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Tell me what you want, what you really really want

by Michael Keizer on June 9, 2010

'Tennis ball' by Michal Ufniak

Ì have been posting for a while now, and I think it’s time that I start to listen instead of blathering on. So, here are some questions for you, my readers.

  1. Should I expand the series on push versus pull supply lines? Almost all my points have already been pre-empted by Dennis Bours’ comments on the first posting in the series, so there it might not be much use to just rehash what’s already there. On the other hand, the comments might be a bit cryptic for non-insiders. So, it’s up to you: expand and explain, or go on to the next subject?
  2. Are there any specific subjects that you would like me to write about? No, don’t worry, I have definitely not run out of ideas for future posts, but I might very well have overlooked some issue or idea that is very much alive amongst you.
  3. Any other ways in which I can improve the blog and make it more helpful or interesting to you, or more attractive to new readers? E.g., I have been toying with the idea to introduce the occasional podcast or video – would that be a good idea, or definitely not? Other ideas?

So, this is your turn. Let me know what you think. The ball is in your court.

[Image: Tennis ball by Michal Ufniak]

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Keizer June 9, 2010 at 1:53 pm

Some suggestions that I have received via Twitter:
@texasinafrica: “I want demo videos. How to load a container, making the most of a celebrity badvocacy photo op, that sort of thing.”
@KPMcDonald: “Your thoughts on INGOs directly supplying meds vs supporting country-run SCM?”
@gentlemandad: so how big is the community of aid logisticians? how did you get the qualifications/experience?

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Andy June 9, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Maybe something like “10 key principles of good logistics management” for those of us that don’t have dedicated teams!

Great blog, keep it up.

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Michael Keizer June 9, 2010 at 5:09 pm

Thanks, Andy, I have added it to my ‘soon’ tray!

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Linda (@meowtree) June 9, 2010 at 8:08 pm

I overheard on twitter that you were thinking of breaking down different types of aid and what they mean, what their characteristics are. I’d be quite interested in that.

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Michael Keizer June 9, 2010 at 10:18 pm

Ah yes, my infamous aid typology. I have been working on that one for almost a year now, and I am still not sure that I ever will be able to work things out to my satisfaction. It is a scholarly work that I think would be more suited for the professional journals than this blog, although some of it might leak through while I work on it. I doubt that I can captivate anyone for 7000 words here. ;)

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joe June 9, 2010 at 9:39 pm

I guess it all boils down to who you think your audience is and what you are trying to do/offer to them.

So it might be that you’re trying to appeal mostly to existing logisticians, or to educate the wider aid community about logistics issues, or to engage with the non-aid community.

I’d be curious for the need of some of the suggestions mentioned above – having no knowledge of the state of aid logistics, I’d assume that there’d be a better source of information/training as to how to load a container (for example). Maybe that is a stupid assumption and all the aid people are making it up as they go along, I’ve no idea..

On the other hand, given you are getting intelligent comments to your posts, maybe it makes sense to continue in that vein. For me, I’m more interested in understanding more about motivations, philosophy and definitions used by the aid community (particularly when the perception of those is quite different to the jargon used internally) than in practical skills I’m never likely to use. But of course YMMV.

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Michael Keizer June 9, 2010 at 10:57 pm

Good questions as always, Joe.

First, my audience. When I started this blog, the audience I was mainly thinking of were my fellow loggies, trying to help them a bit by giving them some tools to improve their practices. However, as things turned out, I would hazard a guess that about 60 – 80 percent of my readers are actually non-logisticians — look at the comments to see this.

Consequently I have adapted my posts a bit to suit this different audience, with clear results: the most successful posts (based on number of unique page views and comments) are the ones that are interesting to a wider audience. In fact, although I originally hadn’t planned for that, I am quite happy with it: it gives me the opportunity to explain some of the importance and intricacies of aid and health logistics to non-specialists, hoping that I can get some people, some of the time, to think a bit more about logistics aspects of programmes and how to successfully integrate them into their planning. I think it is also great that non-logisticians and logisticians have a place outside their normal work environment to discuss and interact; I can only hope that this would lead to the occasional better programme with better results for the people we are trying to help. And finally it has given me an opportunity to ‘talk’ myself with some of the smartest and most articulate people in the business, and to learn quite a lot.

So, all in all, quite a mixed bag of reasons for this blog, even though it started out on a much tighter focus.

