UNDP explores applications of crowdsourcing in conflict prevention

Mr. Ozonnia Ojielo (centre) from UNDP’s Bureau of Crisis Prevention and Recovery speaks about the applications of crowdsourcing in conflict prevention, with (from left to right) Ms. Beth Liebert (Google), Mr. Warren Hoge (International Peace Institute) and Mr. Nick Martin (TechChange).

On Wednesday 9 November 2011, UNDP’s Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery and the International Peace Institute hosted a discussion to explore applications of crowdsourcing technology to conflict prevention. UNDP has been a pioneer in this field, first using crowdsourcing to curb violence during Kenya’s 2010 constitutional referendum. Since then, similar tools have been effectively applied by UNDP in Kyrgyzstan and Nigeria, and UNDP is now looking to integrate crowdsourcing into its work in other countries. Drawing on the ‘tech savvy’ of Google and TechChange, UNDP is working to improve and expand applications of technology to conflict prevention and development efforts in close collaboration with the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC).

Crowdsourcing involves the use of new technologies and social media for gathering and sharing real-time information generated voluntarily and sometimes anonymously. Along with other Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), crowdsourcing can potentially play a catalytic role in advancing human development by improving access to information and service delivery, enabling broader participation and facilitating response. As technology moves, the possible applications in conflict prevention grow exponentially. Online platforms, such as the UNDP supported Uwiano platform in Kenya, allow users to identify and report events – ranging from instances of violence to shared public spaces and safe havens. Maps can be custom-built, open to the public, or field partners to chart, contribute and verify real-time data.

Beth Liebert, a Google Project Manager who presented at the discussion, highlighted the speed and impact of such tools. Referring to the use of crowdsourcing in the immediate aftermath of March’s earthquake in Japan, Beth explained that “you can track within the hour when the earthquake happened just looking at the traffic to this tool… this map gets picked up and shared by everybody, because there’s something about information on a map that people find really useful during a crisis. Something that is local and impactful”.

Whether through interactive mapping, mobile or social networking technology, crowdsourcing facilitates the collection of large amounts of real-time data. Though challenges remain in vetting information and coordinating timely responses, the technology offers tremendous potential for the UNDP’s work in conflict prevention. Through working with industry leaders and with national partners to improve and expand the applications of crowdsourcing, UNDP continues to build local capacity to prevent conflict and contribute to resilient nations and empowered lives.