I’ve waited years for a conference like this: “Early Warning for Protection: Technologies and Practice for the Prevention of Mass Atrocity Crimes.”
This high-level conference combines my main areas of interest: conflict early warning, crisis mapping, civilian protection and technology. I’ll be giving a keynote presentation on “The Potential of New Technologies in Conflict Early Warning” at this conference next week, and I’m particularly looking forward to the panel that will follow, co-organized with my colleague Phoebe Wynn-Pope.
The conference will explore a number of issues.
- What is the role of new technologies in conflict early warning and how do they interact with more traditional monitoring systems?
- How can we harness, coordinate, and utilize the sometimes overwhelming amount of information available?
- What systems and mechanisms need to be put in place to ensure effective early-warning is given?
- How does the humanitarian sector work effectively with communities at risk once early-warning has been sounded?
- How can a change in attitude and behavior at a policy level be brought about in a way that forestalls a descent to violence?
In preparing for the presentation, I started re-reading some papers I had written several years ago including this one from 2008: “Bridging Multiple Divides in Early Warning and Response: Upgrading the Role of Information and Communication Technology” (PDF). I will base my presentation in part on this paper and welcome any feedback readers may have. If you don’t have time to read a 25-page paper, here’s a short summary in bullet point format:
- The field of conflict early warning has largely been monopolized by academics who are obsessed with forecasting conflict.
- Operational conflict early warning systems are little more than glorified databases.
- The conflict early warning community’s track-record in successfully predicting (let alone preventing) armed conflict is beyond dismal.
- State-centric and external approaches to conflict early warning and rapid response have almost systematically failed.
- The disaster early warning community have long advocated for a people-centered approach to early warning given the failures of top-down, institutional methods.
- The disaster early warning community has been an early adopter of new technologies, particularly those engaged in public health.
- The purpose of a people-centered approach is to empower individuals so they can mitigate the impact of a disaster on their livelihoods and/or to get out of harm’s way.
- Preparedness and contingency planning are core to a people-centered approach since natural hazards like earthquakes can’t be easily predicted let alone stopped.
- Given the dismal failure of conflict early warning systems, the conflict prevention community should make conflict preparedness and contingency planning a top priority.
- Precedents for a people-centered approach to conflict early warning exists in the fields of strategic nonviolent action and digital activism.
- More importantly, communities that experienced conflict have developed sophisticated coping strategies to evade and survive.
- Some of these communities already use technologies to survive.
I will expand on these points with several real-world examples and, more importantly, will combine these with what I have learned over the past two years, specifically in terms of crisis mapping, new technologies and civilian resistance. I’m excited to put all of my thoughts together for this conference, and I especially look forward to feedback from readers and conversing with participants.