Blogging milestones are good excuses to write a ‘greatest hits’ compilation. This blog reached two this month: its two-year anniversary and 25,000 page views. In case you missed any of these posts, here’s a chance to go back and read the best and worst of Staying for Tea…and the winners are:
- Most Popular: Poverty Tourism: A Debate in Need of Typological Nuance
(also won Most Absurdly Long)
- Most Sought After: Corporate Social Responsibility in Four Easy Steps
(also won Most Enduringly Popular)
- Most Effective: Profits & Perverse Incentives: The New Face of Microfinance
(also an Author’s Favorite Three)
- Most Underrated: A Moderate Elitist (also an Author’s Favorite Three)
- Most Awesome Image: The Myth of the Plan (also an Author’s Favorite Three)
- Most Fun to Read: The Culturally-Sensitive Butt: on language, food, humility, and humor. (also won Most Fun to Write)
- Most Hostile: Evaluating with Purpose – Part 1: The Evaluation Charade
(also won Least Followed Up)
- Most Academic: Participation Ladders 101
- Most Sucky (i.e. Biggest Bomb): A Civil Dissection of David Korten’s Principles for a New Economy
- If You Read Just One Post: The First Principle of Community-Based International Development
Image: Page views from around the world
And now, the longer version:
Two years and 25,000 page views lager, I write this post both in both celebration and trepidation. I’m really quite happy to have managed to keep this thing alive for two years, despite having abandoned it not once, but twice, for six-month periods when work overwhelmed my desire to nurture it. It’s been an exercise in learning, connecting, and brain dumping. I’m also genuinely honored that in this time people have navigated to one of these pages 25,000 times. Why the trepidation? Well, I run two risks in writing this ‘best of’ post.
First, I am a bit sheepish about my numbers. For bloggers, there are few metrics to gauge the value you add to the world by hunkering over your desk after working hours to bang out a post you think someone else might enjoy reading. (Yes, I realize some geniuses have figured out how to get paid to this full-time – I’m not one of these.) WordPress, however, does count and continually remind you of your page views and subscribers. If we’re not careful, a blogger’s perceived worth can track with these numbers the way a Wall Street trader’s ego tracks to his end-of-year bonus. And much like traders compare the size of their bonus for bragging rights, bloggers like to know where they stand vis-a-vis their peers in terms of these numbers. So, despite an effort to not care, it with some apprehension that I announce in celebration that I’ve only just now surpassed 25,000 page views. This, after two years of blogging. (Raised eyebrows, muffled chuckles) On the other hand, I may be the least prolific blogger in my field, posting on average a little more than once a month. To have anyone still paying attention at all is gratifying enough for me.
Secondly, I risk ending up like the rock group Journey, with more Greatest Hits compilations than actual albums. This is only my 35 post, and five of those hardly even count as real posts, and yet I’m going to write my first ‘best of’ compilation. Hmm. But, I want to commemorate these milestones and thank my readers for engaging with these topics together with me. And so, after much ado, the winners are:
Bloggers and journalists like to write about poverty tourism using a huge range of terms, tones, and intended meaning. Having a coherent debate is hard when you aren’t really talking about the same thing. To keep us all from talking past each other, I created a taxonomy of terms used across various posts and articles – some openly disparaging like “poverty porn”, others more benign like “community tours.” The hope was to resource more linguistic clarity around the fault lines and confluence in the ever ongoing discussion of poverty tourism.
Awards: Most Popular, Most Absurdly Long
Most Popular: I liked this post because I learned a lot writing it. Honestly, I hadn’t previously given too much thought to the topic and this was a great excuse to dig in and figure out what it was all about. I shared what I learned on my blog and it took off. The post has garnered about 1/10th of all page views since launching my blog. It also got nine 5-star ratings and generated 28 comments. Interestingly enough, the third and fourth most popular posts are also about voluntourism. Poverty Tourism Taxonomy 2.0 – the one with the awesome graphic (shown above) that went semi-viral – is #4 with just under 1000 views. It was also the most commented on post, with nearly 50 comments. The Future of Voluntourism (#3 with 1,100 views) was actually the first blog post I wrote after introducing myself and the new blog. Why in the world I chose to write about voluntourism first, given the stated purpose and theme of my blog, is beyond me. You know, the thing with my brother just sparked my thinking and I went with it and began exploring a topic I really knew nothing about. Next thing you know three of the four most read posts on my blog are about voluntourism and I’m getting known as a voluntourism blogger and winning awards for it and stuff. Crazy. Perhaps instructive for new bloggers out there – stay on topic…or not.
