Situating PeaceTech: Takeaways from the Inaugural Global PeaceTech Conference

Takeaways and highlights from the first Global PeaceTech Conference.

Conference Takeaways

From the conference, we identified five key takeaways, namely:

  1. There is a thin line between MilitaryTech and PeaceTech. Many conversations noted the dual-use nature of technologies such as AI and social media to exacerbate violence or facilitate peace. Much of the funding for technology development and use in fragile zones comes from military and weapons-related institutions, which can skew initial aspirations and functionalities of technology tools used in peacebuilding and peacekeeping operations.
  2. PeaceTech needs to go from theory to action. Much of the extant research on PeaceTech is descriptive. Researchers would benefit from more diagnostic and prescriptive work to understand what actually works in PeaceTech. At present, PeaceTech applications remain limited in scope and scale, making it difficult for the larger community to pilot practical tools.
  3. ‘Low tech’ applications can be more effective than ‘high tech’ systems to enable peace. Policymakers and peacebuilders can benefit from using the technology tools they have and are already in use by the communities they serve, even if they are not the most technologically sophisticated to enhance peacebuilding initiatives. Oftentimes, tools that are familiar and easy to use have a better chance of facilitating peace efforts.
  4. Coordination and implementation of data and technology governance are essential for PeaceTech. There is an urgent need for policymakers across local, national, and international to align their criteria for conflict intervention, ethical use of technology, and understanding of the cyber domain. The current lack of awareness and coordination leads to missed uses of technology to advance peace and demonstrates policy failings to proactively promote people’s well-being.

Opening Panel

To kick off the conference, individuals from the public, private, and non-profit spaces discussed key challenges, triumphs, and questions facing the use of technology in peacekeeping and building efforts.

  • Elizabeth Crossick, Head of Government Affairs EU and Global Policy Lead AI at RELX presented the eyeWitness to Atrocities app, an Android app that time- and geo-stamps user-captured pictures of human atrocities and uploads them to a secure server to create a legally-admissable chain of custody for the evidence.
  • Helena Puig Larrauri, Strategy Lead & Co-founder at Build-Up then turned to the classification, application, regulation, and implementation of peace technologies, stating that PeaceTech “is neither good nor bad, but it is political.” She argued that the focus on ‘high tech’ is misdirected and that peace practitioners should focus on useable, ‘low tech’ for better uptake and action.

Defining (Global) PeaceTech

In the next session, members of the Global PeaceTech Hub presented their initiatives to scope and set the agenda for the field.

  • Stefaan Verhulst, Co-Founder and Chief Research Officer of The GovLab and Uma Kalkar, Researcher at The GovLab, along with Andrea Renda, Adjunct Professor of Digital Policy at the EUI School of Transnational Governance presented the methodology and findings of the “PeaceTech Topic Map: A Research Base for an Emerging Field.” They outlined the six overarching categories of where PeaceTech is applied and the challenges that the field faces, specifically with regard to dual-use technologies and poor existing oversight and regulation.
  • Lucia Bosoer, Project Associate at the Global PeaceTech Hub, and Michele Giovanardi, Coordinator of the Global PeaceTech Hub debuted the Global PeaceTech Atlas, a repository of existing PeaceTech initiatives organized by country to understand who is carrying out PeaceTech and where.
  • Evelyne Tauchnitz, Senior Researcher at the Institute of Social Ethics ISE, University of Lucerne discussed the ethical and theoretical framework against which PeaceTech should be gauged, pointing to the need for human rights to be set as the minimal ethical standard.

The Many Ways to PeaceTech

Peace experts then discussed the ways in which they have incubated PeaceTech actions, as well as the challenges and avenues of further research they have to consider.

