PEACEapp winner: Everyday Racism (by Nova Longhurst)

All Together Now is the only national not-for-profit organisation that is dedicated to ending racism in Australia. All Together Now focuses on creating projects that are designed to educate the individual and wider society on what racism is, how to speak up when witnessing it and encouraging social discussion on racism. The Everyday Racism mobile phone app is one of the projects designed to start this national review on racism in Australia.

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Everyday Racism is a mobile phone app offering the User the ability to walk in someone else’s shoes for an entire week. The challenge is set at the beginning of the App to live in the life of an Aboriginal man, a Muslim woman, an Indian student or as yourself for that week. It’s an immersive experience where you’ll receive texts, tweets, images and videos that will challenge you and your assumptions. It will help you understand the importance of speaking up when you witness racism.

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Introducing Technology to Traditional Peacebuilding Programs (by Cindy Chungong)

Cindy Chungong is Program Officer, West and Central Africa at Search for Common Ground. She is a professional in the field of conflict resolution and peacebuilding, focusing on West and Central Africa and the Sahel. Her work focuses on the promotion of mediation, dialogue and communication, youth and women’s leadership, and media arts and culture to consolidate peace in fragile environments. She is chairing Build Peace 2015’s panel on ‘Introducing Technology to Traditional Peacebuilding Programs’.

Photo licence: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 by Carsten ten Brink

Photo licence: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 by Carsten ten Brink

Peacebuilding as a professional field has undergone dramatic changes since the end of the Cold War. From a simplistic conception of ‘negative’ peace, defined as the mere cessation of violence, it has evolved to encompass holistic strategies for addressing the root causes of conflict, rebuilding social ties, creating institutions capable of responding to citizen needs, ensuring equitable economic development, and instituting participatory decision-making processes. Parallel to this shift in peacebuilding paradigms have been the astonishing technological advances of the past century. One of the most stunning developments, for example, has been in mobile communication technologies: from being unwieldy and expensive tools of the rich, today mobile phones are owned by most adults in most countries. In 2005, Facebook was the preserve of students at a small group of elite universities; today the social network counts more than a billion monthly users.

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Digital Games for Peace (by Jen Welch)

*This post was originally published as part of Issue 5 of Build Peace Magazine – #peacetech – here.*

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As peacebuilders continue to explore new ways to manage and reduce conflict, digital games and apps present promising avenues for innovation. Digital games and apps are websites or web applications available on desktop computers or mobile devices that utilize game mechanics to engage users. Beyond entertainment, games can offer safe and engaging environments in which to showcase alternative narratives and develop and practice new responses to complex and dangerous situations. Games and apps for peace are part of a broader movement aiming to develop games that have social effects. While mainstream game publishers have been slower to adopt the idea, the movement is gaining momentum, as illustrated by the work of Games for Change or independent publishers such as Polish-based 11 bit studios and their critically-acclaimed release “This War of Mine“, which puts players in the role of a civilian trying to survive a siege by scavenging, hiding, and making life-or-death decisions.

Beyond entertainment, games can offer safe and engaging environments in which to showcase alternative narratives and develop and practice new responses to complex and dangerous situations. Games and apps for peace are part of a broader movement aiming to develop games that have social effects.
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Reinventing how we live together (by Helena Puig Larrauri & Sanjana Hattotuwa)

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(Photo: Thaths)

Critics of peacebuilding find the concept problematic.

To some, peace is a deeply conservative notion: it can mean compromise; it can mean ‘keep quiet and don’t rock the boat.’ We believe that there is a global movement (with regional variance) in which technology plays a key role to reinterpret peacebuilding as civic engagement.

At every level of polity and society, whether it is consciously articulated or carelessly and uncritically applied, technology for peacebuilding is taking root.

Looking beyond the status quo

Sometimes keeping the peace can be synonymous for simply maintaining the status quo– appeasement and submission may seem like a durable peace– but in the long term, they are not. This is often the case when peacebuilding is conflated with peacekeeping, and main actors are focused on ensuring a peace agreement is not violated. On the Sudan-South Sudan border, the Misseriya nomadic groups and Dinka cattle herders and farmers have been forging peace agreements for centuries, providing rights of passage to the Misseriya through Dinka land. The agreements are very important for avoiding violence in a volatile environment, but the process of sustaining this delicate peace is sustained by a hierarchical structure of power dominated by older men.

This locally-initiated peacekeeping arrangement maintains a status quo and ignores the voices and concerns of women. The arrangement therefore represents a limited notion of peace. In a recent United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded pilot, a team of women living in the border areas used a participatory video process to produce and disseminate a short film that shows what peace means to them, and how peaceful coexistence is critically linked to the availability of water. Their voices, jointly calling for greater water resources, are moving the peace discourse beyond the status quo and into a future of interdependence.

Building a positive peace

Johan Galtung makes a distinction between negative peace (avoiding violence) and positive peace (overcoming not just direct violence, but also structural and cultural violence). Galtung’s positive peace reaches beyond the conservative notions of peace-as-status-quo. It lays emphasis on looking beyond peace agreements and towards deep and sustained coexistence and interdependence.

However, this notion of positive peace can also be problematic if it pushes a particular agenda that does not represent all voices. In the Somali region, politicians and institutions seeking to build peace through democratic elections have worked under a number of assumptions about the preferences of Somalis for particular voting arrangements. An Interpeace-funded project used technology-enabled, participatory polling to debunk these assumptions and begin to redefine what kind of positive peace Somalis want.

For example, the polls found that most people do not support the clan-based power-sharing formula called the 4.5 system.” This ran contrary to the assumption of policymakers working to establish democratic systems, most of whom worked under the assumption that a clan-based system would be the only way to gain broad acceptance for democratic processes. Galtung’s positive peace is important, but just as important is to understand that there are many personal perspectives on what positive peace is.

