Visit to a graveyard

Yesterday witnessed the sudden and tragic death of “2.5.5. Knowledge management systems for development co-operation”, age a few months and height 1,5 pages. The last days’ casualties include also a really nice introduction to network theory, currently  suffering from extensive damage, and very likely not make it more than a few more days. But more than them, I will miss the visualization of aid debates, who had to step aside for her baby sister.

It’s hard to bury parts of your work that you really like, but without which you know the end result will be better!


Thesis journey

My master’s thesis has been quite a journey.

A year and a half ago I travelled to Kenya and came up with a topic I really wanted to work with.

trip to thika, kenya, may 2009

Getting going with the topic wasn’t that easy. Despite my efforts no Finnish organization seemed really interested in collaborating with me.

trying to catch a taxi in toronto, october 2010

I kept looking, and finally found an organization in US working in an area very relevant for my topic.

manly beach, sydney, nov 2010

I was very happy when they invited me on board!

But then I got a job offer from the Embassy of Finland in Nigeria and decided to postpone starting my thesis by 6 months.

in gurara falls, abuja, nigeria, early 2010

When the autumn came I was all excited to finally start working my my topic.

kap verde, summer 2009


I worked a lot and think I was the worst company for anyone wanting to talk of anything else than my topic.

a trail near Ayers rock, middle of australia

I was just so excited of exploring my topic and learning new things!

Although some days the work didn’t attract me that much

some days I realized I just had to correct my direction

ayers rock

and some days it felt like such a mess that I wasn’t sure if there would be any direction at all.

But now I’m finalizing my work and it feels really strange – the end of this journey is evidently approaching.

Very sincere thanks to all who have supported and encouraged me!

Almost my idea … but not quite

Is the problem of development assistance that there is not enough money?

More money would help, surely.

But in fact, how much would it help?

I’m claiming that really problem with a lot of the private development assistance is that these people, who are carrying out the actual work, are not able to position their efforts behind the common objectives. When the right hand does not know what the left is doing, how could the outcome be even close to optimal? And when so much of the resources are wasted in overlapping work, how much good will the extra money do?

Currently it is basically impossible for a small NGO to know who other similar organizations are working in the same area, and what projects they are running (and it’s very resource-consuming even for a larger one). Most common way of knowing about others is the accidental running into the other organization on the street. Internet helps, but only to a degree: like one of my interviewees said, “Online you find everything, and still you find nothing”.

I have been researching how social media could help in making the work by NGOs and foundations more effective, and have come up with very similar ideas that the today beta-launched Jumo builds on. Their idea is to connect the large audience to the NGOs doing this important work.

Great! I’m all excited that finally someone is applying at least a bit of the same approach that I have!

But still, the site is not what would address my problem. Maybe the later versions will grow to be more than a social network for good. Because I believe that developing such a site from the needs of those doing the actual work would allow them to:

  • know easily about the other initiatives, so that they could position their efforts, utilize synergies and reduce overlap.
  • keep up with relevant information from their colleagues so that they could do the actual development work better
  • and to foster their connections and common identity so that they could actually realize that here we are all aiming for the same things so let’s at least work together.

And that’s what I think would make the private development assistance more effective.


Chilled out thesis baptism

Since the late autumn summer-like days, I’ve had a mouse-and-cat-game with my flatmate. He loves chilled room temperatures, I don’t. When arriving from work in September, I would turn the air conditioning off and leave the back door open to make my room resemble a bit less fridge and conserve energy. And when he’d come home, he would turn it back on again.

Now the game has changed to heating. Today I woke up wrapped in covers. While getting breakfast, I noted how the heating had been adjusted to 60F, corresponding to 15C! Maybe I’ll send him instead of me back to the snowy Finland!

And so, wrapped in comfy blankets, I’ve spent the Sunday with baptizing and summarizing my overwhelming 100-page creation. My current working title is:

Reconciling the Wild West of Private Development Assistance – Harnessing Social Media for More Effective Private Development Assistance

and in Finnish:

Järjestystä yksityisen kehitysavun villiin länteen? Sosiaalisten medioiden hyödyntäminen yksityisen kehitysavun tuloksellisuuden edistämiseksi

Also, here comes the draft abstract:

A great number of initiatives, ranging from projects run by dedicated individuals to non-governmental organizations and foundations, aim to alleviate poverty prevailing throughout developing countries. However, despite the decades of delivering development assistance, the results are commonly considered unsatisfactory. One of the key challenges is that the myriad of entities involved in development, and fragmentation in their projects, make managing and coordinating aid extremely difficult. This leads to wasting of the development resources through duplicated efforts and overlapping activities.

