Re:change the world through a blog?

Who doesn’t dream of making the world a better place? To fight against injustice and inequalities and stand up for human rights. Unfortunately you don’t come far with only dreaming. For those who do actually decide to turn words into action, there are many options. You can work in the “field” or, if you don’t want to leave your country, you can take a white collar job at a local aid organization. And then you can start a blog.

Why a blog you might ask. That is a good question. Let me first clarify the what before I deal with the why.  

There are many different types of blogs that deal with development issues, ranging from institutions (such as The World Bank or an NGO) with staff or guest bloggers that write for them to academics and experts writing about their fields of expertise. And then you have aid workers and development practitioners that keep a blog where they share their personal experiences and thoughts (which might not always be in line with their organization´s vision) on development issues.  

And now to the why, why blog about development issues? How does it help to make the world a better place? More concretely, how can blogging help improve development practice and catalyze social change?

There is an ongoing discussion in the academic field to what extent the use of new media such as blogging can influence development policy, challenge dominant discourses, and give voice to those affected by development interventions.  

The digital space is an open forum where people regardless of geographical barriers can participate as long as they have internet access. With the ease of writing and publishing content online, the power of traditional media which used to be the gatekeepers of information has lessen considerably. Internet offers a vast array of information resources and people are now finding their own ways to make sense of their social environment outside the established media reporting. Digital media technologies make it easier not only to find alternative information online but also for individuals to easily reach a wide audience through for example blogging. You would therefore expect that blogs have a potential to challenge dominant discourses (offering different viewpoints as they both engage with and critique development), democratise development (everyone’s voice can be heard, not only the established actors) and promote participation in development. 

Several studies (1) on this subject have shown that despite the promising potential for blogs to make a significant contribution to the above mentioned areas, the outcomes have not quite lived up to the expectations. In terms of influencing policy making, the impact is minor. As for making a vast array of voices heard; most blogging takes part in developed countries or in capital cities of developing countries with stable Internet connection excluding the majority of the beneficiaries of development projects. Besides, it takes more than a reliable Internet connection to enable participation, factors such as socioeconomic status and different levels of Internet literacy also matter. Therefore, most of the bloggers and readers are members of a sophisticated global elite. Research (2) on social media´s (tweets and blogs) influence on representations of development reveal that the impact is insignificant, meaning that dominant development discourses are reinforced. As for promoting participation in development, one study (3) showed that blogging did deepen development theories and discourse when reflecting and engaging with peers, however, at the expense of not being able to reach a broader audience due to the topics becoming too narrow.         

So, what´s the meaning of starting a blog then? Well, the world is not black or white. Despite the disappointing findings of the impact of blogging, there are advantages as well. Development practitioners gain expertise and deeper development knowledge through blogging and interacting with peers which will benefit them in their work, development blogs offer a look from the inside which facilitates transparency of the aid sector and they do play a significant role in creating and evaluating development knowledge and practice.

And not to forget that we are lucky for being able to share information and our thoughts through blogging. Others have to pay a high price for daring to exercise their freedom of speech. Saudi blogger Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1000 public lashes for questioning the central role of Islam in society. His blog (an online forum for religious and political debate) was shut down after his arrest in 2012. Badawi´s wife Ensaf Haidar wrote a personal blog post on Amnesty International´s blog about her concerns for her husband and pledging to the king of Saudi Arabia to pardon her husband. In this case, we do actually see an example of a sufferer of a human rights violation making her voice heard through an NGO´s blog.      

So, can you change the world through blogging? It depends on how you define change the world. Despite the above mentioned findings, blogs do provide possibilities for letting people making their voices heard and sharing information outside established media. And many blogs are written in a personal style, which speaks to the reader in a different way than a formal news reporting or an academic report; so we heard the personal voice of Ensaf Haidar, standing up for her husband´s right to free speech. Maybe just by sharing your experiences and enriching the online audience with your knowledge and expertise, you have inspired the next Martin Luther King.  If it means making an impact, a real difference no matter how small the scale, then yes, you CAN change the world (little by little) through a blog. So keep blogging!

(Photo credit: Anonymous Account/”Blogging?” via Flickr (CC image) )

(1) Denskus, T., Papan, A. 2013: Reflexive engagements: the international development blogging evolution and its challenges, Development in Practice 23: 435-447;

Denskus, T., Esser, D. 2013: Social Media and Global Development Rituals: a content analysis of blogs and tweets on the 2010 MDG Summit, Third World Quarterly 34: 409-424

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.

Manning, R. 2012: FollowMe.IntDev.Com: International Development in the Blogosphere, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School.

(2) Denskus, T., Esser, D. 2013.

(3) Ferguson, J. et al. 2013.

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