Most Absurdly Long: Breaking all blogging assumptions, my most popular post is also my longest. Supposedly, blog posts should be 500-700 words of punchy reading. This one topped 3,300 words, had six pictures, a graphic, and 30 hyperlinks! WTH?! Again, instructive for new bloggers out there – keep in short and punchy…or not.
In 2009 I did some consulting work for Barrick Gold Corporation and World Vision Canada and wrote a case study that I presented at the Devonshire Initiative in Toronto. The study was published in two languages and helped the company win some CSR awards. This post outlined the simple framework for assessing CSR strategy that I used. Successful CSR strategies produce benefits to both society and to business and they do so in such a way that the relationship between society and business is improved.
Awards: Most Sought After, Most Enduringly Popular
Of the 45 most popular search terms that bring people from search engines to my site, more than a third of them (16) are some variant of ‘four steps of CSR’! This may indicate that people search to come back to this one like some kind of resource. Crikey! I imagine some poor newly appointed CSR Director somewhere reading this hoping that CSR can really be done in four easy steps. As of right now, this post has been viewed 2,267 times – just seven views shy of winning Most Popular Post. It was the most popular post in the last month, the last quarter, and the last year (Home page notwithstanding). Even in the last 7 days, only my most recent post outperforms it! Next week it will overtake Poverty Tourism as all time most popular, which is really weird since, thematically speaking, it may also be the least likely post to have been written on this blog.
Microfinance has lost its first love and lost its way. A focus on investor incentives over borrower incentives led to six fundamental shifts in the practice of microfinance that changed its face and left it operating more like a for-profit bank and less like an innovative pro-poor movement. I posted a punchier version of this at the Huffington Post titled How Microfinance Lost its Soul. It did fairly well.
Awards: Most Effective, Author’s Favorite (1 of 3)
I really had something to say. I wanted it to be read and to be effective. I think this post succeeded for several reasons. First, I’m actually a bit a subject expert from both an academic and experiential standpoint. Second, I’m passionate about what I see as a sad hijacking of an innovative pro-poor movement toward financial inclusion. Third, I kept it relatively short. The result was an effective piece that was reposted and shared widely. I’m proud of it.
I think a case for competence can and should be made, but I don’t see the value in embracing elitism. Every aid professional started somewhere and I bet most of us made mistakes that would make us cringe today. But, what if, instead of being mentored into professionals and allowed to learn from our mistakes, some aid elitist had bashed us upside the head and told us we should take our good intentions elsewhere and leave development and aid to the pros? What we should be doing is encouraging competence with a healthy measure of grace and humility.
Awards: Most Underrated, Author’s Favorite (1 of 3)
And by underrated, I mean under-read. I think it is one my best posts and yet it’s only been viewed 370 times. WTH? If you haven’t read it yet, now’s your chance to right this wrong.
98% of the relevant information we need to write a good plan is unknown at the time we write it. We more or less know where we want to go, but the map we draw to get there is based on heroic assumptions about the terrain ahead well beyond our vision. We fall into the myth of the plan twice, once when we write the myth, and again when we try to manage to the myth. When we plan, we omit a reasonable cushion, making it unrealistic. When we manage, we apply an unreasonable rigidity, making it mythological.
Awards: Most Awesome Image, Author’s Favorite (1 of 3)
My goodness that is an awesome illustration! I don’t remember exactly how I made it now, but it captures the essence of the post so well. I also like that I peppered words like ‘heroic’ and ‘mythological’ throughout the post. I’m also still pretty pumped about the content of this post – I still stand by it. In fact, hardly a month goes by where my views aren’t reconfirmed and deepened on this one. The only thing I’d change is the ending – I think I’d like to rewrite the ‘How Then Shall We Plan’ part and be a bit more detailed and prescriptive about how to fix the sad state of development planning. Still, I’m proud of this post and happy that it was well received and well read. (#6 most popular post)
It’s important to make an effort to embrace that which is local, be it food or language, if only to remind ourselves that we are the guest, that our language and food and culture are just ones among thousands of similar inherent value. Of course, doing this takes a healthy dose of humility, self-depricating humor, and an iron stomach. But such efforts are generally well received and appreciated – they may even help pave the way for more effective community work.