Not only is the coordination among the multitude of independent actors very difficult, but so is also accessing the basic information about different projects. Through an extensive background analysis and a Finnish-Nigerian case study, this thesis demonstrates how the lack of basic awareness hampers the effectiveness of the private development assistance. Without holistic understanding of the delivered assistance, aid organizations cannot position their efforts in relation to others, and without knowledge of relevant others, they miss out possible synergies.

Furthermore, this thesis proposes a practical solution of how the global development efforts could be made more effective through the novel application of social media technologies. In addition to presenting six design features of a social media website for common knowledge sharing, its possible implementation is assessed.

This thesis addresses a gap in existing research and among other current initiatives. It deepens understanding of the causes behind inefficiencies in private development assistance, and contributes in a practical way to the important aim of making private development assistance more efficient.

Downhill cycling, no hands

I spent the second weekend of November in Toronto. It was Canadian thanksgiving, and I got to try the traditional pumpkin pie on a dinner in the countryside, hang out in the trendy cafes of Bloor street and chill out the Sunday afternoon in Kensington market.

Before leaving Washington, I was feeling that my research mishmash of IT, development, sociology, systems thinking, knowledge management, and who knows what, would never make any sense.

Feeling like a mad scientist who had spent too long in her isolated chamber, I landed to Toronto and met my good friend.

And somehow the combination of just explaining my research proposition, literature review findings, and my initial thoughts of the future to my friend’s brother during early morning hours after a very fun night, to his mom over a brunch, and to him while reading my work, took away the anxiety.

It’s been ten days since then, and I’ve today presented the first 60 pages at a Skype thesis seminar session to my fellow students in Helsinki. And in the meanwhile, I’ve written some 20 pages more, including a proposition of how to solve my research problem. I’m finally feeling like uphill is over, and now it’s just to slide down!

Figuring out the efficiency of private development assistance

The first part of my thesis focuses essentially in understanding what factors make or don’t make private development assistance (development aid by non-governmental organizations, foundations, etc) efficient.

As my educational background is engineering, I put the results from the literature review and my Finnish-Nigerian case study into a table, which I then developed into a diagram to show their relations.

I think the result is very interesting.

The blue boxes represent characteristics of the private development assistance sector, and red boxes outcomes or effects. I’ve explained why I relate these boxes in this particular way through different theories ranging from knowledge management to systems thinking and communications theory. The first draft of the diagram is here:

Diagram of causes and effects contributing to efficiency in private development assistance

Most initiatives in the development sector seem to focus on such issues as creating common agreements that everyone should follow (sort of compilation of practices like “tell how much money you give”), starting small initiatives of sharing knowledge between the participants, and exploring the different perceptions of knowledge (such as gender-specific knowledge). And most initiatives to make the development aid more efficient seem to try to create major coordination bodies and international agreements. But I’m increasingly thinking that the efficiency of the development assistance is to a large degree a question of the interconnectedness of the different actors. And one of the reasons why they have so little relations to each other is that the information is just so unstructured.

I would like to encourage the readers of this post to contact me if you work on something related or have ideas on the causes and effects of private development assistance efficiency. My email address is ilona dot makinen at gmail dot com.

Head in the clouds

Last week I was all excited going through my interview material. Having sort of finished theoretical background the week before, I was happy for the change for more creative, interpretative and freer style of doing research. Especially because I have some hilarious interview material!

At this point, my grand conclusion is that if the different actors of private development assistance had better awareness about each other and relevant projects, the development assistance could be considerably more efficient (and this indeed was my hunch when I started with the topic).

When I told this finding to my Peruvian and Russian work colleagues over a happy hour pitcher of sangria, they nodded their heads and said, that’s obvious, isn’t it?

And so I took my head out of the clouds and acknowledged, it is obvious.

I guess that’s reseach: after reading, studying and quoting tens and tens scholars and applying and reasoning their ideas, the outcome is something that one kind of knows as common knowledge.

But when research about knowledge in development sector concentrates on local knowledge, gender specific knowledge, indigenous knowledge and whatever other knowledge, and approaches to coordinating the common work are mostly about face-to-face coordination meetings, one might indeed need the 50 pages of the thesis to prove that point!

The coming week I aim to add little more to my argument from the area of economics (hints on good sources about labor division and the impact of knowledge to the behavior of markets/any actors would be appreciated) and then I will finally start the second, exciting part of my research proposition: how could modern technology help in creating that awareness.

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