Leavin’ the ‘hood

It’s not that it’s necessarily nicer or better elsewhere, sometimes it’s not even very different. But there is a certain “eyes-wide-openness” that comes with leaving your ‘hood which makes it so exciting, even if I am just in Cincinnati on business for a day. The fact that I have never been here let’s me enjoy my sneaking out for breakfast before work starts, having a look at the neighborhood, listen to how people talk and feel more alive.

And then I think back to my last crazy work trip before having my baby: 3 continents in 7 weeks, by the end of it I was a heavy 7 months pregnant. Now if you travel like that and still want to be productive, it’s all about saving energy (your own), which means traveling as if you didn’t leave: Close your eyes, ears and heart to the exotic, heart wrenching realities out there, do not connect, stay in a comfortable hotel, take an AC car to your interview partners, eat safe and familiar food only, go to bed early, basically, take your ‘hood with you like a magical coat, protecting you from any unfamiliar experience.

Ok, for me that seemed to be the only way I could keep going on a trip like that. But. And that is a big BUT: It made me hate traveling for work. You still have most of the hassle, the long flights, heat, diseases, poor logistics, jet-lag but you get none of the bright eyed “The world is all new and so am I!” feeling.

Note to self: Stay in the ‘hood. Or leave the ‘hood at home.
Second note to self: Don’t schedule 7 week, 3 continent trips when 7 months pregnant. Ever.

The best? What best?

Being a mother makes me think a lot about how we become who we are (and how, as a parent, I can influence who my daughter becomes). And while my main motivation here is to do my best as a mother, I have had a number of eye opening revelations about myself and other adults while thinking about children.

I recently read (but forgot the title of the book) about the difference between asking your child:
“Were you the best?” and
“Did you do your best?”

Let’s face it: When are we ever THE BEST at anything? I mean, compared to the rest of the world… There is always someone out there who is better, richer, more beautiful or knows more about social network analysis. So if you train yourself (or your kids for that matter) to compare yourself with others, you will never measure up. And you will always need external recognition and comparison to know how you are doing and whether you are successful.

Now imagine the major shift that happens if you start asking: “Did I do my best?” You are also asking an ambitious question and sure, we cannot always do our best in everything. But doing one’s best is something inherently achievable, it’s an empowering question, because it is (mainly) in your own hands whether or not you do your best. And comparing yourself with yourself you can become more independent from external judgment and expectations. Finally you are free to live up to your very own potential, your own success.

Accountability tools for research projects

I’m always grateful to the projects and people who tirelessly read and browse to structure the wild wild west of the internet for us and present the tools needed to one issue under a neat framework on one page. Check out One World Trust’s accountability tools for research projects. In their own words:

“Processes of innovation and research are fundamental to improvements in quality of life and to creating a better society. But to realise these benefits, the quality of research alone is not enough. Organisations engaged in policy-relevant research and innovation must continually take into account and balance the needs of a diverse set of stakeholders: from the intended research users, to their clients and donors, to the research community and the research participants. Responsiveness to all of these is crucial if they are to be legitimate and effective. In this, accountable processes are as important as high quality research products.
The database is designed to support researchers, campaigners and research managers to think through the way they use evidence to influence policy in an accountable way. The database takes into account that research organisations are increasingly diverse – they are no longer just universities, but private companies, public institutes and non-profit think-tanks. No single model can encompass this diversity.”

(Thanks Paolo Brunello for pointing this out to me)

I LOVE comments

Just in case you read something you dis- or agree with, you have another thought about or even know the answer to: Don’t be shy. Make my day. Write a comment.


What I want to do with you…

I only recently realized that I talk a lot about my ideas and projects and experiences on this blog… and then I hope you can guess what my services are and you will contact me and we will work together. Funny thing is: A lot of you have actually done that.

But now this blog has a new page called “Services and Products” and you don’t have to guess any more. I’d still say: Shoot me a line and we figure out exactly what you need and how we can do this. But if you want to first get an idea… there you go.

Maybe one general word about business philosophy: I believe in selling you as few days a possible of my time. Not because I don’t like you. But because I think it makes most sense to both of us, if I only do what you can’t do and if you learn as much as possible in the process.

