What we learned: reflections about technology, early warning systems and relationships from the MAVC project

From Early Warning to Response in the Prevention of Violence

A multi-stakeholder partnership between 5 organisational formations

photo-7Members of the ASC flew to the UK in September to meet partners from the Making All Voices Count (MAVC) project. Below are the reflections and observations about the project that were noted at the Symposium

The MAVC support to the partnerships enabled a deeper more intensive participatory research and learning engagement between existing members of the ACTION for Conflict Transformation network movement and partners of the ACTION Support Centre (ASC)

The partnership between the ASC and Coventry University also introduced a more robust research approach to the learning process. This aspect of the partnership assisted in strengthening the methodological components of the research and will add weight to the final insights and outcomes.

It is hoped that the envisaged Field Guide will also assist in closing the gaps between outsider interventions and local community based organisational needs.

It is also worth noting the shift in thinking within the research team over the course of the project;

  • Initially sought to harness the power of new technologies to make government more effective and accountable and strengthen citizens’ voices
  • A conceptual shift in thinking took place with regards to what an early warning focus constituted, ending up questioning the value and potential of early warning, in particular the focus on technology
  • Looked at relationships, how power is balanced and used, the concepts of early warning and response, citizen participation, and the role of technology
  • Allowed things to develop organically, with researchers going back and observing and then looking across the project at the common findings

Some Insights and Observations

  • Conflict prevention was not a term that resonated well with community understandings and conflict transformation approaches, hence the shift to ‘preventing violence’
  • Technologies have the potential to facilitate better connections between citizens and leaders, but they cannot replace relationships of trust and cooperation
  • Need for long term approaches that link short term responses to the shifts in dynamics to longer term social transformation intentions
  • Preventing violence requires different approaches in different contexts
  • The narrow framing of early warning does not get to the heart of the kinds of violence that affects people in their day-to-day lives. It also does not take into account different forms of violence (such as structural violence)
  • It is important to think about what is being ignored when a narrow early warning lens is applied
  • There should be an awareness of the need to transform conflict and deal with the root causes (‘early warning’ focuses on reducing prospects of violence and predicting and avoiding shocks or triggers rather than addressing root causes)
  • We cannot always predict or analyse when violence will break out, but we can build relationships resilient enough to deal with them
  • Relationships can be thought of as a muscle which can be trained to deal with the stress and strain of escalating tensions and violence
  • Technology must be underpinned by relationships. Phones can facilitate communication, but they do not build relationships
  • If we think about ‘ICT’ (Information Communication Technology), in fact information and communication are more relational than technical
  • Technology is an amplifier and facilitator – we need to think about the what and why of how we choose to amplify and facilitate aspects of relationships at community level and between multiple stakeholders
  • The process of introducing new technologies is more important than the destination of introducing them
  • Remember being both conflict sensitive and peace aware. Taking all opportunities to strengthen relationships
  • It is important to understand the systemic and structural causes of conflict and empower cooperative community driven efforts to address these
  • Neither government nor citizens are homogenous blocks and the relationship between them is not dichotomous
  • In every context there are key people with real agency, the ‘nodal connectors’ within the complex web of relationships (which are both horizontal and vertical)
  • It is important to link short-term responses to long term social transformation
  • Larger overarching systems such as the economic system of capitalism cannot be changed by simply confronting aspects of the system
  • We need to be subversive in our efforts to dislodge those in power who benefit form these kinds of systems
  • This means building local structures that can respond to local needs and linking and connecting these local efforts through a solidarity agenda that may over time create a critical mass that can make a difference
  • It is important to work on these issues across artificial boundaries – peacebuilding, humanitarian aid, development, etc.
  • While it is not necessary to make the politics explicit in what we do (because this can be counter-productive and close down spaces, it is still important to recognise the political nature of preventing violence
  • And for donors to understand this and work to provide support accordingly