Crisis Awareness: How Aware Are We? by Ken Miguel-Cipriano

We have CNN, Al-Jazeera, the BBC, Twitter, Facebook, and RSS feeds to inform us of just about anything that's going on in the world. The level of news access from around the world to the most inane details of celebrity life may have us believing we have reached a level of hyper-awareness. Our eyes and ears have access to more data than ever before, but the exponential growth hasn't affect us proportionally. Technology keeps a blazing pace compared to how our culture adapts and evolves, and we're still adjusting to the massive influx of information. This isn't a new observation, but it's typically regarded as a detriment to our youth's adolescent development. While this may be the case, what's equally interesting is the effect that it's been having on adults and the depth of their awareness. With so much information it's easy to get burned out quickly. Speaking conservatively, news takes a minority stake in the average adult's attention. So when burn out sets in, the news is usually the last thing to be brought back into our viewing rotation. The news, much like our attention, drowns in the sea of information having little chance of impactful exposure. Now this isn't due to a decline of depth or breadth in journalism, quite the opposite actually. Rather it's exposure is suppressed by the majority stake holder of our attention, namely pop culture. Put simply, news happens passively and pop culture is generated/manufactured. This doesn't make for much competition, and allows only for the most incendiary stories to permeate and keep our attention if only for a moment.

News outlets are left with little recourse other than leveling the playing field with the most attention grabbing stories. Unfortunately, these stories only need to grab our attention and not retain it, so we're often delivered packets of emotion and hyperbole spread over graphic images. To be clear, reporting these stories isn't inherently wrong, but exclusively doing so can be detrimental to the education of the viewer. Pressing issues become nothing more than another dish in a buffet line of news. While this form of broadcasting may have been necessary to inform us more than a decade ago, when we received information from one outlet, we've since stepped out of our caves. Our new world inspires us to do more than just hunt and gather for information, we now collate and generate our own content.

Awareness, at least in the traditional sense, no longer seems to be the issue. As 21st century users we are well aware of world issues, yet a majority of us still don't take action. News of a tragedy is no longer sufficient to bring action to a cause. What are we supposed to do now that airtime isn't sufficient to help bring change? Well, the answer is pretty straightforward. Change requires action, and action requires people. This has always been the process, but in the past it all seemed to work itself out behind the curtain. Our world seemed smaller then, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Traditional methods of news should remain, but the main focus needs to shift from the storied event to the solution and those involved. To continue to cover a crisis without equal or greater coverage of the solution is tantamount to advertising a concert and forgetting to mention the time and date. It's true that knowledge is the first step to progress, but we must remember to follow it with the second step of understanding. Without understanding we're only wandering aimlessly in the dark. Knowing and understanding are too often conflated, and it's about time we all learn the difference.

Providing opportunities for positive input can be massively useful to any crisis. While the effects of a more responsible  news outlet may not be felt immediately, the structure it will provide will undoubtedly lead to a better informed user. With a better informed user we will gain better thought and creation, and that is how great solutions are formed. The culture-technology disparity is a massive feedback loop, and we're more in control than we might think. Physical technology will always lead design, but a growing emphasis of user-interface and user-experience is closing the gap. Let's recall the old adage " You are what you eat" and apply it to our discussion. Our news consumption for the last few decades is still having an influence on our news distribution now, new technology notwithstanding. A crash diet of our news consumption won't make us better. We need to require more of our news sources and ask for better information, because it affects our culture and our decisions. Better data can lead to better people.

The other BOGO: How giving can hurt the world. by Ken Miguel-Cipriano

We all love a great deal, as a matter of fact our country loves a good deal so much that we have a day, almost a holiday, where we spend massive amounts of money on huge deals. We spend so much that it most certainly breaks any budgets that these deals were intended to appeal to and serve. As Americans we love excess and to feel good, combined the two dominate our culture. Everyone is familiar with the buy one get one free model, and its increasing size and reward. It has been so successful for large and small businesses that it was only logical to adapt it for rallying the public for aid and development. Buy one give one (BOGO) works almost identically, and is an often utilized tool for funding and advertising. Awareness and involvement are perennial issues within aid and development, so BOGO naturally lends itself conveniently as a solution, albeit superficially. The buy one get one model is great for consumer products, because it accomplishes its purpose quickly. The purchase is made and the product and reward are exchanged. What seems to have been overlooked in the adaptation of this model for aid, has been the value in the reward. Buy one give one gives nothing to the consumer other than the satisfaction of giving something to another in need. As much as I would like to think that society's altruism is pure and requires no reward, our desire for a reward is so strong that it can't be ignored. The consumer is left with nothing but a fleeting good feeling that has no directed value. What is the consumer feeling good about? The short description on the product might provide some information about the cause, but its likely eclipsed by the product itself. Without direction the consumer is left to manage their own feelings. Now this might seem cold and calculated, but that's business, and the reality is that people do not have time to independently discover and inquire about an organization or cause. The burden lies with the company to tell their story quickly and well. It is irresponsible to continue to receive donations and provide virtually no return or information. Worst yet may be the repercussions of not providing a value to the consumer, because if it's not given it will most definitely be taken.