Georeferenced Net-Map

Many people think about geography if they hear the term map. And I have often discussed with colleagues how we could georeference Net-Maps to see whether and how geographical location influences network position and power of actors. Intuitively it makes sense that it should, somehow, but it can be tricky to find out which location does make an actor influential: For example if you talk about the successful implementation of a project that focusses on rural small farms, who would be most influential, those actors who are closest to the farms or those who are closest to the funding sources? Are there certain network connections (e.g. chain of command in a line ministry, ethnic ties between president and the people of one region) that can surpass geographic distance?

I have just exchanged emails with a colleague who is planning to draw a Net-Map on top of a geo-map and I am curious how that works. Will it lead to surprising new insights? Will there be confusion because the map becomes to messy? Will the visual analysis be instructive enough to get a new understanding of the connection between social networks, space and influence?

Generally safe – or not?

Do you see the world as a place that is generally safe and pleasant, where every once in a while nasty things happen? Or is it an unsafe nasty place with brief spells of peace and quiet (before another storm)?

Are people in general not to be trusted and just a few exceptions act decent occasionally? Or are most people trying to be decent and nice most of the time, with just a few deviants?

Do you think the way you see it is based on facts (as in: “statistically speaking, life is not safe, everyone dies in the end” or “statistically speaking, most people don’t fall victim to murder most days of their lifes…”) or do you think it’s mainly your perception? These are questions I am thinking about a lot at the moment, maybe having a little child makes them more pressing.

And I’m convinced that a lot of it is a perception issue, because both sides have compelling statistics. So if a lot of it is my perception, the question is: Can I change my perspective if I want to? Which perspective makes more sense? Do I attract good things if I believe in them? Or will I be more vulnerable to shocks if I am not prepared by an appropriately pessimistic attitude? What do you think? What does it do to you and your life whether you see the world as – generally – safe or dangerous?

Ready to elevate?

Do you have your elevator speach ready? Can you tell me why IT (whatever IT is) is so exciting in the time it takes to get from ground level to 4th floor? Even if you won’t ever elevate (what is the verb for taking the elevator?) with the one person who can change your live by giving you a million $$ for your idea, boiling your idea down to the essence is great for mental hygiene, getting focussed and being interesting when you talk about your ideas.

My task today was to write a list of some interesting projects I have been involved in and say in a sentence or two how they were done and what the results were. The list is maybe more useful for a trip up Empire State building (because of its length), but still, I would recommend to do this with your team or alone: Try to come up with the one to three sentences that tell what was done, how it worked and why it is relevant. This is my list:

  • Assessing communication channels concerning avian influenza in Ghana, Ethiopia and Nigeria (Schiffer et al. 2008). Net-Map was used in in-country inception workshops of a research project. The exercise revealed crucial communication break-points and corruption hot-spots to the assembled stakeholders from ministries, industry, research and farming community.
  • Developing and monitoring a network of development practitioners in Liberia ( http://www.devprac.org). This ongoing project aims at enabling knowledge exchange between frontline development practitioners through face-to-face and online interaction. Net-Map is used by the network facilitators to develop strategies for successful network development with limited resources. Regular Net-Mapping sessions will serve to monitor the network development (Schiffer and Hauck 2010). A newly instituted multi-stakeholder water governance body with high aims and low formal decision making capacity used Net-Map to integrate the views from very diverse stakeholders and develop strategies based on networks of advice, information and collaboration with powerful stakeholders.
  • Understanding the fisheries management in small reservoirs in northern Ghana (Hauck and Youkhana 2008). Village level interviews with fishermen, fish-mongers and other stakeholders were used to understand collaboration and conflict in community-based governance of reservoirs. This revealed overlapping governance systems (traditional and modern, top-down and bottom-up) as one reason for unsustainable management and lack of enforcement of rules.
  • Understanding and increasing the impact of agricultural research on policy making in Malawi and Nigeria (Aberman et al. 2010). By looking at concrete case studies (e.g. fertilizer policy) this project aims at understanding the conditions when and how research can enter policy making processes and concretely finding out who the movers and shakers are. The aim is to enable researchers on the ground to be more strategic and focused in the dissemination of their research. Follow-up Net-Map sessions in Malawi will also track how the position of research changes over time.