“Peace tech is a tool. Let’s keep people in the center.”

On last week’s Thursday we held a workshop asking “What is peace tech?”  Almost twenty people from technology, design and peace work gathered together to discuss how technology could support peace work around the globe.

At the beginning Maria Mekri from SaferGlobe gave an introduction to the topic. Peace is lack of violence as well as lack of need of violence. Therefore peace tech should be technology that reduces or prevents violence either in quantity or in quality.

After a conflict the violence usually doesn’t just go away. It alters into different forms. And even if the idea sounds rather harsh, sometimes things can be better by just being something less than lethal.

Small steps towards a better world

One of the key findings from the discussions was that there are no solutions that could fix everything. In the end, conflicts usually are very local by their nature. Even if the underlying reasons would be wider reaching the actions are always local.

Building peace that sustains requires always locals to be involved. From peace tech’s point of view this is a rather important point. Whatever the solution is it should be sensitive to the people in the middle of the conflict. How they feel about their lives? What kind of problems they have in their survival?

While some applications might be transferable from one environment to another you can take that as granted. So, instead of thinking of all the conflicts in the world at the same time let’s focus on individual cases. Let’s focus on small steps at a time.

Society-centric design

In IT we have learned to focus on the user. What the user wants? What problem our application solves for the user?

For peace tech this simply is not good enough. People who have worked with peace or development co-operation know that solutions that solve problems for some might cause problems for others. Being aware of both direct and indirect consequences is hugely important for peace tech solutions.

That’s why designing peace tech shouldn’t be user-centric. It should be society-centric. Taking into account local culture and sub-cultures. Always asking the question: if we do this, what else does it change?

Levels of technology

Often peace tech solutions begin with data visualization. What has happened? What could happen? They are tools that bring insight to the data we have available.

These kind of solutions are at their best on the global level. By comparing areas to each other we can predict and estimate the potential for conflicts. Again, considering the local nature of each potential conflict area found.

But technology doesn’t have to stay in global level. As the need of peace is on national or local level, we ought to find solutions nearer to people as well.  Honkela’s Peace Machine is a good example of a solution that comes near people all the way to personal.

It’s all about the people

Whether global or personal, technology is just a tool. Probably the key takeaway from our workshop was that in the end it’s all about the people.

We are responsible for building peace regardless of the tools available. Technology can definitely help us. It can open new ways and enforce the old ones. But it won’t do the work for us.

 

We, the humans, working together with the technology builds a whole new aspect of peace work in the future. Our discussion continues throughout the spring. The next workshop will be held on the April 19th about co-operation of humans and machines.