(Re)spice up your blog!

In recent years, many organisations started to use blogs and social media to communicate with their stakeholders [1], often using these tools in quite traditional ways. Official blogs [1] tend to maintain a coherent narrative of policy, best practice and positive news, rarely admitting complex challenges.  But what if organisations try to spice things up in their representation of aid work?

“Vidas en directo” (“Lives live”) was launched by the Spanish NGO Ayuda en Acciòn (AeA) in 2012. It was meant to be an interactive platform based on connected, multiple blogs, enabling the whole AeA community to communicate in an inclusive way: communities in developing countries, sponsors, staff, volunteers.

In AeA’s discourse [3] we can see the purpose of creating a sense of shared community [4] and also the idea that ICTs can empower people in developing countries by amplifying their voices [4]. Main goals were education in digital literacy and citizen journalism for communities in developing countries and transparency towards sponsors.

Sounds cool, right? The platform, though, is not online anymore, so probably the project was not fully implemented or was interrupted (maybe due to reasons connected with digital divide issues?). There is a namesake Youtube channel with videos from 2013, including videomessages from short-term field volunteers, professionals and a group of Ecuadorian women, involved in a female entrepreneurship programme. These women’s interventions seem to follow a script. They briefly describe their jobs in positive terms, highlighting the role of their local organization and of foreign support and their goal to help their families. The reports, in my opinion, are informative but lack of spontaneity and complexity; there are no personal stories here, no reference made to a wider context. A narration with almost no emotional variation which can result flat and bland [5].

Besides, AeA currently manages a small archipelago of official blogs, whose contents are also shared via Facebook and Twitter.

The main one includes heterogeneous contents, such as reports of happy sponsors, news about education issues and a (fake, I guess) letter to “Reyes Magos” (the Spanish equivalent of Santa) from a Peruvian boy asking for gifts such as dental care. This blog seems to me a patchwork of stereotypical promotional contents and news without a clear direction. Voices from the South: missing.

Two other blogs have the function to diffuse information about specific AeA activities: “Ahora toca” appears like the showcase of the namesake education program in Spain, with reports of its activities, while “Voluntarios a terreno” (field volunteers), informs about volunteering programmes, including positive feedbacks from Spanish volunteers. Most of them express the idea that “they [the beneficiaries] give to you more than you what you give to them” and depict their experience as a life-changing one, enabling them to deal with people “who have nothing but always smile”. Here too, no political engagement, no bigger picture. Voices from the South: nope.

The permanent ‘blog’ section dedicated to AeA on the website of the newspaper El Diario engages with news about social and climate issues in Spain and abroad, always relating them to the NGO’s programs. These articles appear as more complex and less simplifying than the ones from the other blogs. Voices from the South: some aid workers.

These tools seem to confirm the tendency of blogging as still being dominated by a wired élite [2] of professionals and students [1]. Among blogging about development, this kind of communication seems to be mostly seeking approval within supporters rather than engaging with dissidents and/or beneficiaries [4]. It seems to me that AeA tried to diversify and make more dinamic its social media tools, to reach different audiences. It tried to engage voices from the South through “Vidas en directo”, but the project didn’t take off. Although organization blogs cannot be expected to be as edgy and groundbreaking as an independent blog can be, involving more the communities from the South and tackling with a greater level of complexity the issues related to poverty would be an important step towards a deeper, less self-referential communication practice. The blog on El Diario shows a good potential and good be an interesting platform to do that.

 

(Photo credits: Globe lights. ©ptwo via Flickr CCBY)

[1] Denksus,T., Papan, A.S.(2013). Reflexive engagements: the international development blogging evolution and its challenges. Development in Practice, 23:4, 455-467

[2] Manning, R. (2012). FollowMe.IntDev.Com: International Development in the Blogosphere, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School.

[3] Presentation of the “Vidas en directo” project by Ayuda en Acciòn during the EBE12 event in Sevilla, Spain (2012), as retrieved on February 1st, 2017 on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g68Rym3aEKM&t=625s

[4] Ferguson, J., Soekijad, M., Huysman, M. & Vaast, E. (2013). Blogging for ICT4D: reflecting and engaging with peers to build development discourse, Information Systems Journal 23: 307-328.

[5] Lombardi, D. (2016). Don’t create a mood, just tell good stories, in WhyDev (ed.) 2016: Fresh and Frank Voices in Ending Poverty. Gordon, NSW: WhyDev.

 

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