ICT4D – ICT for Development – is touted, variously, as an all powerful concept inevitably leading a country that embraces it into greater economic prosperity. It is, obviously, a fallacy.
ICT4Peace may suffer from the same hamartia – assuming that the use of technology alone can aid in a failing peace process, where stakeholders are unable or unwilling to take political responsibility for the violence on the ground. I am often asked “Why ICT? Why now? What difference will it make? Should not we concentrate on more useful ways of dealing with violence?”
These are important questions to answer.
Because present day peace processes are highly complex and are in a process of continual change. Our definitions peacebuilding and conflict transformation are resistant to the rapid changes of the process itself, leading to frameworks of peacebuilding that bear little resemblance to the contours of the conflict a few weeks after they were envisaged.
Such dynamic processes require complex adaptive systems. Systems that are iterative, learn, adapt and resilient to the socio-political repurcussions of violence. The systems need to be redundant, peer-to-peer, able to maintain channels of communication that may be vital in times of heightened tension to mitigate the rise of violence. I’ve written about such systems in a paper that explores the future of ODR here and in 10 ideas for Microsoft’s Humanitarian Systems Group.
ICT can help create that complex adaptive systems that will be at the heart of tomorrow’s peacebuilding initiatives. Systems designed using advanced technologies for the gathering of data, storage, analysis and dissemination, on-demand 24/7 can rapidly react to changes in a process, help experts analyse ground conditions, help take crucial decisions and keep channels of private and secure communication open even when politically, the process may have hit a deadlock.
Why not? Why wait? ICT4Peace, as with any peacebuilding intiative, works better as a preventitive remedy rather than a palliative after the emergence of violent conflict. Through enhanced communications, better information flows, knowledge management, better access architectures, lower cost of information retrieval and storage and more precise decision support systems for peace negotiations, the sooner ICT is introduced into a peace process, the better success it has of sustained stakeholder use.
What difference will it make?
Possibly, quite a lot. The fact is, we can never tell until we forge ahead and, to paraphrase Nike – “just do it”. The problem is that it’s hard to judge that which never occured. Put another way, a successful intervention ensures that violence doesn’t erupt.
I believe the potential of ICT4Peace to be larger than ICT4D. In a very real sense, ICT4D is founded on, esp. in countries where there is protracted conflict, the ability of ICT4Peace to engender a economic climate conducive to investment, prosperity, sustained growth and equitable distribution. ICT4D alone can’t guarantee this.
Should not we concentrate on more useful ways of dealing with violence?
It’s not an either / or decision. The decision to support ICT4Peace doesn’t mean that funding and support for other peacebuilding activities is curtailed. As I’ve said earlier in this blog, ICT4Peace is but one piece in the larger puzzle that is peacebuilding. Working in concert, various complementary initiatives in peacebuilding help each other.
ICT4Peace is not just an important facet of peacebuilding, it is also a vital catalyst – enabling other valuable initiatives achieve greater results with more lasting impact on the communities than would otherwise have been possible.
In sum, ICT4Peace and by extension, using Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) for peacebuilding, as I’ve written about here, are not figments of a fanciful imagination. They stem from ideas that are rooted in the art of the possible in a peace process – ideas that will define the practice and theory of peacebuilding in the years to come.