Re the container example (and similar): yes and no. For that particular example: there are some manuals out there, but I don’t think anybody ever made a video manual (although I could be very wrong). There are some interesting other issues that I could work on in the same manner, and for which I am fairly sure there are no video manuals yet. Think of e.g. testing the surface of a clay-and-gravel runway in the rainy season — something almost any aid logistician will have to do at least once in their career, which could cost lives if not done well, and which is really difficult to explain well on paper but fairly easy to show in a vid. There are other, similar practical subjects which are fairly specific to aid and health logistics and which could lend themselves well to instructional videos.

Re the motivations, philosophy, definitions: you know, the fact that I have been writing on my aid typology for almost a year and still don’t know where I will end up should warn you that I might not be the best person to tackle those subjects. I am sure that they will come up as we go along (as they have in the past), but I thing sources like Tales from the Hood, Blood and Milk, Texas in Africa, Wait… What?, Aid Watch and many others are probably better places to find those discussions.

And yes, often things get made up as we go along. There are some reasons for that, about which I wrote in these two earlier posts. It was one of my main original motivations to start this blog.

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Ian June 9, 2010 at 11:05 pm

In addition to the regular great stiff you do, I’d be interested to hear your take on local procurement and national capacity development in procurement and logistics.

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Michael Keizer June 9, 2010 at 11:17 pm

Umm… “Do it” sums it up nicely, I think.

Joking aside, that is a great subject, Ian, and one that I am actually quite passionate about. In fact, looking back, it amazes me that I have never written about it at any length before. Another one for the ‘soon’ tray!

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John June 10, 2010 at 12:46 am

The TBBC (Thai Burma Border Consortium) might be an interesting example to consider in such a discussion. In particular the transition from a black market, emergent, aid economy in forest products used in shelter construction to an accountable “system” for the provisioning and distribution of these products.

The “localization” of the basic food basket was easier because of the pre-existing supply chains, but the transparency with which it is managed is interesting in the context of a politically hostile and inherently corrupt local environment.

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Michael Keizer June 10, 2010 at 8:11 am

I will have a look at it, John. Thanks for the pointer!

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Bonnie Koenig June 10, 2010 at 9:53 am

Michael – As part of your loyal “broader audience” I appreciate when you step back and look at the broader picture. As a non-Australian living in Australia doing international development work you have a range of perspectives and experiences that are extremely insightful on a number of topics. As you know, I especially appreciated this post on skills http://tinyurl.com/26h94eg Others like it from time to time would be great.

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Michael Keizer June 10, 2010 at 10:20 am

Thanks for the kind words, Bonnie! To be honest, I always feel a lot less confident when writing about these wider subjects, and that is why I usually leave them to people like you who have much better credentials. But from the comments on this post it is clear that there is a real demand for these wider-ranging discussions, so I will definitely be writing more of them in the future.

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George Darroch June 12, 2010 at 6:42 pm

I was thinking about MSF USA’s STRVD campaign, about the delivery of nutritious food to those in hunger, and addressing food insecurity more generally. Their complaint is that most food aid is addressed not at nutrition but at preventing starvation.

I was wondering if you had any thoughts about this as a logistician. Obviously you can put things in cans and send them around the world, but are there any issues that you can think of that might cause a practical problem, rather than just a narrowness of focus on the part of donor agencies?

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Michael Keizer June 12, 2010 at 6:55 pm

Thanks, George! Before we get the rest of the MSF movement huffing in, let’s make clear that it is actually an international campaign, not limited to the US section.

This question touches on something about which I have been wanting to write a long time already: the idiocy of shipping bulk food halfway across the world when it is available regionally. MSF’s campaign and the logistics around malnutrition (as opposed to hunger) are actually linked, although I notice that MSF (probably for political reasons) is careful not to mention those links.

Great question, which I have filed for a post (or probably more than one) in the very near future!

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Brett June 18, 2010 at 11:15 am

You mentioned the possibility of a podcast. Good idea. I am away from computers for periods of time and download things to listen to while I don’t have computer access. Podcasts containing the content you are producing would be a good fit.

I am a new reader–living and working in the South Pacific–and really like what you are producing. Good job.

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Michael Keizer June 19, 2010 at 8:51 am

Thanks for the kind words, Brett! I am planning a first trial podcast (or as CGD would have it, a wonkcast) for sometime next month, and if that goes well you can expect more regular ones.

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Rob Hiffy October 14, 2010 at 2:01 am

Great blog, keep it up.

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Theodore Baskind June 30, 2012 at 12:48 am

what a cool post! Not many bloggers ask what their readers want. GREAT quality! I’m DEFINITELY linking your blog to mine. Keep up the good work

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