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Digital technologies and peace mediation — Can Finland drive peacetech development?

Published on Thursday, 17 September 2020

CMI’s Acting Executive Director Hanna Klinge.

Peacetech is a new kid on the block in the field of peace mediation and conflict resolution. Finnish technology coupled with its peace mediation proficiency could significantly accelerate the growth of peacetech. But what is peacetech all about?

War and peace are not the first things that come to mind when we consider the impacts of digitalisation on the world. Yet most of us still remember the “Twitter revolutions” that took place in North Africa and the Middle East. These showed that social media and other communications applications can be important channels for social change.

Technological development also produces weapons and the instruments of force used in conflicts. Technology shapes the nature of warfare. Terrorist organisations, dictatorships and military groupings harness new technology to further their agendas. The recruitment and propaganda machinery of the ISIS terrorist organisation in the West was strongly centered on social media and its manipulation. State actors have integrated  information war into their operations. The conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East are strongly bound up with choreographing media.

The good news is that alongside all this much thought is being given to how technology can be used to improve peace mediation processes and practices. The UN, for one, has developed the Digital Toolkit for peace mediators. This contains concrete examples of using digital technologies for conflict analysis, engaging with conflict parties, strengthening inclusivity, and strategic communications.

The fact is, however, that the use of technology in peace mediation is in its infancy, and there are few examples of concrete practical applications.

CMI is investing in the use of technologies in peace mediation. Conflicts (actors, disputes, and relationships between them) can be modelled by using network analysis and big data analysis. This way  conflict analysis and impact assessment can be improved in support of peace mediation.

Also, efforts will be made to develop web-based tools for inclusive decision-making and foresight, as they can be used to gather and visualise the ideas, recommendations and assessments of different groups related to a peace process. Currently, the most obvious benefit of technology to us peace mediators has been the abundance of virtual dialogues that make our work possible during the Covid-19 pandemic.

One reason for the slow development of peace technologies is that it requires pooling of a wide range of expertise, not all of which can be found in the peace mediation community. New technology cannot be created without the involvement of tech companies, engineers and developers. An effective peacetech ecosystem needs contributions from companies, innovators, researchers, and collaboration across fields. New platforms are also needed to facilitate such encounters and launch such collaboration.

Can Finland be a global leader in developing technology to support peace? We have robust expertise in both peace mediation and technology. The Finnish value base and our position as a small, sufficiently neutral country also create good opportunities for the development of peace technologies that could be of benefit for the field as a whole.

Ultimately, the update of technology is also about trust, ethics, and presenting  opportunities for people to participate — issues that are dear to us all.