Technology For Peace : Strengthening Democracy

Flickr user “baggis” / Magazine cover art from Science 1985

ICT in the service of “peace” often refers to a broad range of activities encompassing conflict prevention and management, peace operations, humanitarian relief and disaster assistance, and post-conflict peace building and reconstruction.

For example, the ICT4Peace Foundation is committed to effective communication in “crisis management, humanitarian aid and peace building”.  A recent USIP collaboration, Blogs & Bullets examines how new media can change the politics of unrest, revolution, violence, and civil war.  Their work emphasizes five levels of analysis: individual transformation, intergroup relations, collective action, regime policies, and external attention.

NDI’s approach to ICT & Peace has focused on how key tools can help communities and stakeholders improve communication, facilitate negotiations, increase transparency, and build trust.

Democracy assistance is often seen as falling in the range of activities associated with peace building and conflict resolution, as democratic institutions help maintain peace by providing mechanisms for managing or resolving conflicts without resort to violence. 

Last weekend, I was asked to present on NDI’s work on a Media and Conflict Resolution panel for an Innovations in Student Leadership Conference held at American University.  My co-panelists for a great discussion were Sean McDonald (@McDapper) of FrontlineSMS, and Emily Jacobi (@emjacobi) of Digital Democracy. Coincidentally, a similar conversation was taking place across the country hosted by USIP.

In a democracy, political inclusion and effective participation ensure that groups with competing interests can engage in a peaceful search for solutions.  A strong civil society and independent media can articulate priorities and monitor abuses of power.  In this regard, the innovations I discussed were focused on NDI’s work in “Political Process Monitoring” (PPM), which we’ve previously blogged about here.  

These citizen-driven initiatives seek to hold government officials accountable by monitoring and reporting on their actions. The first phase of PPM methodology has citizens collect and compile information. Innovations in this space involve SMS and crowd sourcing. Groups can build off of monitoring efforts by sharing their findings in order to raise awareness and rally support. Improving the impact of their analysis and communication involves mapping & Open Data approaches. Once citizens have activated a support base, groups can advocate for change and demand greater accountability. These organizing and mobilizing activities are enhanced through the use of social media tools.

As we’ve seen in Tunisia and Egypt, new tools have proven effective for dramatic social and political change.  However, the reconstruction and establishment of democracy through peace building requires patience, and informed and active citizens who understand how to voice their interests, act collectively and hold public officials accountable.

Photo Credit: Flickr user “baggis” / Magazine cover art from Science 1985