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Building Communities Within Peace Tech: Can We Learn From Civic Technology?

Nathan Coyle|

The digital revolution has profoundly changed the way we live, work, and connect with each other. Whether we embrace it or resist it, our lives have become increasingly digital. 

Amidst the anxieties surrounding the digital realm, there are also significant opportunities to utilize its power for good, disrupting systems and creating spaces for real societal change. In the realm of civic tech, digitally-minded activists have been harnessing the potential of technology to drive positive impact for years.

Now, the focus of the digital magnifying glass is slowly shifting towards peacebuilding, giving rise to a new definition known as “peace tech”. Peace tech refers to the application of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and other technological innovations to foster peace. Around the world, activists, NGOs, and professionals on information technology, computer science, engineering, telecommunications, geoinformatics, and design are collaborating to develop tools that address political and social concerns through peace tech resources.

Peace tech and open government intersect in their shared goal of promoting transparency, accountability, citizen participation, and conflict prevention. Open government’s emphasis on transparency can expose corruption and human rights abuses that contribute to conflict, while accountability and good governance practices can help prevent conflicts and contribute to peace. Citizen participation allows marginalized communities to have a voice and actively participate in decision-making processes, fostering inclusivity and building trust. By leveraging technology and innovation, peace tech tools can further enhance transparency, citizen participation, and conflict prevention, facilitating the use of data and early warning systems to address grievances, reduce inequalities, and promote social cohesion for sustainable peace.

Sometimes open government can start from the ground up and there are some great projects who use peace tech as their basis, such as Accountability Lab, who implements digital governance initiatives in places like Somalia, Niger, and the DRC, and Open Data Kosovo, who advocates for leveraging civic tech and digital humanitarianism to encourage transparency. Other groups, like Integrity Action,  provide tools and resources for citizens to monitor and report corruption and mismanagement. Ushahidi is an open-source platform that enables crowdsourcing, mapping, and data visualization.

Recently, I started collaborating with the Austrian Centre for Peace in Vienna on peace tech to explore ways to strengthen community building and activate activists working on digital projects focused on peace. At our upcoming Austrian Forum for Peace Conference, I am excited to facilitate a space where peacebuilding and tech experts can come together to generate ideas for building more inclusive and resilient societies through technology.

One topic I would like to discuss is strengthening metrics about the sustainability of peace tech projects. Through extensive mapping, I have discovered that many independently initiated peace tech projects, which were not funded by academic or large intergovernmental organizations, have ceased to exist. Sustaining digital startups is already challenging, particularly in the corporate sector. It is no secret that social entrepreneurs must outperform their private counterparts, often due to financial constraints. Whether it is seeking funding, securing grants, or selling services in a market that is often inaccessible, such as governmental entities, the path to success is arduous.

Many organizations interested in peace tech turn to open-source, which supports projects in civic tech by addressing not only funding but also capacity, skills, and the establishment of support networks. These initiatives thrive on the dedication and expertise of volunteers who contribute their time and talents to  causes they care about. Creative digital activists have used that mentality to build large-scale civic tech communities and projects such as Code for America and the Open Knowledge Foundation

The civic tech community is thriving and diverse: take Germany, for example. Across the country you will find ethical hackers getting together in bars and coffee shops to discuss and collaboratively design solutions to address issues affecting our cities. Their work spans from improving access to clean water and promoting healthy eating habits to enhancing local government’s readiness for climate change. For me, this embodies the essence of community-driven, human-centered design thinking.

Artificial intelligence and data are driving factors in peace tech. In practice, this can take various forms, such as using virtual reality to build empathy, enhance cybersecurity, fact-check to combat misinformation, and employ data analysis to understand the root causes, dynamics, and patterns of conflicts. Additionally, technology can facilitate dialogue for conflict resolution and detect and analyze potential conflicts or violence before they escalate.

We need not limit ourselves to traditional approaches or starting from scratch. Even video gaming platforms can contribute to peacebuilding efforts. For instance, Minecraft Education offers various peace-related activities, including virtual peace camps and conflict resolution simulations.

PHOTO: Credit: Pixabay

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) nurtures close collaboration between governments and civil society organizations, working hand in hand to develop action plans with concrete commitments that strengthen the bond between citizens and their governing bodies. Using tech for peace can provide vital platforms for citizen reporting and data collection, empowering conflict-affected communities to hold their governments and stakeholders accountable while actively shaping and overseeing peacebuilding endeavors. 

Through collective action, communities can contribute to making peace tech more sustainable, impactful, and responsive to the needs of those affected by conflicts. And I, for one, am eager to see what the upcoming few years will bring.


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