Background and Objective

With an increase in global initiatives to address peace – Goal 16 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals – there is a critical need to address how to more appropriately understand peace in order to build it. Big Data is being framed as a lever of innovation—and possibly inclusion—by proponents who underline how it can help yield socially valuable insights by unveiling trends and patterns about human dynamics in the data—including by non-State actors. Interest and evidence is growing in new Big Data sources such as social media, mobility, call detail records (CDR), and transport data sources, among others, as well as digital data analysis of those sources that can help understand conflict and peace dynamics and assist peacebuilding programs. Data analysis related to perceptions of security and peace such as sentiment analysis or text mining of social media data (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, etc.), in combination with crime and conflict data, CDRs, transport data, traditional survey data, etc. can provide deeper and more meaningful insights into the needs and conditions of persons in conflict situations.

Often the value from these data come from initiatives from private sector actors who are often the ones storing the data or from academic networks with the technical capabilities to work with such data. However local actors and civil society in general have had a harder time engaging in conversations and initiatives on the applications and implications of data and development.

Understanding peace dynamics through data is not the only necessary requirement in filling the data gaps that exists around peacebuilding. There is also a need to facilitate the way that persons interact through and about data on their communities and a desire to have participatory approaches in peacebuilding efforts; it is a necessary requirement to foster data literacy. Data literate citizens are better able to shape peacebuilding initiatives and to measure impacts. In understanding visualizations, statistics, and storytelling grounded in data, data literate citizens are empowered to improve peace in their local communities by holding their leaders accountable and making decisions based off of the communities’ needs as demonstrated by concrete indicators. This also fosters the opportunity for communities to standardize metrics and calibrate conversations to collaborate across borders and improve international peacebuilding.

Building a body of citizens able to engage through and with data requires feedback loops within peacebuilding initiatives: accurately reflecting the perceptions of persons in conflict situations with better data sources helps to ultimately shift perceptions and impact socio-cultural behaviors. Data literate citizens can respond to conflict situations in a more resilient way by being better informed and can also produce new knowledge and insights on peacebuilding efforts derived from data, increasing their engagement and their role in peacebuilding efforts. Moreover, the direct involvement of citizens in data feedback loops is a source of empowerment, as people gain rights over the data they produce and how they engage with it, shifting the balance of power among government, private sector and civil society.

Training Session Logistics

datapopThis training session will aim to develop our target audience’s understanding and practical skills across a spectrum of applications and implications of using Big Data for peacebuilding initiatives to better engage civil society and local actors in particular to become key participants in these peacebuilding efforts through and with data. The workshop focuses on addressing gaps in knowledge and capacity for participation of all actors in conflict communities – nonprofit, civil society, government, academic, private sector etc. The workshop will include presentations on data literacy and data inclusion, data analysis techniques for measuring and monitoring perception, and break out sessions to dive deeper into relevant Big Data methodologies and tools related to perceptions of peace and security. Discussions will be focused around the impacts of data literacy for not only creating and measuring indicators of security and conflict but also for affecting citizen engagement, perception and dynamics of control in peacebuilding efforts.

This session is led by Data-Pop Alliance of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) and MIT Media Lab and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), and the latest core member, Flowminder Foundation, which joined forces to promote a people-centered Big Data revolution to improve decisions and empower communities.