December 4, 2017 – Bogotá, Colombia - Juan Fernando Lucio, National Director of PASO Colombia, along with Nikki de la Rosa, Deputy Country Manager of International Alert in Philipines, participated in the opening dialogue of the annual Build Peace Conference held at the University of the Andes. This year’s conference, “Making Paper Count: New Forms of Citizen Participation in Peace Agreements,” brought together practitioners, activists, artists and technologists from around the world to discuss innovative approaches to amplify participation in peace agreements.
In the opening dialogue “Information and Communications Technologies for Citizens to Monitor Peace Agreements,” Juan Fernando Lucio talked about the work of PASO Colombia in gathering, processing and using information. He drew on lessons from the creation of “Map of Economic Opportunities,” an open source collaborative mapping resource created by PASO Colombia that uses Open Street Maps to identify and map economic opportunities for ex-combatants currently in the process of reincorporation. Nikki de la Rosa talked about her experience with Conflict Alert, a conflict monitoring system that was born around the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Conflict Alert provides the public with granular data about violence and it’s causes, consolidating data from police incident reports, media, and community validation groups.
The main themes discussed centered around one big challenge: how to go beyond the collect-store-access data process, and use information technologies to provide actionable and engaging data for stakeholders to use in peace-building.
Interaction between data and stakeholders begins with the actual data gathering. Juan Fernando Lucio raised the question about why an informant wants to inform. There are different types of sources depending on what kind of information you want to collect and each informant has their own motivations. For example, in the case of the research conducted by PASO in Cali with less favored communities about their views on the peace process “people really would like their information reflected on public action” said Lucio. “They feel that the authorities don’t know sufficiently what they want”. (See Report of the Dialogues for Peace Forum in the Hillside of Cali and Report of the Dialogues for Peace Forum in the East of Cali). On the other hand, when collecting information from mayors about the potential for economic reincorporation projects in their territories, their main motivation was to call attention to their need for public funding from the central government. When building information systems “you need to identify the interest of the informant to inform and make sure you satisfy that need if you want to use that informant again” stated Lucio.
Using and Communicating Data
Nikki de la Rosa argued that the biggest challenge is not just about collecting data “But what do we do with that data? It’s not useful if people are not using it to converse, if policymakers are not informed of the nuances of the conflict that’s happening. It’s not useful if the panels in discussion during the peace process are not informed of the dynamics that relate to rebellion related conflict”. The point goes beyond gathering and storing data. “The point is to use it and change the course of violence,” said De la Rosa.
“For the information to remain alive it needs to remain relevant. For it to remain relevant it needs to prove its use,” said Lucio. He agreed with de la Rosa that information should serve to raise data driven discussions and that the tools used should encourage its use for transforming data into action. He also pointed out that usability depends on taking the human side into account. “You have to be humble, leave aside the specialist discourse, and show the data in understandable and practical ways. The visual component is very important for information sharing. Maps and graphs are easier for focusing than numbers”.
Acting on Data
“Building peace is not so much about knowing, but about doing” affirmed Lucio. He raised the question about the necessity of governance structures to be flexible enough to be able to act upon new information. For example, the research of PASO about people’s views on the peace process in underprivileged neighborhoods in Cali showed a clear fracture between people’s perception of what was being negotiated in the Havana peace process, and the real challenges they faced in their daily lives. (See Report of the Dialogues for Peace Forum in the Hillside of Cali and Report of the Dialogues for Peace Forum in the East of Cali). Lucio commented how the national government had this information but it was not capable of acting accordingly, it failed in communicating how the peace process affected the everyday life of the people. This was one of the reasons that the plebiscite to approve the peace agreements was lost.
Regarding taking action based on data, Lucio added that “Too much information kills information. There is a moment when information is an excuse not to act. There are things that you will never know until you do.” He considers that a peace process goes through stages and you cannot wait until you have complete information about everything. Waiting only shows insecurity. You need to take action. You need to take reasonable risks and learn in the process. When building peace “you need to be like a jazz band” affirmed Lucio, you need to be able to improvise while keeping the pace and coordination between the different actors.