Transcript: Data for Peacebuilding and Prevention Ecosystem Mapping: The State of Play and the Path to Creating a Community of Practice
Scenery: Paige Arthur addresses the camera.
Paige Arthur, Deputy Director, CIC: I want to welcome all of you to the first of what is going to be a regular, monthly meeting space, the “Data for Peace Dialogues” in an attempt to continue to strengthen community in a field that we’re calling “Data for Peacebuilding and Prevention”.
And, I’m very excited to be here today to present findings from a mapping of this field that CIC has conducted over the past five months. And we have a great panel to discuss the current state of the field and what’s needed to make this field grow. Many of you participated in this mapping process, so thanks for joining today, and welcome.
We all recognize the role that data-driven technologies are playing right now in fostering rising risks for conflict and violence, from misinformation to providing platforms for violent extremist views to circulating dehumanizing hate speech, online to offline harassment, fostering polarization..we’ve all seen it…in our own lives. But we also see the opportunities for the use of innovative, data-driven technologies for addressing all of these risks, and beyond that for generating practical solutions to real problems that people working on peacebuilding and violence prevention may face.
Data-driven technologies such as machine learning, natural language processing, artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, and many others are incredible tools that open vast new horizons for peacebuilding actors.
The problem, though, that we see, is that peacebuilding actors oftentimes just don’t know how to harness these technologies, and they would benefit not just from better capacity but a stronger connection to people with a different set of skills. And this is why CIC has created the Data for Peacebuilding and Prevention Initiative with the support of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and we’re aiming to do two things.
Number one–to start to build a community of practice across a wide range of actors, from academia and NGOs, to government and multilaterals, to the private sector and more.
And number two–to build demand for data-driven approaches to address practical peacebuilding challenges in conflict-affected countries. These technologies are already being used, you’re going to read about them in the mapping report and we will give you a link to that in the chat. Nearly 100 of them have also been showcased at recent workshops convened both by CIC and by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
So, what exactly is this initiative going to do? First of all, we are not coming out of nowhere, we’re not the first to work on these issues and we’re building on the good work of others…whether it’s Build Up, Peace Tech, Peace Con, and collaborating with those as well. We started with this mapping initiative, which Branka is going to introduce here, understanding the needs, the gaps, taking a close look at the global south and where innovation is happening there that can be brought forward and made more visible within this community. Starting to forge communities through several means: these monthly virtual convenings, where we’re going to showcase innovative and ground-level approaches in conflict contexts. We’re going to do further in-person convening, of course, if possible, on specific issues like early warning, early response, earning from the humanitarian sector which also works in conflict-affected countries. And then using LinkedIn as a platform to keep people connected, forge new connections, and foster discussion.
That’s our Data for Peace and Security Group, which is on LinkedIn and I hope you’ll all join if you’re not a member already. And then we’re also trying to build demand through three pilot initiatives to pair innovative, ground-level project ideas in conflict-affected countries with additional technical expertise that may be needed to get the project off the ground or to improve it.
So, we’re very much looking forward to getting all of this started, but we want to add from a position of humility and from realism..we want to remain very attuned to the challenges that this field faces, which are highlighted in the report, such as issues of ethics, of bias, of risks when sourcing data from real human beings in conflict-affected countries, of data scarcity and data poor versus data rich contexts.
But, in the meantime, I’m very pleased to introduce you to Branka Panic, who is the author of this mapping report, and she’s going to introduce you to the key findings of the report. So, over to you, Branka, and welcome again everyone.
Scenery: Branka Panic addresses the camera.
Branka Panic, Founder and Executive Director, AI for Peace: Thank you so much, Paige, for this nice introduction and I have to say that it’s an extreme pleasure to be here. I had this pleasure to join the Data for Peacebuilding and Prevention Project and I was fortunate to join the Center on International Cooperation to do this ecosystem mapping of data-driven approaches to peacebuilding and prevention.
And I am also happy to join this session as Paige mentioned, um, as an author of the report that is published as an outcome of this mapping process. So, we will present the report today and hear reflections of our three guests whose organizations are not only important parts of this ecosystem, but they personally participated in the preparation of this report in different stages, from interviews to consultation process. So this is a big thank you for being part of this process to the three of you and, as Paige mentioned, to many other participants of this call now who are a really important part of this ecosystem.
