What’s the best way to manage information overload on development? My favourite synthesizers and other tips.

October 7, 2020

     By Duncan Green     

How to cope with Information Overload – how much of the daily tide of opinion and research on aid, development, politics etc can you manage to surf, while still doing the day job (which may well involve adding to it)? Some colleagues suffer from FOMO and ICYMI, hopping between social media in a constant scavenging for wisdom, or at least novelty. Others seem to have given up entirely, hunkering down with a few classic papers from decades ago, ignoring all the incoming. I’m closer to the FOMO camp, so here are a few thoughts, and an appeal for more ideas and sources.

First, the good old RSS feed – a good solid base, in which you sign up for anything new from a list of tried and tested websites and authors. I follow about 40 sources on my Feedly account, which generate a list of about 30 pieces every morning. Of those, I read about half a dozen, and tweet links to the good ones. I know RSS is seen as a bit old hat, but I still have not heard of a better alternative and am shocked how few colleagues or students use it.

Then the treacherous swamp that is twitter. Do you exert discipline, and only follow work-related stuff, or sign up to that lovely series of video clips of birds of the world (more disturbing than lovely in the case of the Common Potoo) and risk disappearing for 20 minutes down a web-rabbit hole in the middle of the working day?

And finally, the synthesizers (of aid and development literature, not the musical abomination). These are those selfless/hyperactive individuals who publish round-ups and summaries of links, typically every week. Here’s my current list, in no particular order, but I would love some additions:

  • Tobias Denskus publishes Aidnography, a long list on aid and development, usually with a critical take on the many failings and iniquities of the aid system
  • Heather Marquette provides an occasional monster round-up of her reading on Governance and Conflict.
  • Despite being a sleep-deprived, first time Dad, Ranil Dissanayake serves up an eccentric weekly combo of sport, pop culture references and hardcore economics on the Centre for the Study of African Economies blog.
  • Ranil’s now at CGD, which is also home to ace synthesizer Dave Evans, who has made a speciality out of monster human-hoover reviews of new research on topics such as educational research in Africa
  • When he stepped down from blogging (I’m still hurting from that decision) Chris Blattman handed the keys to his blog to Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action for an occasional round up of development links with a focus on research, especially RCT-type experimental work.
  • The Week in Africa is an extraordinarily comprehensive round up of links on politics, aid and culture, compiled by Jeff (American) and Phil (Zimbabwean) and hosted by the University of San Francicso. Sign up here.

Who am I missing? These are the synthesizers – I also follow lots of individual blogs and authors – but I am struck by how white and male they are (and you can add me in a small way via this blog’s Links I Liked round-ups). So do please suggest other sources of round-ups, preferably not so male, pale and at least in my case, stale…..

Update: do check out the comments below for some great tech info management software, as well as further links

October 7, 2020
Duncan Green