge management work I’m influenced a lot by material and ideas I find from blogs, and I think this gives me a “knowledge advantage” over other colleagues who aren’t using this means to inform their thinking.


Written by Ian Thorpe

April 19, 2011 at 3:19 pm

5 Responses

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  1. I spoke to my alma matter last week. Many of the grad students shared that they learn just as much from aid blogs than from their formal international development curriculum. Regardless of whether aid bloggers are changing “the system” as it is now, they are certainly influencing the next generation who will.

    Jennifer Lentfer

    April 20, 2011 at 6:09 pm

  2. Allow me to offer the snark perspective:

    I personally find the self-confidence present in J’s writing -not the content per se- in sharp contrast to the merits of int. aid or relief, which it seems is rather the departure point for Tales from the Hood.

    Accordingly, and for the reasons you’re mentioning in the post, the blogosphere offers a much needed opportunity to bridge the gap, or should I say the great divide, between academia and practitioners. I would go further than you and say that the format is better than any available alternative for that task.

    Needless to say, I honestly think it vital that a great deal of practitioners get a bit more critical input. Just as I agree with J (!) that a lot of academics would benefit from a reality check.

    A great weekend to all.

    Sceptical Secondo

    April 22, 2011 at 3:55 am

  3. […] Aid blogging matters – beyond the front lines – Collecting “Three Cups of Tea” Posts (related to scandal with Greg Mortenson and his […]

  4. […] greatly: J at Tales from the Hood, and Ian Thorpe at KM On a Dollar a Day. In their respective pieces, both explore the roles that blogging can play in the development community, from both the angles […]

  5. […] This post more or less explains why I blog. I still don’t know if blogging has any real impact, but it’s a good medium to help me clarify my thoughts and sometimes get independent feedback on them. […]

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