So, I believe that most of us at this webinar today are here because we are somehow directly or…working or interested in new technologies in peacebuilding and some of us are probably excited about benefits and potentials of new technologies, and some of us are certainly concerned about some of the trends that are happening today…and trends related to conflict and risks of violence. And I’m sure, knowing this audience, that many of us are actually here because we are also concerned about the risks that technologies themselves bring with themselves. So, this is an important part that this report is tackling as well.
The motivation to help this field grow in the positive direction and to make sure that we take advantage of data-driven approaches, we decided to conduct this research and to acknowledge that there are some risks that come with the utilization of new technologies…but also many opportunities that are out there for utilizing this technology for conflict and violence prevention, for early warning and early action, for tackling hate speech or helping human rights defenders to do their work more effectively, and even for addressing the root causes of violence and build social resilience to violence, which is the very essence of peacebuilding, as such.
So, um, we…we will be sharing the reports very soon, so you will have the opportunity to look directly at the paper, but what we did at the very beginning is just offering some definitions and clarifications. So, what do we actually mean when we say “peacebuilding”? And when doing this process of interviews, I realized that even the definitions… in different parts of the world are looking differently at peace, at violence, at risks.
So, I thought it was really important to begin with this, with defining the peacebuilding and to clarify that we see the peacebuilding as the strategic activity…we see peacebuilding as building resilience in societies. So it’s not only the absence of conflict, it’s avoiding violence and managing conflict in a peaceful way.
It also means strengthening capacities for conflict management and these…strengthening capacities make the connection with data, and big data, and new technologies, and we see these technologies as a potential tool to help with peacebuilding.
And, as Paige already mentioned, we are actually building on the work of previous organizations and actors in this field…on the entire, basically, Peace Tech movement and digital peacebuilding, and we are adding to this field, this approach of big data and advanced data-driven technologies and trying to see what are the potentials but also challenges and risks that are out there?
So we…our goal was to understand also the gaps and the needs in the field, and when we approached organizations and people who are already utilizing new technologies, we wanted to see: what are the challenges they face in their work, and what are the lessons as well that they can share that we as a community can practice and learn from?
And to be able to do this, and to intervene, to innovate in this ecosystem, to enable this positive growth that is the intention of the entire project, we realized that we first need to understand the entire context, which was sometimes a complicated thing to do in different parts of the world. And this is, I think, the advantage of this work because we are targeting global north and global south through this research.
And we go into details looking at this context in the report that just briefly, for this occasion, mentions two main trends that are impacting our work as peacebuilders related to technology. And this is the deterioration of peace and security and human rights..and we see this especially now during the time of COVID and the pandemic and this is something that we need to emphasize because we are doing this mapping exercise in the midst of the pandemic.
And then the second trend is the general advancement in data science methods and the development of exponential technologies, as such. Second, we looked at specific organizations, and we mapped specific projects of those organizations that are utilizing these approaches, particularly the use of advanced data science methods, quantitative methods, we looked into artificial intelligence…organizations that are using machine learning or natural language processing and all other techniques, similar techniques, to address these problems in peacebuilding.
So, I think this is really an interesting point in this report, that it’s rich in examples. So it’s not only the analysis of the ecosystem, it’s also full of examples across different sectors–in academia, nonprofit organizations, private sector, government, and international organizations. And what you will be able to see in the report is basically just a small part of what we actually mapped. And we are currently working on a more user-friendly way to communicate all of these results and each and every example so we really want to be transparent and inclusive with this. And this is an invitation, basically, for our audience and panelists to stay in touch, as more interesting content will be available soon beyond what you can see in the report.
Finally, the core of the report, and for me personally that was the most interesting part of the work, was looking into some cutting-edge examples and their real-life utilization, albeit the potential to actually tackle some of the big challenges in the peacebuilding field, or even scale some of the work that is already out there across geographies or across different sectors.
So, this section is not intended, also, to be comprehensive. These are not all the existing or promising examples that are out there, we were just simply limited…i mean the physical space of the report to present everything. And some of the initiatives that we are mentioning are..you will see in the very early stages of the development, but we believe that they all represent the potential for new technologies to be utilized to create a more peaceful, just, and free society.
