A while ago we published a post that outlined the themes for Build Peace 2015. By engaging with three sub-themes: empowerment, behaviour change and impact, the conference will explore how the use of technology is resulting in the creation of alternative infrastructures for peace. After spending months talking to participants and speakers, getting ready for the main event, we thought we’d share some reflections on how it all fits together, and how some of the broader questions have evolved since Build Peace 2014 as speakers and panelists prepare their contributions.
One that has come up a few times is on the difference and relationship between empowerment and behaviour change, when we talk about technology to help build peace. So in the rest of this post, I will lay out some thoughts, hoping to generate debates and discussions that can be examined more deeply at conference.
What do we mean by ‘behaviour change’?Read more
Building peace is about transforming conflict dynamics into peaceful ones. A large aspect of this transformation relates to changing behaviours that pertain to violence and conflict into ones that foster peace. And this is an area where new technologies have been considered to be extremely promising. At Build Peace 2014, for example, the majority of projects presented aimed to foster peaceful attitudes or change behaviour, and 32% of peacebuilding projects that use technology currently contained in the Build Peace Database aim for ‘behaviour change’. By attitudes we mean the ideas, beliefs and values that influence actual (enacted) behaviours. The theory of change in most of these projects is that technologies are particularly well suited to help present alternative narratives that can contribute to changing attitudes and in doing so, ultimately behaviours.
Getting an understanding of the potential roles of technology in affecting behaviour was of course important in itself, but this year at Build Peace we are aiming to go deeper:
- What behaviours are we talking about specifically – what are ‘peaceful’ behaviours?
- And at what level: individual, group, community?
- Are there particular types of technologies that can generate enough social capital to bring those behaviours about, and even if there are, is this enough to achieve peace?
As a conference sub-theme, ‘behaviour change’ will be explored through our keynotes and some of the Short Talks, but these questions will be discussed in more depth during the panel on ‘Changing Behaviours Through Technology’, chaired by Stanford Peace Innovation Lab co-director Mark Nelson. In this discussion, the panel will present different views, and invite questions from the audience and social media, on the various actors (who) that can help change behaviours, including for example the role of the private sector, those whose behaviours need transforming, and the processes that have been used in practice to effect those changes.
In addressing most possible answers to these questions however, it becomes difficult to escape the question of power.
What do we mean by empowerment?
Power and empowerment, though related, are different things. In his Communication Power (2009: 10), Manuel Castells defines ‘power [a]s the relational capacity that enables a social actor to influence asymmetrically the decisions of other social actor(s) in ways that favour the empowered actor’s will, interests, and values’. He further distinguishes between power to and power over. Empowerment can then be seen as the process through which an actor acquires power.
In peacebuilding, the empowering quality of new technologies focuses on increased participation, where technologies afford more people the opportunity to make their voices heard; the ability to share information in near real-time at the global level and thus shape the peace and conflict narratives; and the ability to more effectively mobilise a larger proportion of individuals and groups than even before (through social media for example). From there the debate often centres on the fact that new technologies also facilitate state surveillance, propaganda and the tracking (and often silencing) of activists. These processes and their consequences are essential to discuss and better understand. Examples will be presented through some of the conference keynotes and Short Talks, and our panel on ‘The Power Dynamics of Technology for Peacebuilding’, chaired by Sanjana Hattotuwa, Special Adviser at the ICT4 Peace Foundation, will delve more deeply into these questions, asking (among other questions):
- How can technology ensure participation?
- Can ‘technology aid in envisioning, creating and sustaining new forms of governance as much as it can displace and breakdown old dispensations’?
And this brings us to the point where empowerment and behaviour change meet.
Empowerment and behaviour change
Our definition of power above automatically implies the enactment of certain behaviours (power to) or the possibility to influence others’ behaviour (power over). But as Sanjana Hattotuwa puts it, ‘those who wield emancipatory technology aren’t by extension necessarily more democratic, or liberal’.
“Empowerment does not automatically result in behaviour change, and simultaneously, who decides whose behaviours need changing is largely a product of underlying power structures and dynamics.”
As one speaker put it, ‘behaviours and even attitudes may be in harmony at a group or community level, and it doesn’t necessarily translate into the governance structures or systemic change necessary to build peace’.
This is why this year at the Build Peace conference, we are asking how the use of technology is resulting in the creation of alternative infrastructures for peace. The ‘whether’ question is also important, but with an increasingly large number of projects and use cases that highlight the potentials for technology to help build peace, yet come up against the barriers outlined above, it become more pressing to gain a better understanding of the ‘how’.
Of course this is not an exhaustive list of questions that will be addressed during the conference – much more will emerge over the course of the weekend. But it highlights where, as organisers, we have come from in outlining the debate. Where we go from here, whether you are joining us in Nicosia or following it all on social media, is up to you! And we very much look forward to it!