In the foreword of a book on peace and security in the 21st century, Melanie Greenberg, the President and CEO of the Alliance for Peacebuilding, says that peacebuilding is the “problem of our age.” She says that we have entered an “era of conflict that is taking new forms and spreading in ways that are outstripping the power of the international community to respond.”
The “problem of our age” requires new resources and ideas, and tapping into the power of technology has opened up a new realm of possibilities. The challenge is figuring out how peacebuilders and technologists can meet to share ideas and collaborate on new projects.
One way is through PeaceHacks, a variation on the popular “hackathon” model that has become a staple of the tech industry. Hackathons are events in which computer programmers, software developers and others collaborate to work on a specific project.
The first PeaceHack took place in September 2014 in London as part of International Alert’s Talking Peace Festival. In September 2015, Creative Associates International hosted PeaceHackDC, one of five PeaceHack that took place globally.
Over 300 people participated in PeaceHacks in London, Barcelona, Beirut, Colombo and Washington, DC.
PeaceHacks have great potential to introduce peacebuilders to new technology that may be useful in their work. Take media analysis, for example. While the rise of social media platforms over last decade has provided more opportunities for hate speech to proliferate, media platforms can also provide outlets for constructing narratives of peace and reconciliation.
Using recent breakthroughs in big data and media analysis such as the Global Database of Events, Language, and Tone (GDELT)’s Tone Timeline Visualizer, peacebuilding practitioners and researchers can track the tone and language of both local and global media in reference to specific populations, sound the alarm when media tone becomes more negative against these groups, and create opportunities for promoting narratives of peace and averting violence.
This is only one example of how peacebuilders could use technology to strengthen their efforts to resolve conflicts, but there are many more.
Jigsaw, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet has created Montage. This tool allows the public to tag the massive number of videos that have been uploaded on Youtube by armed groups and bystanders in Syria. Tagging the videos allows them to be mapped and categorized giving peacebuilders a better sense of events unfolding on the ground.
Textfugees is a tool that allows refugees to enter personal information such as name, phone number, location, refugee or asylum status by text message. That information is shared with charities and other nonprofits seeking to assist in the resettlement process. The organizations can then communicate with the refugees who could benefit from their services via text message.
In order for peace technology to reach its full potential, peacebuilders need platforms for collaborating with technologists on new ideas for transforming conflict. PeaceHacks are an excellent way to create foster innovation and create new solutions for some of the most challenging problems facing the world today.