And, again, as many of these examples can serve as motivation and inspiration for other actors and practitioners in the field, we give an overview of nine of them in total, and I will just take…before we switch to our guest and hear their comments of the report, I will just mention some of the…or my choice of two examples and then invite you of course to go look in the report and look at all of the examples of these technologies.
So, I will just quickly mention the example of natural…natural language processing and machine learning for online hate speech monitoring and I think this is such an important topic for any part of the world today. Hate speech itself, which is again not a new phenomenon, but a….the speed and scale with which it spreads today is definitely something new. So, it comes from the technology, but the technology is also going to offer potential solutions for…solutions for this.
So, this challenge attracted the attention of some machine learning experts that we’ve had a chance to talk with and, in general, data communities, especially in the last…previous two years, or couple of years, and this led to some interesting efforts to automate hate speech detection. And we are mentioning here an example of a project that was conducted in South Africa during the 2019 elections, and especially seeing now during COVID how many countries are actually struggling with hate speech, especially during pre-election or election times, we thought this was a good example for peacebuilders to think about. And this is a specific project with Peace Tech and partnership with Media Monitoring Africa.
The second one that I will quickly mention is natural language processing for public sentiment analysis. And I’m choosing this one, especially for the audience of peacebuilders, as peacebuilders know how important it is for their work to understand local context and to have local internal solutions as well…to have inclusion of local populations. So, we saw with the spread of social media and, again, big data and data science methods, that there are some potential solutions to have more inclusion of the local voices. And again this is very much where a learning community comes to place and offers some solutions, possibilities of even creating digital focus groups in local languages and even local dialects, and even in real time.
And this can provide insight into public sentiment, enable more effective decision making for those in the peacebuilding and prevention fields. Again, we are…for every technology or for cutting edge technology we are giving a practical example as well from the field. So, for this topic we are giving an example from the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, working with the Division on Arabic Sentiment Analysis and also a project of creating digital focus groups. And this is only one of the examples…this community is very active in many African countries as well, especially because of the richness and diversity of languages and dialects their natural language processing has a very big potential to be a helping tool for peacebuilding communities.
There are many other examples in the report, from early warning and conflict prevention, computer vision tools for human rights protection, utilizing artificial intelligence for tackling transnational criminal networks, mediation, peacemaking, …. Mapping for violence prevention. We also touch upon satellite imagery and the potential of utilizing satellite imagery in combination with machine learning for the advancement of the peacebuilding field.
And I will just mention that the…our intention was to showcase positive examples and to really motivate the actors in the field, but we also emphasize in the report that each of these technologies comes with possible risks to be misused or to create unintended even negative consequences. And this is why we are dedicating an entire chapter in the report to emphasize the importance of these ethical standards and the importance of always researching with caution and applying necessary frameworks to safeguard not only the data privacy but, in some cases, even security and safety of populations that are living in conflict or conflict-affected areas.
At the end of the report, we are giving a certain set of recommendations…so there is still more to be done in this field to reach its potential…I really think we are just at the beginning of utilizing new technologies for peacebuilding, and this is why we are offering this set of recommendations. How to strengthen the ecosystem, starting from building trust–trust is essential in utilizing such a new technology and enabling the development of the entire ecosystem. And we do believe that, with positive examples, we can actually build more trust and have more benefits from new technologies.
We emphasize the importance of capacity-building as data-driven approaches are very new in our field, in the entire peacebuilding field. We need to invest more in building capacities. We mention the importance of innovation, emphasizing that not every actor in the ecosystem needs to create a new product. There are many opportunities…how we can benefit in this ecosystem from existing digital technologies and tools and just try to think how to apply them in a more innovative and new way.
We are also emphasizing…yes I already mentioned ethical principles and frameworks, which peacebuilders know very well already the importance of conflict sensitivity and respecting the “do no harm” principle. What we wanted to do with this report was also ask this community, maybe, if this is enough, if we need to think about how different these new technologies are and how substantially they are changing the world we are living in. And do we need some new, maybe, ethical standards and frameworks to think about.
The last one, which I kept for the end because I think it’s a very important recommendation for all of us to think as a community, and this is this importance of partnerships. And we are specifically looking into new tech hubs and different cooperation platforms…platforms that gather data science and also connect them with peacebuilders. And we believe that the entire international community should consider creating something as a hub for peacebuilding and prevention data, a hub that can provide access to data but also generates research, helps building capacities, connect actors in the data and peacebuilding field.
