Wikis, Webs and Networks: Creating Connections for Conflict-Prone Settings

Wikis, Webs and Networks: Creating Connections for Conflict-Prone Settings

Read the full report here.

Reading through this report, I found it to be a useful contribution, albeit from a very US-centric perspective, to the necessary evolution of tools and technologies better able to support and strengthen vital communications in peacebuilding and humanitarian disasters. In this sense, it’s linked to some of the discussions that were part of Strong Angel III, and also addresses some of the challenges of civilian – military collaboration.

In a collaboratively drawn up set of guidelines, NGO’s at Strong Angel III presented a set of 8 design considerations / recommendations for humanitarian aid systems that resonate with the core messages in this report – that solutions need to be durable, adaptive, locally owned, culturally sensitive, open standards based, participatory, inclusive and foster trust and collaboration at all levels and all stages of peacebuilding / humanitarian aid.

In an aptly titled blog post, From MySpace to MyPCR pre-figures some of the prescient comments made in Wikis, Webs and Networks: Creating Connections for Conflict-Prone Settings and echoes some of the ideas that I’ve explored through this blog as well. What is abundantly clear is that there is a growing interest in the use of ICT not just for development, but also for peacebuilding, conflict transformation and humanitarian aid (esp. in the long term). This evolving global policy needs direction lest it splinters into information and knowledge silos that defines so much of the ICT4D field today. From events such as Strong Angel III, to organisations such as the ICT4Peace Foundation that have spearheaded ICT4Peace at the UN level, from the social networking of humanitarian and peacebuilding communities of practice to online resources such as the excellent PCR Project blog, there is a wide spectrum of ways through which a global commune of those interesting in fleshing out ICT4Peace can communicate with each other in discussions rooted in ideas generated by the reports such as the one highlighted here.

It is, I submit, a discussion that will change the face of humanitarianism and peacebuilding as we know it, within 10 years.

The following is a description from the website:

Collapsed and fragile states are now a focal point of foreign policy, and over the past five years they have increasingly dominated the attention and resources of the U.S. government. Despite the importance of international interventions in conflict-prone settings, the record of success is mixed, and international actors struggle to establish minimum security and reconstruct state institutions. Persistent lack of success stems in part from problems of communication and connectivity between the diverse actors involved. More specifically, expertise gained from one international intervention does not adequately inform the next, and the wide array of international players do not have an effective means of communicating with one another.

Recent technological innovations have fundamentally altered the information landscape just as developments in social network theory have changed how people connect and socialize. Taken together, these advancements have the potential to transform work in conflict-prone settings; however, they have not yet been fully incorporated into policy and practice. Wikis, Webs and Networks: Creating Connections for Conflict-Prone Settings recommends ways to improve connectivity between the various actors working in conflict-prone settings. The ultimate goal of enhanced connectivity is to enable local populations to prevent and mitigate conflict, and help rebuild their country. This report is intended for civilians as well as the military, the public and private sectors, and Americans as well as international and national actors. Four Principles, proven true in a variety of settings and industries, form the basis of this report. If embraced, they have the potential to improve operations in conflict-prone settings. They are:

I. Connectivity Increases Effectiveness

Connectivity is the capacity for individuals and organizations to interface. Connectivity allows for, but does not guarantee, frequent and meaningful interactions, which can help diverse actors develop a common operating language, plan and conduct joint exercises, and integrate operations during crises.

II. Free Revealing Makes

Sense Openly sharing new ideas, innovations, and information is better suited to fast-paced, chaotic environments than is the traditional practice of closely managing information flows through established hierarchies.

III. Community Generates Content

Relying on the community to generate, share, and interpret content makes the best use of resources and minimizes constraints in conflict settings. These settings demand flexibility and adaptability on many levels. User-driven content, in which all individuals contribute information, share concepts, and evaluate resources, is the practical choice for environments with conflicting and unreliable data.

IV. Lead Users Drive the Market
By identifying and promoting the practices of lead users (those at the top end of the bell-curve), the effectiveness of the entire international community can be enhanced.

Three Strategic Guidelines stem from these Principles and provide a framework for enhancing connectivity in conflict-prone settings across the globe. These guidelines are not tied to any one tool or feature, but recommend ways for institutions to adjust and update policies, invest in appropriate communications infrastructure, and encourage cultural shifts.

1. Design Architecture of Participation

  • Expertise is not tied to individuals.
  • Contribution should be based on knowledge, not status or rank.
  • The participatory structure of networks is necessary to succeed in conflict-prone settings.

2. Strengthen Social and Knowledge Networks

  • Communication is largely a social, not a technical, problem.
  • Incentives will encourage individuals to join communities.
  • Contributions will increase when individuals identify with the larger mission goals.

3. Use All Available Means of Communication

  • Basic, commercially available means of communication are the most widely used.
  • Advanced technologies need to interface with common, low-tech tools.
  • Flexible tools that span no-tech to future-tech have the most value.

CSIS recommends four implementation steps to make the above guidelines operational. These implementation points are low cost, easy to apply, and catalytic for the longer process of transformation.

Create a consortium of implementing partners, universities, donors, and businesses to develop, promote, and implement the Principles and Strategic Guidelines.

Sponsor pilot projects to test the effectiveness and operations of technology in the field. Open call centers with information, directory, and security hotlines. Distribute hand held, durable, and cost-efficient communication tools to peacekeepers and local peacebuilders.

Build on successful websites and incorporate additional features. Market the websites across a range of communities.

Conduct extensive outreach to promote the Principles and raise awareness of the tools. Target entry points to the four main communities; publicize and promote communities of practice.

One comment on “Wikis, Webs and Networks: Creating Connections for Conflict-Prone Settings

  1. Billy Sountornsorn
    October 24, 2006 at 8:17 am #

    Thank you for citing this report and for your visits to the PCR Blog. I’d like to bring your’s, and your readers’, attention to the publication of the full version of the report: http://pcrproject.com/blog/2006/10/19/csis-report-wikis-webs-and-networks/

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