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Build Peace: How we reflected, learned and adapted in 2016
On September 9-11 in Zurich, Switzerland, the Build Peace conference again brought together technologists, artists, researchers, and practitioners with the express goal of learning to better build peace through technology. This 2016 conference rounded off Build Peace’s third year as an annual, international gathering where each iteration has seen changes and growth in often unexpected ways. I’m writing from the organizing team to share a bit about how Build Peace reflects, learns, and adapts from year to year.
I feel it is important to start by saying that Build Peace is a community before it is a conference. This is a guiding principle that informs our efforts to reflect and adapt. As any community of practice, the Build Peace community is made up of people who engage in collective learning around a shared domain and form relationships that contribute to a repertoire of resources, experiences, stories, and tools that advance the domain’s praxis. We think it is important to view learning and innovation as a group process and to recognize that meaningful participation in this process requires time and sustained interaction. This is where the Build Peace conference holds its value. As an organizing team we want the conference to simply reflect where the community is and where it wants to go.
Now, pinning those dynamic aspirations down into a weekend’s schedule of workshops, talks, and panels can be easier said than done and depends largely on community reflection and feedback. Here are a few of the methods we have employed to track engagement both in between and during the conferences:
An Appgree channel to ask questions as logistical as “Should we have Build Peace on a weekend?” to others as evaluative as “What do you want less of at BP 2016?”
Facilitated time built into the closing session of the conference for a more low-tech option of asking evaluative questions live and in-person to all of the attendees.
An open Google Doc during drafting stages of the conference concept note for targeted programmatic feedback.
Google group mailing list
A Reflections blog: a space for people to dive deeper into themes discussed at the conferences, explore themes they would like to see, or get feedback on their own work.
A separate debrief form for the organizing team’s learning and observations.
As you’ll see, none of these methods are inherently innovative. They are tools in a process of learning that, as readers of DME for Peace know, require further action. As observed by Marshall Wallace in a BP 2015 session, “if a team continues to act the same way after “learning,” than they didn’t.” With the why and some of the how described, I’d like to finish with “so what.” Following are some examples of adaptations and outcomes that have come out of these reflective efforts:
Adding the arts: The 2014 conference really focused on the function technology can play in peacebuilding. Build Peace 2015 introduced an arts program around the conference, bringing socially engaged art in to happen around the more technical conference program. Due to its success, Build Peace 2016 mainstreamed the arts track as a core component of the conference program through workshops, speakers, and other events.
Building peace: Many expressed the desire for the conference to be more applied, versus the theoretical or academic discussions available elsewhere. The 2016 program tried to reflect this with sessions focused around in-field insights. In the realm of doing, we also partnered with International Alert to have a 36-hour #peacehack where prototype technology solutions to peacebuilding challenges were actually being created during the conference. Finally, the Build Peace Fellows Program was launched earlier in the year and the fellows’ projects were incorporated into the conference.
More connecting: As it turns out, 15 minute coffee breaks in between a packed program schedule isn’t enough to build the relationships central to a community of practice. The 2016 conference doubled the hours of collaborative workshop and informal discussion time to create more spaces for making valuable connections. We also planned (or didn’t plan) an Unconference into the program where participants made agendas based on whatever topics they either wanted more of or thought that we missed.
As the dust of Build Peace 2016 now begins to settle, next year’s gathering of the Build Peace community is already on the horizon. If you were at the conference or followed from afar, we want your thoughts both on your experience this year and directions you want to see the conference go in years to come.
For those just joining, information on the past three conferences is available at http://howtobuildpeace.org/. You can also connect with us on Facebook, follow the Twitter feed @howtobuildpeace, and while doing the rest, listen to the 2016 Build Peace Mixtape from Luis Puig.
About the author: Julie Hawke is on the organizing team for Build Peace and collaborates on other projects with Build Up. Her work focuses on youth engagement and technology driven responses to conflict.