This past Thursday and Friday (May 8 & 9) I participated in the ICTs and Violence Prevention workshop hosted by the World Bank’s Social Development Office. We had an excellent collection of experts from across academia, NGOs, and government who discussed the complexities of using technology for violence prevention. One of the key takeaways from the event was the analytic challenge of identifying where violence was likely to happen and how to encourage rapid response.
The problem of preventing violence centers of two things; predicting where violence will occur and the ability for institutions to respond. Emmanuel Letouze, Patrick Meier and Patrick Vinck lay this problem out in their chapter on big data in the recent IPI/UDNP/USAID publication on ICTs for violence prevention. They point out that instead of using big data to aid interventions by large institutions, that big data can be analyzed and packaged so that local actors can use it to respond immediately when they see signs of tension. I used this model in my talk on crowdsourcing; the goal is for the big organizations to leverage their processing and analytic capacity to produce data that can be used by local actors to respond to tension and threats of violence themselves.
What made the discussion around this challenge so interesting was that the speakers and audience were able to focus not just on the technology, but also on the ways that different cultures understand information and space. Matthew Pritchard of McGill University gave a fantastic talk about the challenges of mapping land tenure claims in Liberia, since people expressed land ownership in different ways. He explained that GIS mapping could contain the data on how people understand their relationship to the land – maps layers could have MP3 recordings of oral history, photos of past use, and graphical demonstrations of where borders were. Finding ways to move beyond external perceptions of local conflict drivers was one of the goals of the discussions, and integrating technology and social science more effectively is increasingly going to be a way to achieve that goal.
This event was also bittersweet for me, since it was my last time officially representing TechChange as their Director of Conflict Management and Peacebuilding. Starting May 9, I will be joining Mobile Accord as GeoPoll’s Research Coordinator. After over two years working with Nick Martin and the team at TechChange, I’ve decided it’s time to focus more on data and analytics in the ICT for development space. While I’m excited for this new challenge, I’ll miss working in the loft where I’ve learned almost everything I know about ICT4D and tech for conflict management. I wouldn’t be where I am academically or professionally without the insights and support of the colleagues and friends I’ve made at TechChange. While I’m looking forward to joining the team and GeoPoll, I’ll always be excited to check the blog or cruise by the office to see what amazing new animation or interactive learning platform Will Chester and the TechChange team have conjured up!