New media and development: changing discourse, thinking and action

Organisations such as DfID have their own blogs. Photo by DfID


Throughout the past few years, the media has been undergoing a digital revolution. Sam Hall – who has worked for the New Indian Express and the disaster relief charity Shelter Box – assesses the implications for the development sector.

New media has become an ignorable presence within the world writ-large; even if you don’t have a social media presence, the collapsing spaces between celebrities, politicians – and, for the topic of this post, development practitioners – cannot be ignored. It is instead becoming embraced.

There is already a burgeoning depth of blogs and twitter accounts on the subject of development from the critical armchair academic to the wide-eyed gap year student on their first volunteer excursion. This rapidly growing online presence culminated yesterday with the launch of AidSource a social network designed specifically to be the hotbed of shared content, knowledge and contacts within the Humanitarian Sector.

So why is this so crucial?

Unlike many other specialisms, problems within development are time and space specific. Previous to the web 2.0 revolution humanitarians would be operating in remote locations, or in isolation, having to tackle problems which require specific technical expertise and advice. With the advent of these readily available streams of knowledge to tap into, and increasingly mobile devices on which to extract it, problems suddenly seem less foreign.

Away from the field, the nature of new media is encouraging the dissemination of academic and specialist knowledge outside of paid-for journals, an industry which has come under criticism for its increasing restriction and price of access, as well as its article turn-around times.  Criticism has reached such an extent that academics are boycotting certain publishers altogether. As a result, more experts are investing time and attention to online open-access journals which may soon endanger the monopoly of discourse held within exclusively academic circles.

However, this rapid and freely available spread of information is only one facet of new media that can benefit the subjects of development just as much as its practitioners. Amazon have developed a rugged, energy-efficient and increasingly cheap device which not only has the obvious feature of being able to download literature from anywhere (internet permitting) but also an inbuilt dictionary and text-to-speech functionality; accidently, the Kindle presents itself as an appropriate technology for the developing world.

In time, humanitarian exchanges and discussions will not only be held more freely between those in the global north but increasingly in the global south too, as more of the world gets interconnected with the problems and solutions encountered within development, lending itself to an increasing endogenous discourse advocated by development critics such as Arturo Escobar.

New media is not only modifying the status quo of development –  it’s creating one of its own.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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