  • Sheldon Himelfarb, CEO of the PeaceTech Lab mentioned an initiative to create an ‘International Panel on the Information Environment’ akin to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to tackle the growing social and political threats posed by misinformation and hate speech.
  • Christine Bell, Director and Principal Investigator at PeaceRep at the University of Edinburgh showed her lab’s peace process trackers, which use data to visualize peace agreements and building processes. She showed the messy, back-and-forth nature of the “peace-conflict continuum.” She concluded with a look towards better, more ethical data gathering and sharing to improve peace insights.
  • Lisa Glybchenko, Founder of Color Up Peace showcased how she combines technology and art to create a “digital visuality” of peace in conflict-affected zones and imagine futures of peace.

Thematic Discussions

The conference also featured three concurrent workshop sessions on different aspects of PeaceTech, including AI ethics, cyber peace, and peacebuilding tools.

Towards Ethical Design and Implementation of AI in Peacebuilding

Panelists:

  • Andrea Renda, EUI School of Transnational Governance
  • Evelyne Tauchnitz, University of Lucerne — Institute of Social Ethics ISE
  • Stefaan Verhulst, The GovLab

Cyber Peace: Cooperating for the Stability and Security of the Cyber Domain

Panelists:

  • Francesca Bosco, Cyber Peace Institute
  • Madeline Carr, University College London
  • Martin Koyabe, AU-GFCE Project
  • Vladimir Radunovic, DiploFoundation

PeaceTech Toolkit for Peacebuilding in the 21st Century

Panelists:

  • Krystel Tabet, Build Up
  • Alexander Young, Peace Tech Lab

Investing in PeaceTech

The final session of the conference looked at avenues for sustainable, long-term growth and investment in PeaceTech.

  • Mark Nelson, Co-Founder and Director of Innovation of the Peace Innovation Lab then discussed the financing of peace-related work, noting that much of this work has been supported by military organizations, which bias the agenda for peace and initiate the dual-use nature of peace technologies. He introduced the notion of peace finance, which encourages the creation of profit-generating peace efforts to create an investable portfolio of peace capital and put the global market in the service of peace.

In Closing

The 2022 Global PeaceTech Conference marks the start of guided conversations and deliberation around peace in the modern day and the technologies that can enable and diminish it. Stay updated on the Global PeaceTech Hub’s work here and for ways to get involved in PeaceTech, please contact Michele Giovanardi at michele.giovanardi@eui.eu.

About The GovLab

The Governance Lab’s mission is to improve people’s lives by changing the way we govern. Our goal at The GovLab is to strengthen the ability of institutions — including but not limited to governments — and people to work more openly, collaboratively, effectively, and legitimately to make better decisions and solve public problems. We believe that increased availability and use of data, new ways to leverage the capacity, intelligence, and expertise of people in the problem-solving process, combined with new advances in technology and science, can transform governance. We approach each challenge and opportunity in an interdisciplinary, collaborative way, irrespective of the problem, sector, geography, and level of government. For more information, visit thegovlab.org

About the EUI School of Transnational Governance

The School of Transnational Governance was established in 2017 as part of the European University Institute in Florence. In the cradle of the Renaissance, we teach, train and learn by providing a platform where transnational policy actors across politics, business, civil society, media and academia meet. We are here for anyone with an open and independent mind, for thinkers and for doers. We bring together some of the best teachers, trainers and policy-makers from around the world. We believe the goal of public policy is to bring out the best in people. For more information, visit www.eui.eu/en/academic-units/school-of-transnational-governance

About the University of Lucerne Institute of Social Ethics (ISE)

The Institute of Social Ethics ISE undertakes research and teaching in social ethics. This includes scientific reflection on the ethical dimension of social contexts, challenges and issues. Institutions, structures, and systems are the focal point. On this scientific basis, the ISE is a dialogue partner for politics, business, civil society and the media on a local, regional, national, and international level. For more information, visit www.unilu.ch/en/faculties/faculty-of-theology/institutes-and-research-units/institute-of-social-ethics-ise

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Responsible Data Leadership to Address the Challenges of the 21st Century

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