Implementing, I think, these recommendations will help to further develop the capacities of actors, but we are also thinking about new actors in the field and this is why, when we announced this webinar, we invited everybody who was interested and curious about the topic–because we want to give ideas to peacebuilders, how to utilize new technologies, but we also want to motivate data scientists to apply their skills and to think more actively how to apply their skills in peacebuilding.
We are also hoping to start the discussion among actors in the field and we hope to help facilitate this discussion, as Paige mentioned, among other things, piloting this Data for Peace Dialogues series of webinars that we’ll organize for the next six months. So I’ll just, at the end, mention this and announce that we will have many interesting topics from the report covered in these webinars, and we would like to invite this audience to join us on a monthly basis and continue this discussion.
I’ll stop here and I’ll turn…give it back to Paige, and I look forward to hearing our guests, as well, to comment on the report and tell us some more about their views and recommendations that we are giving in the report.
Scenery: Paige Arthur addresses the camera.
Paige Arthur: Thanks very much, Branka. That was a really comprehensive overview and, you know, I think something I’d like to come back to towards the end and maybe even some of the participants can start to comment on this in the Q and A box, is really about partnership and how to create and leverage new relationships with unlikely partners.
So, I think part of the challenge of Branka’s research was to look outside of the usual suspects and to think really creatively about how you can bring together people who don’t usually work together. In fact, there may be incentives for them not to work together. So, how do we start to create that?
So, with that said, I’d like to turn first to Thierry van der Horst, who’s joining us from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands. And we’re very glad to have him here, both for his thoughts on the report but also to hear a bit more about what the Ministry itself has been doing on these issues. Thierry?
Scenery: Thierry van der Horst addresses the camera.
Thierry van der Horst, Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Thank you very much, Paige. Can you hear me? OK, great.
Okay, thank you Paige, and thank you also Branka and … for hosting this session. My name is Thierry van der Horst, I work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Netherlands as a policy officer at the Security and Policy department. And one of my responsibilities is what we have come to call the “data for peace and security agenda.” And…well..the dominated data for peacebuilding and preventions, also. Fine by me, I’m really happy that I can share a few thoughts on why this topic is so important for the kingdom of the Netherlands and also…uh, yeah, how we see this report and also the future of this field.
Yeah, thank you for joining everybody. Many of you I’ve met before, and the last time we met in the flesh was in the Hague in February where we hosted the Data for Peace and Security..yeah, conference. And we hosted a workshop last year in New York together, as well, with Paige and her colleagues. And…yeah, as some of you are aware, this topic is really important for the Netherlands. One of the three pillars of the Dutch Integrated International Security Strategy is prevention. We believe that prevention is not only the right thing to do, but also the smart and most cost-effective thing to do, especially when we inform our efforts by data-driven insights and timing and early warnings.
And we’ve come to realize that many other organizations are trying to do this in a similar manner, so trying to leverage new data, innovation, and technological solutions to foster peace and security worldwide. And we believe that it will, of course, be a waste if all those organizations and individuals working on this topic were doing that by themselves, so we believe there’s a huge possibility for international cooperation. And that’s also why we host those sessions like we did in February in the Hague, but also support NYU CIC in this project. And we’re really happy with the report that’s come out, so again our thanks for your efforts even in these difficult circumstances.
I also would like to thank everybody that spoke with Branka or the other colleagues through CIC and helped to…in her mapping of this ecosystem. I think it’s really important we try to learn from each other as, I think, a solid foundation from which we can start our discussion or try to meet new individuals and organizations that are working in this field of data for peacebuilding and prevention or data for peace and security, as we still call it.
And, yeah…also, the report, of course, mentions the challenges we still have ahead, and we welcome the recommendations on the report. I’m also very curious to hear what the panelists and other participants think of the recommendations and the challenges we need to tackle first. And also, especially the future of, yeah…of this collaboration, of this international network and how we can keep working together to make the world a little bit more peaceful by using new data and other innovative technologies.
So, I’m very happy that you all are here and that we can have these conversations, I’m happy that we can look forward to a couple of more in-depth webinars in the next couple of months. I invite everybody, of course, to read the report and to start, or at least save it, download it for future reference, and to start working together, share ideas, and especially for the people that I haven’t met before….I so welcome you to, you know, share your thoughts, experiences, and learn from others.
