Why you should become a development blogger. And some thoughts on how to enjoy it.

August 16, 2013

     By Duncan Green     

I think it’s time for some new development bloggers. Lots of new voices to oxygenate a sphere that is starting to feel a little stale. Let’s see if I can persuade you to signmonkey-blog up (NGO types tend not to jump at the chance). First the benefits:

A blog is like a cumulative, realtime download of your brain – everything that you’ve read, said, or talked about for years. All in one place. There’s even a search engine – a blessing if your memory’s as bad as mine. When someone asks you for something, you can dig up the link in no time. If you’re writing longer papers you can start with a cut and paste of the relevant posts and take it from there.

It gives you a bit of soft power (let’s not exaggerate this, but check out slide 15 of this research presentation for some evidence). Blogs are now an established part of the chattersphere/public conversation, so you get a chance to put your favourite ideas out there, and spin those of others. People in your organization may well read your blogs and tweets even if they don’t read your emails.

And don’t forget the free books, also known as ‘review copies’. And the chance to publicly insult your enemies (not relevant in my case, obvs, as I don’t have any).


Time: this blog eats up about a third of my working time. There are ways round this – don’t post so much, or put together a blogging stable like Global Dashboard, but take care to try and ensure that there is some kind of coherent whole, rather than a cyberspace speakers’ corner.

blogging-out-loudSnark: Blogs are a unique way for individuals and organizations to have unmediated conversations about stuff that matters. The standard of comment and debate on this blog is amazing. But elsewhere be trolls – not everyone arrives looking for intelligent discussion. If you like conflict, blogging is definitely for you. But if you write something nasty, sleep on it before posting. And don’t dish out the abuse, if receiving it straight back upsets you. If you’re foolish enough to post anything on the Guardian Comment is Free site, which seems to offer free venting therapy, you might want to skip reading the comments.

Convinced? Then to start you off, here are ten fairly mediocre tips on blogging in NGOs:

  1. Manage (and respect) your organization. It is (on a good day) a fantastic source of ideas, guest bloggers, on-the-ground experience. But it’s also a potential nightmare of hassle if you screw up. So don’t. Consult in advance; avoid minefields; make it clear your voice is personal, not institutional. And grovel shamelessly if you do ruffle the odd feather (peanuts and monkeys anyone?). The less you screw up, the more leeway you can ask for to blog without a lot of deadening sign-off constraints.
  2. Stamina: blogs take years to get established. Don’t write a flurry of posts and then go dark. Develop ways to generate new content. Try new things out. Encourage guest posts. Cultivate the mini observer on your shoulder, spotting those morsels in the daily round of conversations, meetings, reading matter that might just make a tasty post.
  3. Tone: The blog has to be your voice, so write like you talk. Relax. Don’t be worthy, pompous or harangue. Don’t treat people as idiots or empty vessels. Admit doubt and complexity. Be funny (if that’s your bag). Ask questions even though (especially when) you don’t have answers. In fact, unlearn almost every bad habit of NGO communications.
  4. Spend time on the title: what will make people click on it, when it’s in a list of 50 other titles on their RSS feed? Be direct – people will skip over clever puns which don’t tell them what the post is about. Questions, ideas, not boring things like ‘Participation is insufficient in the Post 2015 process’. Would you click on that? (Apologies if your answer is yes, but you may need to get out more).
  5. Think about the reader: you need to earn their attention. Saving people time is always appreciated – summarize the key documents, review books. Give them content as well as spin. Lighten the load with visuals and videos. Lots of links in case they want to dig.
  6. Interact: blogs are conversations. Respond to comments. Ask people questions. Why don’t more blogs run polls? Use twitter to boost traffic and interaction.
  7. Be generous: credit everyone. For ideas, sources, guest posts etc – it’s only fair, and then they’ll come back with more! (So thanks to Al Kinley for comments on this post.)
  8. Don’t post at weekends (reader numbers halve on Saturday and Sunday)
  9. Find yourself a blogmaster/mistress, someone who is willing (sometimes for chocolate and/or beer) to iron out any glitches (as the wonderful Eddy Lambert did this morning). But do the graphicsdog_blog_cartoon yourself – it’s actually quite fun, a job for when your brain has seized up for anything more demanding.
  10. Enjoy yourself. Blogging shouldn’t be terrifying or burdensome. If it is, do something else. Go on, have fun – readers will notice and respond.

And you’ll be able to find the link to that great paper you read last month (and even what you thought about it).

Other guides to blogging, especially for developmentistas?

August 16, 2013
Duncan Green