A year as a Build Peace Fellow

by Quratulain Fatima, a Build Peace Fellow from our 2017–18 program.

When I was selected for the Build Peace Fellowship program 2017–18, I expected to receive technical and financial support for a specific GIS based project to resolve water disputes in arid areas of Punjab, Pakistan. However, the fellowship took me beyond these concrete and results-oriented expectations, and has left me with a far more valuable takeaway: the process of learning and implementing a theory of change is at least as important as the short term result.

I lead a Geographical Information Systems (GIS) Lab that uses spatial techniques to find and map buildable water resources in arid areas of Punjab, Pakistan. When I took on leadership of this lab, I was astonished to find that, despite the existence of conflicts around the resources, there was no database to track these conflicts, nor formal system for water dispute resolution in Pakistan.

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GIS Map of ‘Types of disputes around water interventions’

Since 2017, I have worked to fill this gap by developing a GIS-based water dispute resolution management system. This initiative deploys geographical mapping of water disputes and uses the information to facilitate and support existing dispute resolution mechanisms in arid areas. Through a mix of technology and community-based participatory research (CBPR) the system works to support the prevention and resolution of water related communal conflicts in farming communities. While the results have been good, in this blog I want to focus on the process of implementing this system, which I think will be very transformational in the long run.

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GIS map of ‘Intensity of Conflicts around water interventions’

The aim of the project was to instill organizational change in the Agency for Barani Areas development (ABAD), expanding its function from an implementer of water infrastructure projects to a facilitator of water dispute resolution mechanisms. During the course of the project two teams i.e field and GIS team at ABAD were trained in collection and analysis of data, as well as in the facilitation of local conflicts. Through this process, the field team transformed from routine workers to researchers. They were able to absorb the dispute data collection as part of their core work and further coordinate with the technical GIS team to run analysis for possible solutions of the disputes. This has been a profound change in the work culture of the field team. They transformed from being implementers, to actively included and important parts of the decision-making process, enabling them to take ownership of the project process.

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An ABAD team training session.

However, organizational change is not without its challenges. The field team expressed an initial reluctance to take up a seemingly additional task, as they had never done data collection or formal facilitation of dispute resolution. They shared valid concerns about increasing the expectations of the farmers involved in water disputes without being able to meet them. To address these apprehensions, we took a gradual approach, providing significant amounts of training in sensitive data collection and dispute resolution facilitation. These challenges required us to reconsider our initial desire to move at a rapid pace. We had to be more deliberate in rolling out first the data collection effort, and only later in the process did we find we were ready for case-by-case resolution. While it definitely challenged my results-driven hopes, it put the team in a much stronger position to set their own pace and feel ownership over the process. I believe this has helped make their efforts and insights stronger overall.

The GIS based system now records an average of seven to eight water disputes monthly. A report is generated for policy makers at the organization. This report is used not only to facilitate water dispute resolution in the arid areas of Punjab, but also to take major decisions to redesign water infrastructure.

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ABAD team engaging in field work.

For example, the results of this dispute mapping led to ABAD altering their criteria for water interventions, deciding only to construct dams under community ownership rather than private ownership. The aim of this decision is to reduce the frequency of water disputes — disputes that data showed often arise due to conflict over beneficiary shares of water in the area. By working on the GIS project and learning through a user centered design process, we were able to replicate lessons learnt and changed our outlook towards design and implementation of other projects at ABAD.

  • Technology is a flexible tool and can become an effective catalyst for organizational change.
  • Organizational change is a difficult and slow process but the involvement of all stakeholders helps make the change sustainable in longer run.
  • User centered designs are community inclusive and are more effective.
  • Tech enables marginalized and vulnerable groups to participate in peace and development projects.
  • Interaction with the fellow peace tech community through the Build Peace fellowship reinforces mutual learning in using tech creatively for peace

The project is currently in its pilot phase in the Chakwal District of Pakistan and will be rolled out in phases to all of the arid areas in Punjab, through collaboration with other organizations working in the area.

Beyond this individual project, the Fellowship has left me with a strong conviction that peacetech can be a potent tool for peace, when process is prioritized over results. Through the connections I have built with peacebuilders in the Build Peace conference community, I have started an organization called Women4PeaceTech that aims to empower women, helping them participate in peace efforts through technology trainings. I look forward to continuing to build on my lessons from the Build Peace Fellows program in these two projects and beyond.

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Build Up transforms conflict in the digital age. Our approach combines peacebuilding, participation and technology.

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