Last month, I had the privilege of speaking at Good Tech Fest 2024. This was my fourth consecutive year speaking at the event, but it felt like the worst possible time to discuss data and peacebuilding. I submitted my synopsis before October 7th, and in the months leading up to the event, I frequently considered withdrawing. The enormity of the topic and my fear of feeling like an imposter loomed over me, especially since our efforts often seemed ineffective against large-scale international conflicts.  

Despite my hesitation, I procrastinated and delayed the decision to pull out. In March, I travelled to Mildura for ChangeFest and met with many friends and collaborators, including Alister Ferguson. Together, we decided to move forward with our session, focusing on practical discussions about fostering peace through data and combating misinformation. 

The Power of Data in Peacebuilding 

Data can provide insights that inform policy, enhance transparency, and build trust within communities. When used ethically and effectively, data can highlight issues that contribute to power inequalities and provide a basis for dialogue and resolution. Alister emphasised the importance of data sovereignty and strategic sharing. Data sovereignty ensures that communities control their own data, fostering trust and cooperation. Strategic sharing allows local communities, national, and state governments to collaborate on peacebuilding initiatives, pooling resources and insights to develop comprehensive strategies. 

Australian Examples  

One initiative is in Bourke, where local backbone Maranguka leads the Justice Reinvestment effort and shared decision making efforts. Federal and state governments collaborate along with local service providers, by sharing data to better understand key issues that matter to the community. This collaboration enables effective responses, preventing escalation and fostering community security. 

Another example is the use of data to combat misinformation in elections, a significant driver of conflict. Coordinated efforts by Reset Australia to collect and disseminate accurate information help communities counteract false narratives and reduce tensions, improving information flow and building resilience against misinformation campaigns. 

Challenges and Ethical Considerations 

While the potential of data in peacebuilding is immense, several challenges and ethical considerations must be addressed. Privacy concerns are paramount, as data misuse can lead to rights infringements. Ensuring ethical data use requires robust frameworks and regulations to protect individuals and communities. 

Another challenge is the digital divide. Not all communities have equal access to technology and data, exacerbating existing inequalities. Peacebuilding efforts must include measures to bridge this divide, ensuring all voices are heard and represented. 

Moving Forward 

Alister and I concluded our session with the acknowledgement that peacebuilding is primarily done between people, with data and digital complementing it. We want to see more inclusive and ethical data practices. Ongoing collaboration between tech developers, policymakers, and community leaders is essential. By working together, we can harness the power of data to create more peaceful and resilient communities in Australia and, we hope, internationally. 

Despite the challenges, the potential for data to contribute to peacebuilding is significant. With a commitment to sharing, access, transparency, and ethical considerations, data can be a powerful tool for building trust, fostering understanding, preventing conflict, and creating lasting peace. 

For more insights, access the session “Peacebuilding with Data: Is it Possible?” here. 

International Resources  

In preparation for our talk, I researched and found a number of digital peacebuilding initiatives and tools. Here’s a digital peacebuilding toolkit. Additionally, because PeaceTech is an emerging tech start-up ecosystem around the world there are a number of challenges. Here’s a summary of a Founders workshop about the specific needs of PeaceTech ventures. 

Kristi Mansfield, Co-founder and CEO, Seer Data & Analytics