And, yeah, we can work together to…yeah, make the world a little bit peaceful and use data innovation as one of our tools in our toolkit. So, that’s it from my end. I would like to thank you all again, and I’m looking forward to what’s next.
Scenery: Paige Arthur addresses the camera.
Paige Arhur: Thanks a lot, Thierry. And, following that, I’d like to go over to Monica Nthiga who is coming to us from Ushahidi where she’s the Director of Implementation. And, Monica, we’ve already had a comment in the chat from the Department of Peace Operations at the UN, which uses Ushahidi for part of its monitoring platform. So, I’m very interested to get your perspective on this coming from Ushahidi, a mission-driven company.
Scenery: Monica Nthiga addresses the camera.
Monica Nthiga, Director of Implementation, Ushahidi: Thank you Paige, thank you Branka, thank you Thierry from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and to all the participants.
So, I’ll quickly highlight some of the… kind of the key issues that stood out for me and for…Ushahidi, and also briefly speak to some of the specific kinds of innovations that I think are kind of…I am thinking when it comes to….data for peacebuilding and conflict prevention.
OK so, the first thing that we could kind of relate to a lot was resilient communities in peacebuilding and prevention and the decision to kind of shift the topic from peace and security to more around peacebuilding and conflict resolution. This helps to understand kind of… determining of peace security and human rights because for us, especially in implementing initiatives when we crowd-source data during a crisis, it’s no longer about…for example, the bigger, higher things such as electoral violence or international security. But there’s also a need to kind of expand the scope to look to issues such as threats to personal security, and how inability to afford basic needs leads to citizens being used as drivers of violence in a community.
As a result, we are seeing projects–both kind of just data collection or research projects…but focusing a lot more on educating communities on sort of the values or behavior that prevents conflicts or behaviors that can contribute to the absence of conflict. For example, how resilient a community is or a group often points to how they are able to kind of bounce back from some of this…from some of these adversities.
And also, I’m looking at what innovative ways communities are open to embrace, to foster peaceful coexistence. And sometimes…the bigger picture, especially for a new target such as urban youth, is to look at what they relate to in their everyday life. So, we…inaudible….violence look like online for these young people be a kind of…what we know…as, you know, violence seen displayed in print media or in a standard newspaper.
So helping them understand what…how to detect violence online, how before it escalates and transitions offline and vice versa. And also, essentially how do you escalate threats and not feed into what is potentially hate speech or fake news. So, the other thing that ties to that is running a crowdsourcing platform. Um, the process of making sense of the data that we gather, either during a crisis or during a conflict situation, tends to be very kind of human-intense. So what that means is, in the instance that you have many reports…verification can often really weigh down any single institution.
For example, in the case of Ushahidi and, say, the last Kenyan elections or looking at some of the work that you are currently seeing in the use of the platform with the COVID situation, Ushahidi often relies on teams of between 100 and 150 volunteers, sometimes across different countries and time zones, to process intense reports.
What this means is, you know, to structure them and to kind of verify and make sure that it’s actually legitimate information before it’s publicly pushed out to the public. And what I have personally observed is that the only active strategy to stop this wave of misinformation or disinformation is to cut its legs before it gets out to the public, kind of the public domain.
And so, um, what this means is there is going to be a lot of shift in focus on any form of innovation or any form of tool that is actually able to employ fake news detection and provide a good technical solution. And one that transcends the browser or…interface because the reality is a lot of people rely on mobile phones, a lot of just…the general citizens and also a lot of, say, what you call “deployers” or community-based organizations that actually make use of a combination of online and offline tools, almost always work with some basic form of mobile tool to be able to track what’s happening on the ground.
And unfortunately, so most browser add-ons are unavailable on mobile, or there isn’t a quick way to quickly just cross-check around a lot of the sites to just make sure that what you have is actually legitimate. The other thing that possibly points out to the kind of inaudible between the technology and the innovation and the possibility to kind of cause harm is that a lot of the hate speech fake news largely moves around through what we call personal spaces. So it;s through WhatsApp, it’s through Facebook, and those are often an environment where, to gain access to that data, to even make sense of it, then you have to address issues of trust, you have to address issues of privacy and personal security.
