The next Build Peace conference will take place on April 25 & 26, 2015 in Nicosia, Cyprus and already counts with the support of the UNDP Cyprus office. Where Build Peace 2014 aimed to demonstrate the potential of using technology for peacebuilding in terms of ‘breadth’ of initiatives and ideas, Build Peace 2015 will begin to examine issues of ‘depth’ – how the use of technology is resulting in the creation of alternative infrastructures for peace.
Learning from 2014
Build Peace 2014 explored how technology can enhance the impact of a broad range of peacebuilding, social cohesion and peace advocacy initiatives, drawing both on the expertise of academics and technologists and on the lived experience of practitioners working to transform conflict. The conference was organised around four broad lines of enquiry that each represent a function technology can play in peacebuilding: information, communications, gaming and networking. For many practitioners, practical considerations about how to integrate technology into programming are critical, so we also structured some discussions around the three stages of peacebuilding programming: conflict analysis, program design and impact evaluation. Finally, we had open spaces in a variety of formats – short “ignite” talks, longer working sessions and a technology fair – where participants could share their own ideas and experiences, building our knowledge of the field.
Feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive, with much enthusiasm stemming from a collective discovery of new ideas and practices, common themes and issues among practitioners, donors, academics and technologists who do not often get the chance to get together. We want to continue to offer such a forum as well as further explore some of these issues during Build Peace 2015 – Peace through Technology: By Whom, For Whom?
Three Key Topics & Alternative Infrastructures for Peace
Empowerment. One key reason to use technologies in peacebuilding is that they can empower a larger number of people to engage and participate. This was explicit and implicit in many presentations and projects showcased at Build Peace 2014. But there are many ways technology can be used to empower various groups in conflict and post-conflict contexts. There are well documented tensions, for example, between state uses of technologies for surveillance purposes and the security implications of some grassroots uses. Part of Build Peace 2015 will be dedicated to exploring this further by looking at questions of who is empowered, by whom and how.
Behavior change. And empowered to do what? More than half of the Ignite Talks at Build Peace 2014 presented projects aimed at promoting peaceful attitudes – either by shaping the peace and conflict narratives, through training or education, or by helping shape alternative identity formation processes. This illustrates a belief that technological tools can affect behaviours that pertain to patterns of violence and peace. A second part of Build Peace 2015 will focus on what these behaviours are, and what the role of technology is or can be in changing those behaviours.
Impact. Another assumption underlying the use of technologies for peacebuilding is that it can help ‘improve’ peacebuilding, with the caveat that there are associated risks and ethical issues. It is evident in the proliferation of innovative initiatives on the ground and the many discussions on the role of technologies within more traditional peacebuilding that took place during Build Peace 2014. A third part of Build Peace 2015 will look at the actual or possible impacts of using technologies for peacebuilding. What are they? How can we measure them? Does technology fundamentally change what we can achieve in peacebuilding?
Alternative infrastructures. Empowerment, behavior change and impact are three sides of the same story. Taken together, these dimensions can result in the creation of alternative infrastructures for peace. And where Build Peace 2014 aimed to demonstrate the potential of using technology for peacebuilding in terms of ‘breadth’ of initiatives and ideas, Build Peace 2015 will begin to examine issues of ‘depth’ – how the use of technology is resulting in the creation of alternative infrastructures for peace. As a technical infrastructure, technology for peace is a series of tools that allow local peacebuilders to communicate with more people in more ways, collect better information and sustain relationships on digital platforms. As an organizational infrastructure, it is a means by which communities build new participatory processes, foster deeper collaborations and assume collective responsibility for building peace. As a social infrastructure, it circulates ideas and creates consensus about the importance of civic, grassroots engagement in peacebuilding.
A Divided City in a Key Location
We are grateful for the support of the Centre for Civic Media at the MIT Media Lab, who hosted the conference in 2014 and offered to host again in 2015. We are also honored that UNDP Cyprus have offered to host in 2015 in Nicosia, the divided capital of Cyprus. Nicosia is a natural choice for the second Build Peace conference. It is at the crossroads of Europe and the Middle East. This not only provides rich cultural ground, but also offers logistical advantages to many more participants from the Global South. Cyprus has also witnessed 40 years of frozen conflict, which participants will experience first hand as they are asked to cross a border in the middle of Nicosia to reach conference venues.
In a way, our choice of location is also a collective challenge. We can imagine building peace with technology in a plexiglass building at a high-tech university. But do our ideas stand up in a building, a city and a region steeped in decades of complex conflict and with much greater economic challenges? Join us to chart the future.
We’ll be posting details of the conference program and opening registration for the conference in October.