Public Support for Peacebuilding

The Alliance for Peacebuilding and Conciliation Resources recently conducted public opinion polls in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany.*

The results surprised us all.

Despite what the media and the pundits keep telling us, we actually are pretty much in agreement when it comes to  war and peace.  The survey demonstrated widespread support for peacebuilding efforts across all three countries.

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The Peacebuilders’ Challenge

How do we build support for a more peaceful world in a country that is as divided as the United States is today? Given the events of the last months, including the violence in Charlottesville and the remarks made by President Trump in the days that followed that might seem like an impossible task.

However, in the days after the protests, two things happened that give me hope. If we combine them, we could make some progress because both of these initiatives are encouraging.

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Technology, Innovation, and Peace

In the last few weeks, I’ve had three opportunities to see the progress we’ve made in see how information technology can be used to spark innovation in peacebuilding and just how much more progress we still have to make.

First, we at the Alliance for Peacebuilding attended the second annual CalCon conference at the University of San Diego’s Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice. I helped organize the event, and my colleague Stone Conroy made two pitches. Most of our time was spent hearing critiquing, and building momentum behind a humber of pitches on such topics as mapping peacebuilding activities, developing games in conflict zone, and using the Internet to foster reconciliation. Following up on the keynote address by Shamil Idriss of Search for Common Ground, we spent the three days exploring how IT could revolutionize our work. There was one problem, however. We did not have enough people in the room with the financial resources to turn those ideas into reality. That said, I did get to meet Eva Dimitriadis of C5Capital who invited AfP to the second event in my three weeks of intellectual exploration. Continue reading “Technology, Innovation, and Peace”

Reconciliation for the Holidays

This will be a quick post as we all get ready for the Holidays.

I just listened to the TED Radio Hour on NPR about reconciliation. It was filled with hopeful and inspiring ideas about what we can do to deal with our divided country from Bill Ury, JD Vance, Suzanne Barakat, Eli Pariser, and Elizabeth Lasser.

I’ve worked on reconciliation for a long time, yet some of these speakers were new to me.

Here’s the link.


These views are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Alliance for Peacebuilding.

Ideas from Robin Chase

chasezipI spent part of last week with Robin Chase, founder of Zipcar and author of Peers, Inc. Both in our one on one time together and in her keynote talk at the United States Institute of Peace’s Peace Tech Lab, she stressed two points, both of which we should all take to heart.

The first is the logic behind her book that outlines how a sharing or circular economy can be taken to scale and become a springboard for lasting social change. Her approach has three parts:

  • Identify excess or underused resources that can be brought to bear on a problem.
  • Use the private sector (the Inc.) and others to build open source platforms that can be used to address it.
  • Empower smaller groups (the Peers) to build applications that can take responses to the problem to scale.

Chase draws on dozens of examples, including Zipcar which she sold more than a decade ago and a new startup she works with, Veniam, that intends to create the “internet of moving things” and provide free Wi-Fi access in large urban areas. There are plenty of other examples that use technology as a base such as Etsy, Zappos, or Warby Parker. There are also examples of others that barely use technology at all, such as Delancey Street, which has built networks of success for ex-offenders and others who have been largely left out of the success of San Francisco and other large cities.

As Chase talked at the United States Institute of Peace, a lot of us were left asking how we could adapt her three steps to our field, peacebuilding. Without a doubt, it will be harder if for no other reason than we lack the (relatively) easy to apply metrics provided by profit and loss statements, growth rates in the short and long term, and so on.

Nonetheless, as the buzz in the room following her talk suggested, there is no shortage of possible ways we
could at least begin adapting her three insights. In fact, I will be basing the presentations I’m making around them starting with two dealing with redefining security in the next two weeks.

Second, I was just as taken by another point she made in this talk but only hinted at in the one I’ve linked to here. We live in a world that has more than its share of troubles and an increasingly large number of anger people. Chase worries about the possibility of a political, environmental, and economic revolution unless we find a way to speed human social evolution first.

I’m not as worried as she is about the chances of a revolution. Nonetheless, we do agree that the “trend lines” are driving Americans and others farther apart at a time when we need to find ways to overcome global challenges the only way we can possibly do so—through cooperative problem solving.

In short, we have decided that the “system” can be changed from within and that mainstream institutions—including the innovative  parts of the private sector—can become part of the solution and not remain part of the problem. That said, we also know that neither of us has anything like “the” answer.russellr

So, fire away. Questions. Comments. Criticisms.

I’d love to hear them.

So would Robin.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Alliance for Peacebuilding or its members.


Another Take on Wicked Problems

Because I used the term wicked problems in the subtitle of my recent book, I “have Google let me know any time someone else uses the term on thesec2.0 copyInternet. Until the last couple of weeks, I hadn’t received many notifications but then I got two from organizations that I had never heard of before–which is one of the reasons I signed up for the service in the first place.

Each drove home the importance of wicked problems and complexity theory of which they are a telling example.

imgres-3The first came from Gord Hotchkiss, who is a marketing constant with an abiding interest in the complexities of human behavior. He got my attention with his definition of a wicked problem, which is as good as any I’ve seen, including my own.

Wicked problems are thorny, complex, dynamic problems that defy black and white solutions. These are questions that can’t be answered by yes or no – the answer always seems to be maybe. There is no linear path to solve them. You just keep going in loops, hopefully getting closer to answer but never quite arriving at one. Usually, the optimal solution to a wicked problem is “good enough – for now.”imgres

As someone who works on security rather than marketing related issues, I couldn’t agree more. In fact, his argument that we need leaders who are more flexible, open to new ideas, and creative than has been the case in the past makes even more sense in the political world where I work than in his corporate milieu which has already seen considerable movement in those directions. It is hard to be optimistic about a future in which leaders address the complexity of daily life given the current presidential campaign or the debate on dealing with ISIS here in the United States.

Without going into the vast literature on international relations, there is no doubt that it is often harder to reach global security goals than those involving a single company. Nonetheless, it is hard to argue with the fact that there are “no black and white solutions” or “linear path” or, for that matter, any single, definitive way of addressing global wicked problems.

Just a couple of days later, Google sent me a bunch of notifications about sites that carried a story about the Human Computation Institute that had originally appeared in Science. On one level, the Institute’s work seems much narrower since it is primarily interested in crowdsourcing and related tools that help researchers deal with wicked problems. Nonetheless, their work is based on the assumption that we cannot make progress in dealing with any wicked problems—like all complex issues—unless the people involved work cooperatively with each other.coupled-672x372

When all is said and done, the two sites reminded me that we rarely seek cooperative solutions (via crowdsourcing or anything else) to wicked social, economic, and political problems. At the same time, it is hard to rebut their conclusion that we suffer from our failure to even think of wicked problems in those terms. That said, the recent Paris agreements on climate change do show that we can cooperate on what may be the ultimate wicked problem of our time and that, to succeed, such steps have to serve as building blocks for even more effectively and wide ranging cooperation down the line.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Alliance for Peacebuilding or its members.



Dealing with the Refugee Crisis

Peacebuilders and the Refugee Crisis

What follows is one peacebuilder’s take on the refugee crises gripping Europe and the Middle East. Please don’t read it as the official statement of my own or any other organization. In fact, I’m writing it in part to focus our own thinking about how my colleagues and I at the Alliance for Peacebuilding should respond

In the last few days, more and more observers have realized that we have to focus on what caused tens of thousands (so far) to flee as well as on the consequences of their arrival in and for Europe. Frankly, as difficult as it will be to integrate them, that should be doable. After all, a far weaker and poorer Germany integrated millions of refugees at the end of World War II.

syria peace

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