From where I see it and sort of trying to reflect through what the report brings out and what the future looks like, my thoughts are largely on the need to kind of look at ways in which the tools on monitoring of hate speech but also trying to stop fake news at a very early stage, whether its through some algorithms, will really be the core incentive. Thank you.
Scenery: Paige Arthur addresses the camera.
Paige Arthur: Thank you, Monica, for those comments and for really highlighting the importance of grounding this in a local…in local perspective and local communities and working closely with community-based organizations because those are the ones who actually really know what’s happening in any particular place.
So, with that, I’d like to go over to Adriana Abdenur, who is the founder of Plataforma CIPO, or I should say co-founder and Executive Director of Plataforma CIPO. Adriana, can I hand over to you for some comments?
Scenery: Adriana Abdenur addresses the camera.
Adriana Abdenur, Co-founder and Executive Director, Plataforma CIPO: Sure. Hi, everybody. Hello from Rio de Janeiro. First of all, congratulations on the report, which I read yesterday and found very, very useful and I’ll explain why. And also to NYU for this series of discussions. As I told Branka when I first met her online, you know, we were feeling a little bit isolated in some of our discussions around data and peace here in Latin America and it’s fantastic to know that there’s such a global scale effort to building a community.
So, I first wanted to make a couple of comments about the report. I like very much that it’s a very balanced approach to what we hear often called “technophoria”, the euphoria around the use of data as a silver bullet or a fantasy. Of course, we know that it’s not and we’ve run into problems in the past here in South America when we believed it so, but at the same time looking around this kind of mapping of positive examples also points the way towards how we can enhance more traditional approaches to conflict prevention and peacebuilding,
We at CIPO…we work very closely…we work at the intersection of climate and peace which, as you probably know, is a very fast-growing discussion and policy area within the UN system and its partner organizations. So, we collaborate closely with the UN Climate and Security mechanism where the whole discussion of data currently focuses on risk assessment…how do you bring together essentially at least two different communities of practice of climate and of security and how do you then pick and choose data adequately like artificial intelligence in order to better assess climate-sensitive, conflict-sensitive risks?
So, we do…that’s part of our work. The other part I would say is on the other half of the…this complex relationship between climate and security. So, the UN is focusing on how climate change tends to exacerbate and magnify security risks, right? Whether you’re talking about extremist violence in the Sahel or you’re talking about more human security types of definitions. But we also work on how insecurity feeds into this vicious cycle by fostering climate change. And the main way we do this at our organization is using data to look and analyze deforestation in the Amazon, in the Cerrado, which is a very vast savanna region in Brazil where I’m from, and other climate-sensitive biomes in our region.
And, I just wanted to note, some of the experiences…that really resonate with the examples that are noted in the report. First of all…is there have been tremendous advances in tracking deforestation. We have constellations of satellites, we have different institutions that have the know-how, but for political reasons right now, this is being cast, for instance, by the Brazilian government as fake data. So the politics of data continues, even when the infrastructure and the know-how and the capacity are in place and, of course, this to… those of us in a civil society poses major major problems, including in terms of the awareness raising and how important it is to rely on that very accurate data nowadays goes beyond just tracking the forest canopy…can actually go into the densely forested regions, for instance, to find out where selective logging is taking place.
But we’ve run into all kinds of issues in other parts of the… our deforestation projects. So, for instance, we’re trying to quantify impunity in the prosecution of environmental crimes, from illegal deforestation to illegal mining and trafficking of species. And what we find, and what..this is what we’re doing right now rather than developing the impunity index, which we were planning to do, is to map out the data gaps. And some of these gaps, they’re historical because deforestation has been looked at as an issue of development or as an issue of biology rather than as a security issue.
And that’s illegal, we understand….illegal deforestation to be a security issue because it’s organized and carried out by transnational organized crime, it depends on and feeds into illicit financial flows. So we also have a subproject on tracking money and asset laundering that’s connected to these environmental crimes, but we need a paradigm shift in the definition of the problem so that we can convince and work together with actors so that this data can exist, let alone crossing over categories.
And we talk to a lot of different actors, for instance, Human Rights Watch, for the specific issue of tracking data on attacks and assassinations of environmental defenders where, again, we run into all kinds of basic issues with data and there needs to be an awareness building among all kinds of stakeholders that this data is necessary for us to actually understand how deforestation, crime, and violence and conflicts over natural resource are associated because right now they’re being treated, to use UN language, as silos even within the national context.
