Data for Peace & Security: Report of the Practitioners Workshop on Harvesting Best Practices and Building a Community of Practice (July 2019)


Summary and recommendations

As the world faces a significant upward trend in conflict—including a tripling of civil wars since 2007 and conflict increasingly prevalent in middle-income countries—practitioners in peace and security have sought to expand their toolkits to take advantage of the revolution in information gathering, data analytics, ICTs, and machine learning. A range of actors—multilateral organizations like the United Nations, governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the private sector—continue to invest in the capacity to make better use of data to promote peace and security.

In this context, there are many initiatives ongoing, often working in isolation. These include developing new practical and innovative data sources, better ways to mine and analyze data, algorithms, use of technologies like blockchain, and data-driven applications. New approaches have been developed with the objective to better define where the risks and threats to peace and security are most urgent, and where our assistance is needed most, in order to inform decisionmakers with better insights and information, and to generate a greater impact on the ground. In many cases, these efforts result in specific user-products which in turn inform the workflows of policy advisors, advocacy officers, conflict prevention, peacebuilding and development practitioners, and researchers around the world.

Nonetheless, the peace and security field lags behind other sectors, like the humanitarian and development fields, in using data to drive innovation and greater impact. It also lacks a community of practice across sectors (government, private sector, multilaterals, civil society, academia). This community is needed in order to identify and build on lessons learned, prioritize the most important needs and gaps, spark further innovation, prevent duplication, and to make sure product development is demand-driven.

In this workshop, which took place on March 20, 2019, in New York City, participants discussed how innovations in data are transforming the methods and the effectiveness of those working on early warning, conflict prevention, peacebuilding, stabilization, and international security. It was co-organized by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the NYU Center on International Cooperation, and the UN Peacebuilding Support Office.

The objective of the workshop was to generate ideas that will allow for a better use of data to promote peace and security by learning from each other, building on existing experiences, and sparking new partnerships. The workshop aimed to:

• Advocate for and showcase innovative data solutions to challenges in peace and security sector

• Create an international multi-stakeholder community of practice around data specifically in the peace and security field

There were more than 70 participants who came from around the world, including Australia,
Nigeria, Ukraine, Kenya, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Canada. They represented a broad set of sectors, including governments and multilaterals, international and civil society organizations, think tanks, and the private sector.

The day was organized around a mix of quick-and-dirty thematic sessions called “sprints” (which aimed to collect and exchange as much information and insights as possible from specific projects), a lunchtime marketplace of ideas, and plenary feedback and discussion. A total of 28 projects were showcased during the day: 17 in the sprints and 11 in the marketplace of ideas.

A post-workshop evaluation suggested a positive response. Out of 13 respondents, all but one said that the format was “just right” in terms of flow and dynamism, and quality scores for sprints, panels, etc., were mainly at the high end of the scale (85 percent of scores of “good” or “very good”). Every respondent said they had made at least one new professional contact, but most (85 percent) made at least 3, and a good number (38 percent) made 5 or more new contacts. As one participant summed it up: “Great experience to share what are data challenges and see what others are doing as well as sharing and networking.”

The workshop yielded five insights and opportunities:

• We are on the right track in initial attempts to use data-driven approaches.

• There is a role for a community of practice.

• Sharing data, applications, and platforms makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

• There is a need to focus on building capacity.

• Communicate, communicate, communicate!

And four challenge areas:

  1. Recognize that there are different kinds of expertise.

  2. Get real about bias in data and communicating about this bias.

  3. Find ways to reduce political sensitivity of findings.

  4. Improve our own practice