Teaching at the Folke Bernadotte Academy

Photo of the Academy, taken by me.

Just back from a stint of teaching at the Folke Bernadotte Academy. I’ve done a short write up about it at the ICT4Peace Foundation’s site. The participants were a tough, mixed bunch. All very experienced in either intelligence analysis or field work, they came from military, police, government, intelligence services, counter-terrorism, security, NGO, EU and UN peacekeeping mission backgrounds, which made it quite challenging to pitch what I did.

Class feedback however was revealing. They wanted a whole day to go into more detail about what I flagged, and wanted more in depth training on how at the field level as well as the desk / HQ level, the challenges of information verification, security and analysis could be overcome. My presentation covered a lot of what is written on this blog, and challenged participants to think about the future of open source information, where whether they liked it or not, engagement with web based social and new media was essential to understand, inter alia, the operational complexity, socio-political dynamics, ground realities, stakeholder positions, hagiography, communal interests, religious undertone, cultural considerations, gender bias, identities, youth concerns and political aspirations of people they would interact with, or in some way be responsible for.

What I’ve also done since 2010 with the Foundation at various venues, but most regularly at the University of Lugano in Switzerland, is to run a simulation exercise with around 30 – 40 of the leading collaboration, proprietary (UN and non-UN) crisis information management and social media platforms that today are part of information eco-systems that can deeply influence response, operational efficiency, effectiveness and analysis.

Put simply, ignore, misinterpret or undervalue this new domain of open source information, and you risk losing lives. There’s no panacea on how to manage or cope with this tsunami of information, but there are platforms, tools, techniques, best practices and rules of thumb that can help.

This is my world, and this is what I do every single day, albeit more framed in the curation of Groundviews, and responding to the online and mobile security challenges of leading human rights activists and organisations based in Sri Lanka. It’s great to trans-locate some of this rich experience to help others.

What struck me most, and was admittedly quite nice to hear, was when participants said it was very evident to them when a lecturer loved to teach and knew their subject. Given that more than one participants came up to me to ask not about ICTs, but about public speaking, I would like to believe that I’ve inspired at least some of them to speak more, and in public, about what they are passionate about, which is about the best way to communicate knowledge and build better understanding that I can think of.

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