Comments on UN ICT for Peacebuilding Report

A few thoughts on a report I read today released by the UN on ICT for Peacebuilding, available for download here.

Firstly, it’s a relief that agencies such as the UN are taking notice of the field I’ve been involved in and writing on for a couple of years. The vindication of my own research into ICT for Peacebuilding, now captured in the acronym ICT4Peace, is in reports such as this which promote this embryonic field of study and application to a global audience.

It is however interesting how a single report of this calibre – well written and relatively well researched – can overwhelm the work of a smaller organisation, such as InfoShare in Sri Lanka. Though we receive brief mention in the report, I know not of any other organisation that pioneers the use of ICT in Peacebuilding in the fashion that we’ve engineered in Sri Lanka over the past 3 years.

Far more equitable than the Northern gaze in reports such as this, which deal almost exclusively with ICT initiatives that are website based, would be to engage with Southern actors and give voice to their ideas and ICT solutions that answer the challenges of conflict transformation.

This failure to engage with the South, and the top-down approach of research, is never more explicit than in the recommendations of the report – which though good are somewhat mundane to those of us who have gone beyond them in our work. It is perhaps a question of audience as well – the report necessarily addresses those unfamiliar with the concept of ICT for Peacebuilding and thereby needs to capture what to us may be obvious and passe.

However, one does wish the report made better use of resources that are available in the public domain to lay foundations for what its authors would see as the future of ICT humanitarian aid and peacebuilding. With a consciously parochial gaze, InfoShare’s own research into ICT and Peacebuilding goes well beyond my paper cited in the report.

Issues of language and culture haven’t been broached adequately in the report either. As note here, I make the point that ICT systems need to be far more attentive to issues of language and culture.

At present, existing One Text systems pay scant regard to the entrenched cultures of disputants or ways in which such cultures help or impede mediation processes (Rao, 2004, Law, 2004). Ethnic conflict and other value based conflicts are under-girded by complex cultural constructs that need to be recognised in the design of One Text systems for peacebuilding. Influencing the selection of technology to the modes of service delivery, the study of culture will play a vital role in the creation of One Text systems in the Global South for processes far removed from commercial disputes, domain name resolution or e-commerce disputes in cyberspace. The ability to access and benefit from One Text systems for peacebuilding will also rely heavily on the language of use – systems that use English exclusively will alienate large swathes of grassroots communities who do not speak, read or write English. From simultaneous translation to multi-lingual interfaces, new generation One Text systems need to eschew monolingual approaches and design systems with the flexibility to operate in several languages seamlessly.

The greatest contribution of this report lies in bringing to the world’s attention some of the wonderful and valuable ICT initiatives that have contributed to all aspects of peacebuilding in some of the world’s worst hotspots and for research into peace in general. I hope the report and it partner website will continue to forge ahead with new thinking on this area of pivotal importance.

I also hope that future iterations of the report and research in this area more fully engages with those who use ICT daily in their trysts with peace.

Special thanks to Paul Currion and the great work he does behind the scenes to promote this work.

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