Awards: Most Fun to Read, Most Fun to Write
This post was an instant hit, not least because it contained a couple of jokes and funny anecdotes. A student in Oregon actually wrote a blog post called ‘Why’s this so good?‘ about this blog post on their journalism program’s site. She writes ‘Why this blog post is great…is because it’s self-deprecating. The best person to make fun of is yourself. While humbling himself, he makes genuine statements about the world and appreciates those around him. He writes for humor, but he writes to be real.‘ That was sweet.
For someone whose job description is built around doing evaluation work, I can be remarkably hostile toward project evaluations. They tend to be expensive, distracting, and mostly useless. They can be surprisingly costly, often requiring projects to set aside 5-10% of the project funds that could otherwise have been budgeted to activities that further project objectives. They eat up a lot of staff time, not so much during the evaluation itself, but in the set up for it – designing indicators, measuring baselines, managing monitoring activities, etc. But most critically, very few ever accomplish the stated purpose of the evaluation – to provide rigorous evidence about whether the project was any good or not.
Awards: Most Hostile, Least Follow-up
I really really like this post. There’s truth in it, but it is a bit hostile. For example: “The truth is that most project evaluations fail to provide either learning or accountability.” “There may be some perfunctory discussion and finger wagging around negative findings, but this is largely just a charade – everyone pretends the evaluation mattered a great deal when in fact it mattered not at all.” And then it just gets nasty. Nevertheless, I still stand by this post and wish I could force every manager in my organization to read it. Unfortunately, I never followed up on writing the rest of the series that this was supposed to be a part of. So, it ends up being a long gripe session without any hint at what to do besides the last sentence: ‘Stop the charade’.
I’ve had a few posts like this that didn’t get followed up on. I didn’t come back and show some of the Badly Presented Data examples I got following said post. I didn’t continue publishing the best posts in Spanish as promised here. (I can partially blame my wife on that one who had promised to help with the translation and took up tennis instead.) Maybe this will be a year three resolution, to follow up on these, especially the evaluation series. I think its important to talk about what makes a good impact evaluation and what makes a good evaluation strategy, not just gripe about what a charade the current state of much development program evaluation seems to be.
There are a number of single dimension participation ladders that development facilitators should be aware of, if only for academic purposes. If you’re already familiar with participation ladders, you might want to skip this post – I’m not going to provide much commentary or opinion here – this is more of an academic introduction to these conceptual tools for those that might be newer to the field of international development.
Award: Most Academic
Yeah, more like most boring. Man what a sleeper! I even get bored reading this one. Nevertheless, I intended it to be a good resource for those who haven’t been exposed to the conceptual tool of a participation ladder before. As I mention in the post, I actually prefer the multidimensional table of Robert Chambers. But I guess its good to have a historical perspective on the development of the ladders before you dive into the table. I guess. At any rate, it’s the seventh most popular post I’ve written, so it seems to be a useful summation and that’s why I wrote it.
So, David Korten releases a new book, ‘Agenda for a New Economy’ and writes a blog post about it laying out ten ‘common sense principles to frame the New Economy’. And for some reason, I decide I’m going to trash on them like an arrogant thesis advisor. I don’t know what got into me. I just harangue on the guy in an overly academic and pedantic tone. I say things like ‘I mostly agree with this, but I think the efficiency framework is inaccurate.’ and ‘Disagree. Rather than increasing the money supply (adopting an expansionary monetary policy), a more appropriate tool would be an expansionary fiscal policy.’ and ‘You unfortunately contradict yourself here.’ What a prig! Naturally, and luckily, nobody read it. (At 120 page views, it is the least viewed ‘real’ blog post.) No need to start now.
Award: If you Read Just One Post
Read this one. This is the first of a six-part series of posts that republished the article Staying for Tea that is the conceptual foundation of this blog. In the past two years the blog has wandered around an unlikely set of topics ranging from microfinance to voluntourism, evaluation, and cultural sensitivity. I don’t know if I’ll get any more focused in the year to come – I’m planning on writing about global citizenship in the coming months – but I do know where the heart of what I wanted to write about is, and it began with this post.
“Value people over projects, and effectiveness over good intentions. Hold in tension a humanitarian ethic of service and a professional ethic of competence. Good international development is competent service guided by good principles and done through good practice.”
Some other interesting blog stats:
Busiest Day: August 18, 2010, right after posting Poverty Tourism: A Debate in Need of Typological Nuance. 242 page views
UPDATE July 2, 2012: Three days after posting this, I published Deflating the SOCCKET Ball. The next day I got 533 page views. Four days after that I published Aid Blogging: A Cautionary Tale in Charts. The next day I got 670 page views. A few days later, 1,256. How quickly things can change.