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Private technology companies and the mediation of armed conflict

Published on 16 December 2019
Updated on 05 April 2024

We set out to bridge the gap between the sphere of mediation of armed conflict – traditionally defined as a low-tech environment – and the sphere of technology. Mediators and practitioners need a better understanding of the potential role of private technology companies in the field of peace mediation. Areas of co-operation and potential risks need to be clearly identified.

Drawing on a review of the uses of digital technologies in other fields, as well as interviews with mediators, international affairs practitioners, technology experts, and private company representatives, we divide our findings into three main areas: understanding peace mediation, engaging with the private sector, and bridging the gap between mediation and technology. Building on this, we draw three lessons for conflict analysis: inclusion, digital negotiations, and public information and communication.

Understanding peace mediation

In order to be effective and useful for the work of mediators, the presented technological solutions must easily fit into existing mediation processes, be secure, and adapt to local situations and technological contexts.

As pointed out by a Swiss-trained mediator, mediation processes are defined by different phases: a ‘pre-negotiation phase’, characterised by a process of building relations and keeping contact for a defined period of time; the ‘negotiation phase’, meant to support the development of a societal vision, as well as political issues as a form of power-sharing; and, a final ‘implementation phase’, designed to foster the enforcement of the peace negotiations outcomes. Thus, technological solutions not only need to fit the right context, but must also be able to support specific steps along the mediation process.

Engaging with the private sector

The second category of findings addresses the engagement with the industry, and more specifically, with private technology companies. In this regard, the research shows the importance of creating a clear framework of engagement between mediation units or organisations and technology companies in order to establish shared strategies, goals, and evaluate potential risks. This framework is best conceptualised along the lines of three levels of engagement between private companies and mediation teams: private user, customer, and partner.

Levels of engagement with private technology companies

Level Description Benefits Downsides
Free user Use of free tools and applications Quick and easy to set up and use Low customisation, low data privacy
Customer Paid use of products or services Customisation and customer support Requires budget and takes time to set up
Partner Co-operation for new products or services Tailored products and services Very time-intensive, hard to sustain

Mediation meets technology

The third category of findings looks at bridging the gap between mediation and technology by presenting a framework for the application of technologies to peace mediation. We distinguish between four different categories: conflict analysis; inclusion; digital negotiations; and, public information and communication.

Conflict analysis designates the way in which mediators research and analyse conflicts in specific local contexts. The work of mediators can be greatly facilitated through the use of technologies such as data analytics, geographic information systems, and sentiment analysis.

Regarding the inclusion of all relevant actors and conflict parties, social media, cloud services, and blockchain technologies can greatly improve communication, bridge distances and enhance trust in the mediation process.

Moreover, workflow tools and platforms, teleconferencing platforms, and cloud services can also alleviate the burden on mediators by introducing digital negotiation tools. These programmes can facilitate collaboration and improve collaboration between the parties.

Finally, public information and communication benefits from tools such as data visualisation, social media, and instant messaging, among others. These tools allow mediators to shape and control narratives, shed light on misinformation and amplify relevant messages.

Private technology companies and the mediation of armed conflict

Graphic by Cedric Amon, Stefania Grottola, Kirsten Salyer, and Victoria Tianyi Wang

Lessons for conflict analysis: 

Mediators must analyse the local technological landscape to determine Internet access, digital literacy, and the most-used tools and platforms. Digital technologies such as instant messaging applications, social media platforms, and sentiment analysis tools can crowdsource information and provide mediators with data about opinions, trends, and influencers. Crisis mapping, mainly using geographic information systems (GIS), can improve data analytics in peace mediators’ research on conflicts.

Lessons for inclusion: 

Digital technologies, particularly social media and instant messaging tools, can allow mediators to engage with a broader audience, providing instant communication and access to people in hard-to-reach or besieged areas. However, risks remain regarding the security of the partners, reliability of the information obtained through these channels, the spread of false information, and filter bubbles that limit access. Blockchain technologies could provide a secure, transparent means of inclusion.

Lessons for digital negotiations: 

Contact through digital technologies such as instant messaging and teleconferencing can help increase access to stakeholders and reduce intergroup conflict. Moreover, workflow and file sharing tools on digital platforms can improve collaboration, information sharing, and archiving. Nevertheless, cybersecurity issues must be taken into account when using these tools in a mediation context as well as the capacity and digital literacy of the mediators and the other parties.

Lessons for public information and communication: 

Digital technologies can help mediators shape and control the narrative in real time facing a broad audience. Mediators can use digital technologies such as social media platforms and sentiment analysis tools to identify influencers and amplify messages. Concerns include establishing trust and combating false information and hate speech.

About this research

The CyberMediation Capstone Project is a research project carried out by Mr Cedric Amon, Ms Victoria Tianyi Wang, Ms Stefania Grottola and Ms Kirsten Salyer, which supported the work of the CyberMediation Initiative, a partnership formed by the United Nations Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, DiploFoundation, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, and swisspeace. Created in March 2018, the Initiative aims to assess how digital technologies are affecting the peace mediation processes and to identify ways to support the work of peace mediators. Our full report can be found here

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