How to build peace through technology?

I’ve had a good reason for not blogging this past month: I’ve been busy organizing Build Peace, the first international conference on building peace through technology, together with my colleagues and friends Rodrigo Davies, Michaela Ledesma and Jen Welch, as well as a fantastic team of volunteers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Kate Mytty, Chelsea Barabas, Heather Craig and Chris Peterson). The conference will take place at the MIT Media Lab on April 5 & 6, and is receiving the generous support of the International Peace Institute, the ICT 4 Peace Foundation, the US Institute for Peace, the World Banks’s theHive, Innovations in Peace, USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives, Mercy Corps, Blue Nile Lotus, the United Nations Development Program and the MIT Centre for Civic Media. The full program is now up on our website. A word of warning: registrations are closed and we are sold out. So if you haven’t already registered, you’ll have to watch our livestream this year and sign up here to find out about future events.


It’s been a very interesting journey to define what we mean by building peace through technology. Build Peace is organized along four broad lines of inquiry, each representing one of the functions technology can play in peacebuilding: information, communications, gaming and networking. (See this paper for some background on the framework that underpins this thinking about technology and peace.) The keynote speakers each (more or less) represent one of these lines of inquiry. Sanjana Hattottuwa from the ICT 4 Peace Foundation will be talking about how information technologies support peacebuilding. Waidehi Gilbert-Gokhale from Soliya / Search for Common Ground will discuss how online networking contributes to peacebuilding. Asi Burak form Games for Change will share experiences in serious gaming for social change, and particularly how this can be applied to games for peace. Ethan Zuckerman from MIT’s Centre for Civic Media will close the conference with a reflection on how we create shared media experiences that cross community lines.

We also recognize that for many practitioners, practical considerations about how to integrate technology into programming are critical. That’s why the panels are organized around three stages of peacebuilding programming: conflict analysis, program design and impact evaluation. Each panel brings together academics and practitioners to reflect on general considerations and share specific practices from existing applications on the ground. The panels are also putting together white papers reflecting on key questions in their areas – we’ll be posting these to our website shortly.

One other thematic trend emerged organically as we put together the conference program: creativity, art and peace. This seems to me like a natural connection. One of the reasons that peacebuilders turn to technology is that digital spaces can allow for new narratives to emerge and new identities to be explored. This kind of creativity is central to arts for peace projects, which use various artistic tools to to deliver small, transcendent moments to people who live in conflict. Moments that remind them of their humanity and help create common visions of a peaceful future. That’s why we are dedicating the conference reception to art and peace, giving space for cartoons on tech4peace by Manu, an interactive documentary on love across divided Cyprus and the wicked tunes of Turning Tables (check out their latest music video below). We’re also pleased to host three film screenings during the conference: Peace in our Pockets, Blueberry Soup and Acting Together on the World Stage.

Finally, we recognized early on that many conference participants would have great experiences and ideas to share, far beyond what we could cover with keynote speakers and panels. The conference ignites, working sessions and technology fair showcase this collective knowledge. The variety in these sections is inspiring: polarization and data, disrupting war-building ICTs, grassroots cultural innovation, the brain’s empathy circuit, voices from the Rwanda tribunal, constitution design in Egypt, hacking the border in the Dominican Republic, people power games, accounts from the conflict in Northern Ireland… and so many more.

Our hope is that Build Peace 2014 won’t be a one-off event. We would like it to be the beginning of a community – a group of people interested in using technology to skillfully and creatively push the boundaries of peacebuilding practice. Whether you are attending this year or not, we hope you will join us to chart the future of peace.


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