Build Peace 2017: Dialogue on Information and Communication Technologies to Monitor Peace Agreements

This Dialogue was part of the plenary for Build Peace 2017 — Making Paper Count: New Forms of Citizen Participation in Peace Agreements, a conference at the intersection of peacebuilding, technology, and arts, held in Bogotá, Colombia. Build Peace 2017 was organized in partnership between Build Up and Policéntrico. Find the full 60-page conference report here, and all conference plenary proceedings on Youtube.

You can read about the other Dialogues here:
Dialogue on Creativity and Public Imaginations for Peaceful Futures
Dialogue on Social Media, Viral News, and the Future of Confidentiality in Peace

The dialogue Information and communication technologies to monitor peace agreements discussed the opportunities and challenges of the use of tech tools to monitor peace agreements from a national and international perspective. The conversation, moderated by Jerry McCann, Senior Advisor of Build Up, featured Nikki de la Rosa, Deputy Country Manager of International Alert at the Philippines, and Juan Fernando Lucio, Director of Paso Colombia.

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Jerry McCann and Nikki de la Rosa

Transparency and participation are key in peace agreements that work for a broad range of people affected by a conflict. Again and again working with communities and people to overcome conflict, we learn that peace means different things to different people in different contexts. In any process, we need to begin to reconcile the different definitions among a citizenry.

One of the challenges of building a common language, is having effective tools that allow citizens to engage with the many mechanisms of reconciliation that are necessary in a peace process. Another is making the mechanisms effective and impactful. It’s too easy and too common that the collection, analysis, and reporting of data is an intellectual exercise that benefits only the leading researchers. As the definitions of peace are being created, it’s important to embed them in actions that individuals take as participants of peace processes.

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Nikki de la Rosa told us about their efforts to monitor causes of violence, because they lacked good sources of data. In the Philippines, the publicly available violent death figures only accounted for 5% of all violent deaths. Half of the work could be done through institutional sources, such as police, media, and community groups. The other side is a public platform with an accessible database where people can make and read reports.

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Juan Fernando Lucio

Juan Fernando Lucio, Director of Paso Colombia, needed to identify what local resources were available for peacebuilding efforts. They needed to answer difficult questions in the aftermath of the government’s peace negotiations — such as where would ex-combatants go? Hence, they created a map using the openstreetmap framework, as a place to put all the information. As they describe it, the map is “a place to communicate.”

For both, there’s a broader objective to the data gathering than collecting a certain number of incidents. There’s a responsibility that comes with data collection. Information should be used to raise discussions; people expect the information to be reflected in public action.

Why should this information be used? Why should actors start using your information? “This is where the human component is important. It makes the data credible,” asserted Juan Fernando. In addition, he mentioned that the data must be visualized. “It needs to be easy to understand. Humility is very useful. The ones on the ground know the most.”

These participatory data collection platforms allow people to see something coming out that reflects their input and helps build trust. “See the platform as a way to build consensus,” said Nikki. “If people have a common lense using the database, they can see [the data’s] relevance.”

But there are pitfalls too. It’s possible that too much data collection can lead to paralysis in the process. “There is a moment where information is just an excuse not to act,” declared Juan Fernando. “Once everybody tells you the same thing with mostly the same information, why do you need to go get more information?”

Nikki added, “Technology is a tool of reaching the end to allow people to see that their aspirations have been reflected in local development.” At the end of the day, this is about relationships between people, being there and looking into each other’s eyes. The data is one entry into the real work of engaging human feelings.

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Key Takeaways

— Databases don’t solve conflicts, but they provide us with a valuable understanding of what drives them. Information needs to raise discussion. It provides a first set of arguments to spark a discussion.

— People need to be able to see the results of the information they provide. Don’t extract, but give back — especially in readable forms like maps and graphs. But most of all, people expect to see change.

— Even when focusing on data collection, do not forget about relationship building: being there, looking into people’s eyes — data is only an entry point to real people’s feelings.

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

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