New technologies can help tackle violence, study says

Apr 12, 2013

ICTs now a promising tool in the right contexts

Washington, D.C. — New information and communication technologies (ICT) can connect citizens with one another and urgent responders, helping prevent violence and conflict, according to a new study by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and others.
But “spoilers” can also use new technologies to incite violence and conflict, and local and international actors must analyze risks and develop mitigating strategies, the report, New Technology and the Prevention of Conflict and Violence, says.
UNDP, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and International Peace Institute (IPI) jointly conducted the study, launched here Friday at the US Institute of Peace (USIP) and in New York Wednesday at IPI.
“International organizations should consider supporting spontaneous micro-initiatives in this area, provide funding to develop local capacity, improve connectivity among different initiatives, and help the sharing of best practices,” the report says. “Civil society organizations should identify and reward skilled individuals and groups in local communities who can adopt new technologies for preventing violence.”
“Horizontal citizen-to-citizen ICT initiatives can help to connect more ‘warners’ and ‘responders’ more quickly and closer to the crisis. They can also contribute to communities’ resilience in the long term,” it said.
More than 6 billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide—with one-third of the world’s population online—has led to the generation of unprecedented amounts of data. In 2012 alone, humans generated more data than over the course of their entire history, the report says.
ICTs and the data they generate can aid international actors, governments, and civil society in preventing and halting violence and conflict, through cellphones, social media, crowdsourcing, crisis mapping, blogging, and big data analytics, it said.
The report cites studies from Africa, Asia, and Latin America that examine criminal violence, election-related violence, and armed conflict—concluding that context plays a key role in determining the outcome of using ICTs. It notes that:
•  International organizations and governments should examine all the tools at their disposal for preventing conflict, recognizing ICTs constitute one of many tools.
•  Socioeconomic, cultural, and demographic factors influence whether technology can have a positive impact, which technology is appropriate, and how technologies could or should be combined.
•  ICTs can be used to incite violence, promote conflict, and perpetrate crimes as well as prevent them. Consider possible knock-on effects, analyze risks, and develop mitigation strategies.
•  International organizations and governments should integrate local input throughout. Using new technological tools to prevent violence at the local level works best when integrated into existing civil society initiatives.
“Given the frequent paralysis at national and international levels when it comes to preventing conflict, the empowerment of individuals to participate in conflict-prevention initiatives in their own communities and societies may be one of the most significant innovations created by advances in technology,” the report says. “This is particularly true when it comes to bridging the persistent gulf between warning and response.”
Ozonnia Ojielo, Coordinator for Conflict Prevention and Recovery at UNDP’s Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery in New York, said ICTs had helped prevent communal conflict during Kenya’s recent election—after deadly poll-related violence in 2007.
“The possibilities are tremendous,” Ojielo said in remarks at USIP. “This is an opportunity to build a new relationship between security systems and citizens… but we’re going to need much more powerful tools.”
Crisis management bodies are increasingly using mobile technology to raise awareness about preventive measures, issue warnings, evacuation notices, and general information about disaster and conflict risk as an event develops, and to spread information about life-saving relief.
New technologies also allow citizens to pass information to central authorities about emerging crises such as floods and communal clashes, and to take part in inclusive governance processes and conflict prevention.
UNDP uses technology for conflict prevention

•   In Georgia, along the border with South Ossetia, UNDP supports an early warning project in 16 communities that uses crowdsourcing and text messaging to enable villagers to report security incidents as they occur to the Ministry of Interior and European Union Monitoring Mission. This free service that has sped up response times by police and international observers and improved local perceptions of security.
•  Elections can be flashpoints for violence, such as in Kenya. UNDP helped establish a toll-free SMS-based service that allowed citizens to report perceived threats to security. At a central level, SMS messages were analyzed and verified and responses initiated through partnerships between civil society groups and police. This gave police and other responders a level of localized information that was previously inaccessible. The same system of mobile-based reporting kept 2013 elections in Kenya relatively peaceful.
•  In the Kyrgyzstan election in 2011, mobile technology and crowdsourcing helped develop a mapping platform that provided a picture of potential hotspots for security planners—who strategically placed trained monitors at polling stations. This helped to increase transparency and adherence to the electoral code of conduct and to feed information via text messages into an early warning system.
•  In Sudan, UNDP has helped develop an information management platform that records and maps how local people perceive risk, how satisfied they are with basic service delivery, and how they experience conflict and security incidents. Government, UN agencies, INGOs, and local authorities all use this system not only to prevent violence but to plan, coordinate, track, and adjust crisis, recovery, and development programming.
•   In Cyprus, UNDP is supporting the creation of an online platform for peace practitioners from civil society to share experiences and learn from one another on conflict prevention and peacebuilding. It will capture and digitize knowledge generated from the last15 years, supporting Cypriot civil society organizations, but other actors working to advance conflict prevention and reconciliation throughout the Euro-Mediterranean region. UNDP is supporting a similar facility in Kyrgyzstan.

UNDP Around the world