We’re also helping to map the data needs of prosecutors and law enforcement agencies working on this, and I cannot go into too much detail, but this is an area where it’s glaring how the lack, or even…sometimes…not even the lack of data but the lack of access to data by government actors poses enormous difficulties. And, again, the politics come into it because, essentially…in the Brazilian part of the Amazon, we have a government that doesn’t want law enforcement to happen and therefore feeds into the cycle of violence.
Some of the challenges, just to close…first, that must be embedded within responses and policies. Data doesn’t just exist in a cloud and you pluck it and come up with a solution…and in all of our projects and their components, we’ve seen how…whether we’re talking about government policies or the responses by civil society in the private sector, you need to have a people-centered and institutionally-grounded approach.
Second, this has been mentioned, coordination across sectors. And we in civil society still don’t know what…how to collaborate with the private sector enough. There’s a lot of mutual mistrust and what we see, for instance in the Amazon, we see companies and we see some NGOs using AI to track aspects of deforestation, but they tend to do so in a very fragmented manner.
And, as I said, right now in Brazil, I think it would be not realistic to expect the government to take up these innovations and just scale them up in a way that allows for law enforcement and peace building, but we have to think about the middle and long-term. And we have to learn better coordination.
And then also sustainability of projects, and I suspect this is particularly problematic here in the global south. It’s extremely difficult to come by resources, and I have worked in the past and…my colleagues at CIPO also have, on projects where we collected data, we came up with a data base, we came up with apps and all kinds of applications, but there is simply no way to provide continuity. And using data for peacebuilding is absolutely necessary, but it also requires organizations including ours to make very careful, strategic decisions about the use of time, resources, and personnel. And to spend, as I have in other organizations, so much resources on things that then stop being updated and even if you use robots and automation, they become disembedded with…from the policy discussion, is very discouraging.
And then finally, last point, I very much like, Branka, that you included in the report a reference to data colonialism because what we see, and I’m here using the Amazon as an example…we see a lot of northern actors who have the capacity, have the technology, and are doing really exciting things. But they’re kind of extracting data without giving back to local communities and, for instance, without making any effort to foster local technology and local capacity, whether to develop the technology or the data analysis. And so, we see this north-south divide even within global south context, which I think needs to be addressed because, again, data is deeply, deeply political in a context like Brazil where civil society is being criminalized…we’ve had colleagues that have been arrested… the offices raided.
Working with data is dangerous, so having these dialogues and collaborations across the hemisphere is also extremely important, not only for the effectiveness of responses, but also for the safety of those who work on these projects.
So, thank you and congratulations. I look forward to the future discussions that NYU is organizing around this.
Scenery: Paige Arthur addresses the camera.
Paige Arthur: Thanks to you, Adriana, and to the rest of the panelists. So, I hope that everybody has been following what’s been happening in the chat. I’m going to try to bring together a number of those themes and then turn it back to Branka and the other panelists.
So, I think one of the questions was about the role for data on long-term trends that show, you know…I’m assuming that’s showing conditions of violence. So, you know, there was the comment that the report focuses mainly, maybe, on shorter-term triggers rather than the longer term conditions for violence or for conflict. And we know pretty well what those are…revolving around trust in institutions, around inequalities, and so forth.
So, I’m wondering if the panelists have any comment on that, although I do think a number of the early warning initiatives that are discussed in the report actually do combine different sources of data, both on longer-term trends and then on more triggering events.
It links also to a comment that I saw about creating more responsible data-sharing initiatives for peacebuilding and prevention. So, how can we do that, and is there a need to do that? And one of the recommendations that we had in the report was to create a hub for data, actually similar to the HDX, the humanitarian data exchange, which serves that function in the humanitarian community. Would it be useful to have that kind of data exchange centralized for people working on peacebuilding and prevention?
I really liked Adriana’s comments about partnering with the private sector and kind of needing to know exactly how to do that. And a lot of the comments were about leveraging platforms that may be better known, actually, to people, to software engineers, data scientists working in the private sector, than to others.
