This past Thursday and Friday (May 8 & 9) I participated in the ICTs and Violence Prevention workshop hosted by the World Bank’s Social Development Office. We had an excellent collection of experts from across academia, NGOs, and government who discussed the complexities of using technology for violence prevention. One of the key takeaways from the event was the analytic challenge of identifying where violence was likely to happen and how to encourage rapid response.
The problem of preventing violence centers of two things; predicting where violence will occur and the ability for institutions to respond. Emmanuel Letouze, Patrick Meier and Patrick Vinck lay this problem out in their chapter on big data in the recent IPI/UDNP/USAID publication on ICTs for violence prevention. They point out that instead of using big data to aid interventions by large institutions, that big data can be analyzed and packaged so that local actors can use it to respond immediately when they see signs of tension. I used this model in my talk on crowdsourcing; the goal is for the big organizations to leverage their processing and analytic capacity to produce data that can be used by local actors to respond to tension and threats of violence themselves.
What made the discussion around this challenge so interesting was that the speakers and audience were able to focus not just on the technology, but also on the ways that different cultures understand information and space. Matthew Pritchard of McGill University gave a fantastic talk about the challenges of mapping land tenure claims in Liberia, since people expressed land ownership in different ways. He explained that GIS mapping could contain the data on how people understand their relationship to the land – maps layers could have MP3 recordings of oral history, photos of past use, and graphical demonstrations of where borders were. Finding ways to move beyond external perceptions of local conflict drivers was one of the goals of the discussions, and integrating technology and social science more effectively is increasingly going to be a way to achieve that goal.
This event was also bittersweet for me, since it was my last time officially representing TechChange as their Director of Conflict Management and Peacebuilding. Starting May 9, I will be joining Mobile Accord as GeoPoll’s Research Coordinator. After over two years working with Nick Martin and the team at TechChange, I’ve decided it’s time to focus more on data and analytics in the ICT for development space. While I’m excited for this new challenge, I’ll miss working in the loft where I’ve learned almost everything I know about ICT4D and tech for conflict management. I wouldn’t be where I am academically or professionally without the insights and support of the colleagues and friends I’ve made at TechChange. While I’m looking forward to joining the team at GeoPoll, I’ll always be excited to check the blog or cruise by the office to see what amazing new animation or interactive learning platform Will Chester and the TechChange team have conjured up!
So with the new year starting Tuesday, I will be continuing to blog into 2013. The past year has mostly focused on my interest areas, political science, conflict and technology. But I’ve also mused on things that are not my “core expertise”, such as gun control and domestic politics. Since I’ll be finishing coursework this spring and starting my dissertation in earnest, I’ll be doing a lot of writing this year. So dear readers I would like to know: what kind of content would you like to see in the coming year? If you get a chance, fill out the poll and at the end of January I’ll check the tally and write to please! Many thanks for a fun 2012 and looking forward to more writing and conversation in 2013–
The timing of reading Virginia Page Fortna’s Does Peacekeeping Work seemed appropriate as the M83 rebels in eastern Congo (DRC) marched in and took Goma, only to recently withdraw under the auspices of the MONUSCO force currently operating in the DRC. During this series of events I saw a tweet from Oxfam’s Policy and Practice Unit posted this morning: the tweet read “The fall of Goma: ‘the biggest peacekeeping failure in history.”
If an airstrike happens in Gaza and no one live tweeted it, did it happen? That I’m even pondering this question demonstrates a shift in the evolution of information control in military operations. Perhaps the issue we’re facing is that in times past we needed a barrier between the publicly available information about combat operations and the reality of the flash and shockwave of a bomb hitting a car. Seeing it on the news set the violence outside the banality of the day-to-day, and the news anchor acted as a conduit to deliver the news of violence that was sad but necessary.
Caroline Hartzell and Matthew Hoddie make an argument that the most robust form of negotiated peace involves a well-designed power or institution sharing agreement between the parties involved in a civil war. They make this argument in “Crafting Peace” using a statistical analysis of conflict cessation that includes variables covering duration, external intervention and measures of institutional and power sharing. They expand on the statistical analysis with case studies of Angola and the Philippines, explaining why Angola struggled to come up with a sustained peace agreement and the Philippines were able to find a measure of success in their post-conflict negotiation.
Since the end of the fall semester of 2011, I have been working on a paper that integrates theories of ethnic cooperation and information asymmetries to understand why mobile phones can have a significant effect on conflict prevention. You can find the working paper here. I presented this paper in Australia at the University of Sydney this past July, and will be presenting it again Dec. 1 at the African Studies Association conference in Philadelphia to get as much feedback as possible on the way I’m structuring the qualitative portion of the analysis. With that in mind, I’ve booked a ticket to Kenya to join my colleague Liz Stones and see how people really use their phones in day to day life!
The biggest thing we’re working on right now is finalizing our questions for the survey we’ll be doing – it’s a first hash at perhaps doing a larger body of surveys to help us understand how or if mobile phones can be a factor in how ethnic groups cooperate in contested political environments. Feedback on the methodology or ideas for designing surveys would be a huge help! And of course, if you’re going to be in Nairobi let us know – we’re looking forward to hanging with the tech community while we’re there!
As time passes and we are able to collect more data on the Rwandan genocide, it is becoming increasingly important that we recognize not only the externalities that created socio-political pressure in Rwanda leading up to the genocide, but also systematically study why the perpetrators of violence made the decision to participate. Generally we see a disconnect between the analysis of state level externalities and the personal stories told by perpetrators. In The Order of GenocideScott Strauss is able to deftly weave a narrative that brings the structural and personal levels together, using a mixed methods approach to finding commonalities in the stories told by genocedaires and the empirical data on Rwandan political structures leading up to, and during, the genocide.
Big shout out to the TechChange team, especially to Gerard McCarthy our Director of Asia/Pacific Programs to getting this video rendered, edited, and up for viewing. Just some thoughts on tech, human rights and small island states – the talk was given in July in Sydney, Australia.