2016 in review
We’ve reflected on why we do what we do.
We think focusing on citizenship and participation is key to working on peace and conflict. We see our work as part of a global paradigm shift that leverages technology and creativity to bring more voices into the public discourse, so more citizens can positively influence policy- and decision-making processes to better address their needs and those of their community. Real, effective citizen participation in peace processes not only increases the trust and accountability between citizens and authorities, but also empowers citizens to take greater ownership and action for peace in their own context.
Read more about our re-focus on our new website.
We’ve refocused on what we’re passionate about.
We bring innovative practices to peacebuilding processes because we have seen they can amplify citizen participation. Our toolkit started off with just technology (peacetech). As we’ve grown, we’ve also incorporated arts methodologies and participatory research. We believe current peacebuilding challenges require greater creativity, better tools, and more citizen engagement. We approach technology, arts and research as tools for participation: they all create new narratives, they can all shift the balance of power towards citizens.
Read more on how to go deeper: cultural strategy for peacetech.
And since we think best while we work, our reflection and re-focus has emerged while we implemented some awesome projects working with truly inspiring people in Burundi, Myanmar, Colombia, the Balkans, the Central African Republic, Syria, the UK and the EU.
Build Peace Fellows & Conference
This year we started the Build Peace Fellows program, which builds local innovative potential for individuals and organisations embedded in peacebuilding processes. Over one year, the program helps an individual take an innovative peacebuilding intervention from idea to implementation. We received 148 applications from 60 different countries, and selected 3 exceptional individuals as the first Build Peace Fellows. Jean Marie Ndihokubwayo (Burundi) is developing a participatory analysis platform that will support a long term multi-stakeholder dialogue. Diana Dajer (Colombia) is building a digital game to encourage participation in local budgeting processes. Maude Morrison (Myanmar) is developing a rumour tracking smartphone app.
Read more by Diana Dajer: peacetech from the ground up in Colombia.
The fellowship projects are all very different, but we are clear on the uniting vision: we want to empower peacebuilding practitioners to become skilled technology designers and users. We believe the program is particularly important at a time when there is still a mismatch between the push for innovative peacebuilding and local capacities for that innovation to take place in the field.
Read more by Maude Morrison: design is easy when it’s in your head.
We work with our fellows to explore how, as designers focusing on what technology can do for social challenges, our task is to understand the effect of a technology intervention contextually and culturally, in a very critical way. It forces us to be more honest with ourselves about what we’re making, whose input really matters in the making process, and how it might impact the world. This personal honesty requires vulnerability and is key to design.
Read more about how to build peace: be honest.
The Fellowship program came about as a result of our interaction with the community that continues to gather at our annual Build Peace conferences. Our 2016 conference in Zürich focused on transformation. While we explored whether there was a role for technology in peacebuilding in 2014, focusing more specifically on who and how in 2015, in 2016 we asked why we use technology, arts and participatory research to build peace. What are we trying to change, and what can these innovative approaches affect in these processes of change?
Read more about trust, pertinence, validity and honesty in measuring peace.
The conversations we were having as part of the Fellows program informed some of the core questions we asked about transformation, and resulted in a more personal, deeper inquiry from many participants: why am I doing this work? If to build peace we have to be honest, it’s pretty important to start by transforming ourselves. So we started the conference by reminding participants that…
Revolution starts at home, preferably in the bathroom mirror.
Read more about where this quote came from (and transformation).
We’ll be announcing our plans for the 2017 Conference and Fellowship in May (you can sign up for updates here).
Creativity as consultation in the CAR
Build Up designed and facilitated a community-based art methodology as part of a national consultation on security sector reform and disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration led by the United States Institute of Peace.
In designing this intervention, we found that there was NGO fatigue — people could easily express basic messages of peace and coexistence, but they didn’t go deeper into their own narratives or experiences, and the same people always show up to public dialogues organised by NGOs. We needed to figure out how to bring out the deeper issues and bring in more diverse people. So we ran a series of open art spaces for participants to share their perspectives with national leaders. There were opportunities for participants to write, draw, tell stories, film and direct videos, and more.
Build Up’s methodology helped to find deeper engagement and expression in this circumstance. Careful wording of creative prompts, in addition to sequencing of participatory arts activities prior to dialogues, helped to bring out diverse viewpoints.
This was a simple approach, it wasn’t sophisticated! It was implemented in a way we thought was important: participatory. We invited ANYBODY to come, and invite themselves to art — really holding strongly to this approach. We were absolutely non-directive about the work people did in the space, and therefore what was collected. People felt free to express themselves. People of all ages and backgrounds, ex combatants, traumatized, Christian, Muslim, victims — felt welcomed and safe. That gave them the opportunity to experience peaceful co-existence, not just be talked at about it.
Read more about this project.
Our work in the Central African Republic is a great synthesis of our developing arts methodologies for peace. In the process, we pulled out a key learning about participation.
Participation is data, and through participation we are helping citizens co-ordinate their emancipation.
Our approach is never about collecting the data itself: it’s about involving people in the process. We need participation not just because it helps us get data, but because participation helps us further the larger goals of building coexistence and coherence.
A news service for migrants
In late 2015, Internews launched NewsThatMoves.org, a news website for people who are displaced or seeking asylum, especially in Greece and the Balkans, that produces independent, verified information people can use. Internews contracted Build Up to design, develop and launch the NewsThatMoves site and related social media campaigns. There is also an element of participation in this website: readers can ask questions that the Internews team tries to respond to with news articles.
Read more on the site being recognised as a critical resource for refugees.
We worked with Internews on this project until August 2016; the site is now entirely run by Internews. Working with their team to design the website and news service drove home a critical value that informs our own approach to design:
We work to put innovation at the service of empowerment.
Research on peacetech in the EU and in Syria
We’re also beginning to realise that this notion of innovation as empowerment not only shapes our approach to design but also has informed much of our research this year.
Build Up is part of the Whole of Society Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding research project. We’re looking into innovative and appropriate use of ICTs as a critical measure of EU capabilities for conflict prevention and peacebuilding. We started this project with an initial piece of research that scoped out the possibilities for ICTs within EU conflict prevention and peacebuilding.
Read more about our scoping study on uses of ICTs for EU conflict prevention and peacebuilding.
Two main questions that emerged from this scoping study — and that will serve to inform the rest of our research — directly tackle the link between innovation and empowerment:
- Has there been democratisation of technology uses in conflict affected areas? If so, what kind of democratisation has arisen? Does using ICTs in peacebuilding processes make these processes more inclusive?
- Have ICT uses led to more empowerment — and if so, whose?
In January 2016, the British Council commissioned Build Up to map current peacetech initiatives responding to the Syrian crisis and consider options for future work using technology for peacebuilding and development. The report ‘Innovative Peacebuilding in Syria: a scoping study of the strategic use of technology to build peace in the Syrian context’, which outlines the outcomes of the research, represents the first and only such mapping to date.
Any mapping in Syria’s volatile context is bound to remain incomplete. But what this research emphasises more than anything is the need to listen to those speaking for peace and learn how best technology can serve their needs. Again, the focus is squarely on the link between innovation and empowerment.
Peacebuilding is not a journey, it’s a dance.
There’s a thread that ties together much of what we have learned this year, a thread that runs through creativity-innovation-empowerment. Alan Watts speaks of understanding life in analogy to music or dance. Life is playful and creative; it is not a journey with a destination. We’re beginning to think that the same applies to peace: it’s not a destination, it’s a constant dance, a constant invention. This is why innovation through participation is critical to peacebuilding.
We work on innovation because constantly re-inventing is a way to transform conflict.