The personal is political                

National and international actors all too often interpret peacebuilding as a value-free activity. In this sense, the problem with peacebuilding is similar to the problem often seen with technocratic policymaking and development as a whole – it claims to be “post-political” and neutral when it is anything but.

It is in fact subject to a normative consensus that is not made explicit. And in the same way that this subtle consensus lessens the options in democratic systems, it lessens the options in peacebuilding contexts. In too many settings, peacebuilding is given over to technical experts, policy-makers, mediators, and peacekeepers, who neglect engaging with the communities on just what peace is actually being built.

In 2010, USAID funded the development of a Cuban-equivalent to Twitter, a social media platform based on text messages: ZunZuneo. Initially, the platform sought to provide Cubans with a cheap, simple way to connect on social issues – football, TV series, common interests. But from its inception, the project’s aim was also to provide a channel for political discussion and (possibly) political mobilization.

The controversy surrounding ZunZuneo turns on one key point: USAID went to considerable length to hide its involvement in the project. Setting out to open up space for dialogue through a technology platform can certainly support building peace; hiding that you are doing so raises questions about just what peace you hope to build.

Peace: By whom and for whom?

The challenges associated with attaining peace (and peacebuilding) described above boil down to two questions: What peace do people living in violent conflict want? For whom and by whom is this peace being built? A peaceful society is one that is structured in such a way that it encourages us to take the risk to invent, every day, new ways of living together. So for peace to exist, it has to engage in debate all the agendas for peace in a society.  With this in mind, technology can play a critical role in peacebuilding by offering new avenues for alternative discourses to be formed and heard.

In Sri Lanka, Groundviews (and its related initiatives, Maatram and Vikalpa, operating in Tamil and Sinhala respectively) bears witness to systemic violence and a democratic deficit that endures post-war. Through the use of mobile and online platforms for storytelling, Groundviews amplifies voices and viewpoints that have been otherwise marginal, peripheral to, or violently erased from, policymaking. The website, as well as the commentary on it, is a fuller record of contemporary history – with competing narratives, within a framework for civil yet critical discourse.

This works to highlight the rich tapestry of opinions, identities, and ideas in a country often (for expedient political ends of political parties) portrayed as mono-ethnic and mono-religious.Groundviews, through technology, helps contributors and readers imagine what can and should be, when often, realpolitik stymies the country’s post-war potential.

A new paradigm for peacebuilding – through technology?

Technology works for peace when it provides access to discourse and governance processes to more people, and does so in a way that is both disruptive and constructive: communities that can document violence, individuals who can capture efforts they and others make to strengthen peace, groups that can communicate more effectively within their own borders and beyond. Through a spectrum of apps and services on the web, Internet, and mobile devices dealing with conflict transformation, technology can create the templates for peacebuilding’s critical ideas to take root. These information and communication technologies (ICTs) bring about innovative frameworks for the imagination to escape violence, and safe spaces for broadening discourse about conflict transformation.

From Occupy to Podemos to #IllRideWithYou, initiatives for change and civic engagement are increasingly happening outside of established institutions. By leveraging technologies that amplify people’s voices, these new initiatives are more inclusive, more dynamic, and more meaningful on the ground. We see the links between civic engagement and peacebuilding, including the positive function technology can play by broadening avenues for discourse. It is our view that this new paradigm for peacebuilding is parallel to this new paradigm for civic engagement. While many challenges remain, technology enables this paradigm shift, even if it does not necessarily cause it.

We believe technology is at its best when it helps to demystify peacebuilding and the structures of power. Keeping the peace and uniting people across divides is not the only goal of technology in peacebuilding – it may often be to challenge what otherwise remains an unquestioned status quo, dominant power structure, a single story as history, a majority’s perspective as the only truth.

*This post originally appeared on Building Peace Forum’s blog

Using open source mobile technologies to make people safer in the South (by Bruno Siqueira and Robert Muggah)

Information and communication technologies are dramatically transforming the way governments, private actors and people interact. With the advent and spread of technologies – especially wireless connectivity and wearables – new forms of communication and information exchange are possible.

Not surprisingly, technological innovations are having a profound effect on the form and content of law enforcement. Alongside big data surveillance systems, police officers in the Global North are testing body cameras. Studies are demonstrating that they can reduce police violence and complaints against officers.

But what are the possibilities for the use of these new technologies for improving law enforcement in the South? A new initiative led by the Igarapé Institute is seeking to answer this question. Working with partners across Brazil and South Africa, the Institute is testing open source mobile phone based tools to improve public safety and police-community relations. The initiative is called “smart policing”.

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Peacemaking in School Contexts Using Interactive Tabletops (by Andri Ioannou)

** This project will be presented at the Build Peace conference in a Short Talk by Chrystalla Antoniou, PhD Candidate, Cyprus University of Technology – see our Program for more info **

This study examines how the use of tabletop technology might be able to promote peaceful attitudes and mitigate conflict in a school environment.

interactivetabletop1The participants were twenty (20) K‐12 students (grades 3‐6) at a public elementary school in the eastern Mediterranean. The school is characterized by large numbers of foreign students (i.e., minority enrolment), high drop‐out rate and increased incidences of conflict (verbal and physical), violence and delinquency. Students worked in conflicting groups of four students each on various learning and game activities around an interactive tabletop, over the span of three weeks.

Analysis of student interviews, triangulated with findings from video data, revealed that tabletop technology can become a means for communication and collaboration, give the chance for students in conflict to share a common space, and help shape better attitudes and relationships among them, which extends beyond the duration of the intervention.

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