A potentially dangerous message being advertised is that aid and development issues are simple and are being resolved with simple solutions. A quick interaction that sets its goal at receiving a donation misinforms the recipient to the gravity of the greater issue. From a consumer point of view, when the purchase is made so is the donation, thus accomplishing the goal. What then are they expected to think when they are annually bombarded with the same promotion, from multiple companies mind you, with no success or apparent progress. How have these promotions managed to continue year to year? Well, with a lack of direction or information the consumer is left to think the next logical step for themselves. The problem must be so large that they still need help, and my involvement, unchanged, is required once again. Perhaps this is how we have become a complacent society of donors, unfortunately setting us on an inevitable path to donor fatigue and cyclical failure. Enter the always effective motivator, war.

Whether it's the war on aids, cancer, homelessness, or hunger, the idea of fighting enlists crowds to take the issue personally. Purposely drawing on emotions to perpetuate a broken message that struggles to stay interesting, serves only to seductively numb society to the reality of actual struggle and war. Worse yet is the hour when the issue becomes actual war, and donors believe that their money is doing anything other than shifting the focus of the conflict to the money aimlessly pouring in to end it. Bad ideas and decisions usually lead to more of the same, and BOGO is no exception.

A false sense of accomplishment is severely detrimental to the aid and development process, because it is precisely that...a process. Aid and development should not be looked upon as having calculable solutions that end at some point in time, such solutions can only exist in the vacuum of theory. The active variables involved in aid and development are far too difficult to coordinate simultaneously to precipitate a framed solution, so it must be managed as an ongoing process. The BOGO model uses a quick interaction, otherwise it would not be cost-effective or successful for that matter. It is of course not the intention of companies to subconsciously manipulate the idea of aid in the minds of consumers, and if you subscribe to such theories let's hope you're wrong. Regardless of all the attention that it regularly draws in, the BOGO model's sole use as an awareness and funding tactic breaks down to a simple tactical mismatch. BOGO is meant to perpetuate small transactions, whereas aid and development issues are best served by a sustainable ongoing venture. With every action there is an opposite and equal reaction, and donor practices are directly responsible for the crippling dependency that plagues developing countries the world over.

Does an immense need form a culture of dependency or does a giving culture create the immense need? Experience has shown us that prolonged dependency of infrastructure and development are outright detrimental to a country's sovereignty over not just land, but culture as well. Further increasing the level of frustration is the issue of reliable and available data. Without a proper data flow we only have correlation to prove causation, an untenable approach if there ever was one. The human variable tosses a wrench into the whole scientific process and  makes it difficult to gain any ground. If we were dealing with a hard science the process would be more or less straightforward, still an arduous task, but the scenarios would be calculable and logical. Whenever we seek to understand a process containing human variables as main components we inevitably study human culture. It is precisely this that has been overlooked, and it is a sensitive approach to culture that will provide better insight into the barriers in development and aid. Money, resources, and personnel are all absolutely necessary, but their use must be limited to maximize efficacy. A lack of proper management allows for unnecessary human intervention, which can dismantle the entire process all together.

However backwards it may sound, feel, and seem, giving has and can hurt people. I hope this goes without saying, but I will state it anyway, but giving can be a wonderful way to enrich the life of another and your own. It can teach you so much about life and the importance of your actions and decisions. Still, we need to continue to inform ourselves and only partake in causes if we can truly dedicate the time and effort. Every action we take, big or little, has a real effect. Forcing the act of giving, in the face of its crippling repercussions, is unbelievably selfish and irresponsible. Set aside your ego and do something new, shift the focus of aid and development back to the issue. Ask more of the organizations that ask for your money, ask for measurable development, ask for greater transparency, most of all ask for change. If the humanitarian field has put on the robe of the consumer industry, we as the consumer now drive the process. Let's use our actions to drive down a different road and get back to doing what we came here to do, help.

