The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Noel Dickover, technical director of global network strategies at PeaceTech Lab, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) based in Washington, D.C. Dickover discussed the value of getting data into the hands of humanitarian workers on the ground, rather than just the leadership, as well as the importance of making this data usable in combating violent extremism.
Joshua New: PeaceTech Lab was created by the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), an independent federal institution, to use data and technology to help prevent and mitigate violent conflict. Why was there a need to improve how data is used in this space?
Noel Dickover: USIP created PeaceTech Lab to apply media, technology, and data in preventing violent conflict and promoting secure and peaceful societies around the world. Starting in 2008, the Lab’s work began as a Center of Innovation within USIP. Now an independent non-profit organization, the Lab shares USIP’s physical space and benefits from the Institute’s 30-years of expertise in peacebuilding, while pioneering new ways to achieve the Lab’s own mission. The PeaceTech Lab provides tech, media, and data tools and training to peacebuilders and their allies to enable them to be more effective. We work in conflict zones to build and sustain networks of local technologists and peacebuilders interested in addressing violent conflict. The data focus allows us to engage in two-way information sharing relationships with these folks on the ground. From a situational awareness standpoint, the hope is to combine a big data view with a local network and local data to get far more granular in our understanding of the drivers of conflict, as well as the mitigation strategies that would be most effective in addressing the conflict.
Just as an example, the Lab is experimenting with ways to use big data to revolutionize how the needs assessment process is conducted for peacebuilding interventions. Currently, peacebuilding programs incorporate conflict analysis and needs assessment to determine how to prioritize resources and design the intervention. This involves a combination of desk research, outreach to partners, and on-the-ground data collection. While there are a bevy of new options to enable more efficient means of local data collection including in challenging environments, very few are exploring the possibilities of applying tools like social media listening and news analytics to build a comprehensive picture of the drivers of conflict before ever setting foot on the ground. These tools have the potential to support more targeted local data collection processes and can serve as valuable proxy indicators for ongoing monitoring and evaluation by measuring events and perceptions.