Last week we traveled to Nicosia, Cyprus for this year’s Build Peace conference to discuss how to build peace through - and with technology. Here are 10 things we learnt (or asked ourselves) at #buildpeace 2015.

Buildpeace is a new innovative conference format with the aim of creating synergies between the peacebuilding and the tech community (EIP was one of the co-sponsors). If you want to know more about the conference and the debates that happened in Nicosia - check the official conference website or read this blog post from our friends at peacedirect.

Here are 10 things we learnt (or asked ourselves) at #buildpeace 2015:

  1. Peacetech is going mainstream. Gone are the days when technology was a mere afterthought in a project or, even worse, an irrelevant topic for peacebuilding. Buildpeace 2015 was a strong reminder that technology has finally arrived in the peacebuilding sector.
  2. Technology is only one part of the peacebuilding toolbox. Although the toolbox is growing (from sms, digital skills trainings, social media campaigns, knowledge sharing via youtube to complex games, virtual reality, big data or humanitarian drones) we should not forget that using technology is not the solution to all problems. It’s about finding the right mix between old and new tools.
  3. Technology is not always good and it's not always bad. It often depends on the context. We also should keep in mind that conflict areas are often ‘low tech’ environments (60% of the world’s population is NOT online) and approaches that rely heavily on technological solutions may be counterproductive and may also exclude parts of the population
  4. Technology works best if we use existing platforms. Nobody needs to learn how to use facebook or minecraft; so instead of building new platforms and tools it might be more efficient to build projects on existing platforms and networks. However, this only works if those in control of these networks are in support of values underpinning peacebuilding.
  5. Towards ‘for-profit peace tech’? Do we need a ‘new peace tech industry’ as Sheldon Himelfarb suggested in his keynote? He called for huge scaling-up of peace tech, along the lines of government-funded investment in military industry during the cold war to increase efficiency – but also to change our mindset: We need more peace entrepreneurs who create market-based peacebuilding solutions that not only aim to solve conflicts but also create jobs.
  6. Learning from the ‘bad guys’? Are the ‘bad guys’ (especially ISIS) better organised and more efficient when it comes to social media? After all, they seemed to have developed sophisticated recruitment strategies and are able to inspire people. So does the peacebuilding community need to learn from ‘the bad guys’? Or is social media simply better suited for polarising content?
  7. We have enough pilot projects. Too many peacetech projects are pilot projects and never really scale up. The challenge for the coming years is simple: How to build scalable projects that are effective and work in different environments?
  8. Big data. Big data was certainly one of the most visible trends at #buildpeace. We have seen new maps, new polling approaches, new models to assess peace, new methods to analyse data. But do we analyse/measure the right thing - and do we draw the right conclusions from the data?
  9. Shaping tech policy? Does the peacebuilding community need to start thinking about how to change regulatory frameworks? If we do not get involved in defining the legal foundations that regulate the use of certain technologies we may not be able to use these technologies for peacebuilding efforts in the future.
  10. The future of peace tech?  We may have to look outside the peacebuilding sector to find inspiration. Seen from another angle, AirBnb is a great example how to build a profitable cultural/citizen diplomacy network. Or take the open source community – a decentralised network which is working on software projects for the common good.