Build Peace 2017 in review

Build Up
5 min readMay 8, 2018


Build Peace 2017 was co-organized by Build Up and Policentrico. Follow @howtobuildpeace and @policentrico on twitter for more insights! Unless otherwise noted, all photographs are by Juan Fernando Castro on behalf of Photoholik.

Build Peace 2017 was our largest, most diverse conference to date. It took us deeper into the conversations we’ve been having over the past four years. If you missed it, you can read the full conference report in English and in Spanish, and watch all the talks here.

Photo collage by Omer Imran Malik

Humans of Build Peace

Nearly 450 people from 386 different organisations registered to attend Build Peace 2017. In the end, 350 attended, coming from over 40 nationalities. Just over 50% of participants were Colombian, more than half from Colombian municipalities highly affected by the conflict. 50% came from NGOs, 15% from the private sector, 20% from academic institutions, 5% from government bodies, and 10% from multi-lateral and donor organizations.

Like every year, we are humbled by the enthusiasm of participants. 78% rated the conference 5 out of 5 in an evaluation survey. Most participants reported they come to Build Peace to learn about innovation, and many report their knowledge of peacetech, arts for peace and participatory methods are enhanced through attendance of the conference. Their comments remind us that the conference content is very much appreciated, but just as important is the collaborative atmosphere and diversity of people.

“For me what Build Peace provides is an amazing multi-cultural/disciplinary space to percolate new ideas for research and practice in tech and peace.”

Making paper count

Under the title Making Paper Count: New forms of citizen participation in peace agreements, Build Peace 2017 aimed to inspire, but also reflect, on the challenges and impacts of technology, arts and participatory research in peacebuilding through three sub-themes: (i) inclusion and exclusion in peace negotiations, (ii) implementation of peace agreements, and (iii) memory, coexistence and reconciliation.

The conference comprised three dialogues, more than 20 short talks, around 30 workshops, two panels, a peacehack, exhibitions, artistic activities and an unconference. The full conference report provides a summary of each of these sessions, and we will also be publishing blogposts on the dialogues and panels.

“The quality and content was a lot above expectations. Participants were all inspiring and brilliant. The conference had a very nice and unusual atmosphere, most people were very humble, and collaborative.”

Participation, story, and trust

Every year, we look at the key conversation threads that emerge from the conference in order to build the conversation for the following year. In 2017, we saw three key threads emerge around expanding participation, the power of story, and threats to trust.

The importance of innovation to expanding participation in peacebuilding is not a new conversation thread at Build Peace, but it seems to us that every year it becomes more central to our collective understanding of what needs to change in the future of peacebuilding. Through different avenues, we keep coming back to the idea that the process of peacebuilding is as important as its results or products.

Peacebuilding is a series of individual and collective transformations that require carefully designed engagement. Bringing new actors and methods into the process enriches the potential for discovering common values, developing inclusive memory and finding new modes of expression. In all this, the participatory use of technology is crucial, as technology without participation can exclude rather than empower communities most in need. Solutions developed locally should be empowered and connected. Many speakers and participants came back to a mantra that has featured in our conference conversations since 2014: Design starts with the problem, not the solution; technology is a tool, what matters is how we chose to use it.

In 2016, as we discussed the role of technology and arts in socio-cultural transformation, we started to speak of identities (individual and collective). Many conversations in 2016 felt more like storytelling, and adopted a more personal tone. In 2017, we saw an increasing focus on the power of story. Speakers and participants alike felt compelled to share their personal stories or those of others, and draw the clear links between these stories, the search for identity, and building peace. This year we saw an even broader array of artistic methods that can create new opportunities for expression, catalysing change. Creative processes are inherently emotional — they give individuals the opportunity for a deeply personal transformation, as well as providing access to a broader community. This reaffirmed the importance of creativity to innovation in peacebuilding.

Since 2014, conversations at Build Peace have always paid attention to the darker sides of innovation. We’ve always had speakers remind us that the radical inclusion that innovations permit means that all kinds of voices, both those pro-peace and those pro-violence, which were previously at the margins or periphery can and do record their stories, and disseminate them to a wider public through a range of media.

In 2017, we heard more people discussing the threats to trust that result from the growing power of data technologies combined with social media platforms in particular. Many speakers and participants converged on a growing realisation that the responsibility for combatting disinformation and polarization cannot be deferred to others — it is a collective engagement. Emotions are a powerful tool in these virtual spaces, and peacebuilders must find ways to effectively engage them. Also, while traditional social media has eroded trust in information, the emergence of new technologies (eg. blockchain) provide avenues to rebuild this trust.

“Being part of this conference has changed many perspectives I had about peace and the different ways in which it can be achieved. It made me open my mind more to the situation that my country lives and the situations that also occur in the world.”

Graphic recording by Claudia Meier

Onwards to Build Peace 2018

Build Peace 2018 will take place in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on October 29–31 and will explore how technological innovation and creativity re-shape the economic opportunities, economic organisation, and economic power that impact how we live together in peace — in the Global North and the Global South alike. The topic choice is in part a response to the conference location — the role of economics in conflict and post-conflict is particularly relevant to the Northern Irish context. The topic also weaves in the questions around identity (story) and trust, and continues to place an emphasis on participation.

We’re excited to continue exploring innovations in peacebuilding with you all. How to build peace? Join us to chart the future.



Build Up

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