Kony 2012: Revisiting the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. by Ken Miguel-Cipriano

The international aid community at large has arguably seen few significant changes since the inception of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the late 1800's. The landscape was decidedly different, the mission being proper medical attention for wounded soldiers. Fast forward nearly 150 years and wars devastate with more damage and repercussions have become unimaginably complex. I won't go into the ethics of aid, this is for another series of posts, but the community's passive permission of donor driven aid has stifled progress and has formed a globally pervasive culture of charity. Given this context, we can better understand why Invisible Children would conceive the now infamous KONY 2012 movement. It shook up the aged view of humanitarian aid with a massive ad campaign to stop violence in central Africa with a simple goal, make Joseph Kony's crimes against humanity popularly recognized. Invisible Children's youtube video hit a massive growth spike within days of its uploading and set a youtube views record.  Simply put, the intended method was, if we are loud enough and expose Kony's crimes to enough people, some group will be forced to do something about it. The advocacy component by itself would have drowned in the sea of already established groups, but it was the way they went about advocating that caused their rise and unfortunately also their dramatic fall.

The level of design and advertising of the KONY 2012 campaign, arguably better than many consumer products, has never been applied to humanitarian efforts to such a large scale, save UNICEF's trick-or-treat box. Its website, events, videos, and media kit are designed with detail worthy of a major global brand. Perhaps this is what was necessary to start a change or at least a dialogue within the community about the state of affairs. The campaign quickly secured the attention of the U.S. and abroad , and brought the humanitarian discussion onto everyone's screen. The campaign quickly took on the style of a Michael Bay summer blockbuster, whereas critics would have preferred the styling of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. Unfortunately, all the design in the world could not save the shallow-action framework put up by Invisible Children.

Popularity cuts both ways, and an increased audience can amplify even the smallest demographic. Quick scrutiny is expected in our increasingly super-connected society, but what was received from the academic community was unusual. With the first negative comments out on the web, blood was in the water, and criticism rapidly increased and deepened. It was certainly not the first embarrassingly shallow humanitarian effort, just watch cable tv between 12am-4am and wait for the commercials, but Invisible Children seemed to have hit a nerve. The articles became more derisive than critical, flooding the web with a repudiative sentiment. Why did Invisible Children's campaign call for such staunch opposition? Perhaps the campaign punctured the stagnancy with the wrong message? Its clear that Invisible Children's campaign is not representative of  contemporary aid relief efforts, but the problem is that this can be good as well as being bad.

The lack of impact-action planned out by Invisible Children is certainly irresponsible, but for as ugly as it was, it may not be completely their fault to bear. The presence of MONGOs (My Own NGO), a term used in Linda Polman's The Crisis Caravan to refer to ill-guided citizen started NGOs,  are a well experienced problem within aid and development yet it persists, and with Invisible Children it upgraded to 2.0 status. What's dangerous about MONGOs is their virality. Coupled with empty messages and erred methods, they effectively increase the complexity and difficulty of the field at large. What's missing is an increased accountability from the global community, because there is no such thing as bad students only bad teachers, and we were taught wrong. Aid and development organizations have worked closely with humanitarian organizations, and asked for the general public's actions to stop at their pockets and the headline. Are we then surprised that people, unskilled and uninformed nonetheless, have taken it upon themselves to remedy a problem that has been endlessly advertised as urgent? There are platforms and resources, well on their way to providing lasting solutions, that Invisible Children ignored, but these are poorly advertised and the barriers remain high for entrance. If the point of aid and development is to help people in need through change, then isn't it doubly ironic that no one is helping to constructively inform MONGOs, which happen to be a current barrier as well as a potential resource to reaching an effective solution?

As much as it bothered me, the KONY 2012 campaign opened my mind to a design driven future for aid and development. Invisible Children brought forth more bad than good, but we must realize that the bad were old ideas resurfacing and the good was a fresh perspective. We must accept that we cannot continue to go about irresponsibly notifying people of horrifying & urgent events, ask them for donations, and expect nothing else to come from the interaction. Altruism can be a powerful force for change, and we cannot afford to lose any advocates because we have a problem with the mistakes they've made, no matter how egregious the error. At the end of the day, the most important problem is that global problems persist and little progress has been made.