So, things like Kaggle…doing activities like Hack-a-Thons…what is the potential for using those kinds of existing techniques and platforms for peacebuilding and prevention actors? And then just coming back to this issue of “data is political”, “working with data can be dangerous”…and that links with one of the comments in the chat about this being a very sensitive issue for governments. So how do we address this? You know, the fact that, from the perspective of local government, many of these initiatives might be seen as threatening, and do we have some positive examples for how to deal with that.
So, there’s a number of reflections and questions from the chat…we don’ t have a particular order…so, I think, Branka, I may just turn to you first since we have five minutes and then maybe we’ll take it from there if we have any extra time.
Scenery: Branka Panic addresses the camera.
Branka Panic: Thank you, Paige. Maybe I’ll just pick one of them and then leave others to our guests as well. I am particularly interested in utilizing these different platforms of cooperation and somebody mentioned in the chat hack-a-thons and utilizing existing ways how we can actually connect different communities as well. And I think this can also be connected with Adriana’s comments on the involvement of private sector as well. So, we usually connect this type of initiatives with a civil sector, but there is a number of initiatives coming, or at least an attempt to support these kind of initiatives from private sector as well.
So, utilizing these platforms to connect, as I said, data scientists or people who have more skills on the tech side, to apply those skills in tackling some of the issues that we are trying to tackle in peacebuilding field. And somebody also mentioned in the chat capacity building.
We mentioned in the report that we don’t necessarily think…we don’t want to scare the field of peacebuilders that they all need to become data scientists. It’s important to know and we do believe that we need to raise awareness of what is out there and what these technologies can do. What is their potential…both opportunities and risks? And then make these meaningful connections to people who actually have expertise.
So, I’ll stop here and then type maybe some more things in the chat while somebody else from our guests picks some other questions, as well.
Scenery: Paige Arthur addresses the camera.
Paige Arthur: I think I saw that Thierry wanted to speak….no. Monica or Adriana, do you have any thoughts? Monica, please.
Scenery: Monica Nthiga addresses the camera.
Monica Nthiga: Okay yes, sure, so I’ll speak to the question or the comment around short-term versus long-term drivers and how to ensure the focus is on kind of the bigger picture, So, my experience in those…kind of my…my kind of advice on factoring kind of like economic, structural, and kind of the long-term drivers is to actually look at…from an implementation or a practitioner point of view, is to look at every conflict situation as a cycle. So, I’ll give a few examples. For example, when you talk…in Kenya or the border in Uganda, it’s often a long-term or kind of an existential problem that’s different things, such as drought, that is tied to thins such as, say, initiation ceremonies within a community. So, there will be kind of an issue that justifies itself as a conflict situation that requires a technology solution.
There’s always kind of a cycle around it. When it comes to kind of environmental conflict or kind of situation, in cases it’s tied to weather patterns in a country….when drought’s striking, whether there is food distribution that’s being channeled elsewhere…when it comes to elections, for example, the election cycle in a number of years is often, you know, three to ten years, depending. So it’s a full cycle…so what that means is a lot of the times, for example, when you have with our projects is that a focus is largely on that particular problem which, for example is on actual voting day, or there’s been as a result of pastoral conflict.
But I think when it comes to people that actually look at the data, that study the data, then there needs to be a more large-scale…the process, where it starts and where it ends. B9ut then where it becomes complicated is that, more often than not, it can be difficult to find technology that solves the full 360 cycle.
So, and I think that’s just the reality. So, in any cycle, for example, the technology will solve the problem of, say, convening people to come and sit down and have dialogue and that is all it will do. Then, in other instances, it may actually facilitate that dialogue and people may be open to sharing conversations. So, I think these factors can be more prominent in the data that we have, but then also there is also the potential that we’ll not be able to have a technology that can actually solve the full 360 cycle with any situations, from environmental to political to just kind of social coexistence in our community.
Scenery: Paige Arthur addresses the camera.
Paige Arthur: Thank you, Monica. That was really helpful. And, with that, I think that’s actually a perfect place to close this. Thank you everybody for joining, thank you Branka for this report. Thanks to our panelists for your incisive comments, and we’re all looking forward to the next one. This will be a monthly thing, and this was a launch of a report. So, a bit formal, but next time we’re going to be discussing really cutting-edge, innovative technology that we’re going to be able to learn from. So, thank you so much to everyone who joined us here today, and looking forward to more.
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