What do you think?

Do you think PAX is a good idea? Will it work? How can it deal with problems such as false information, blocked communications, and different languages? And do you have ideas on funding?

Click here to send a comment - and we will upload a selection of comments to the Comments Panel. Please tell us your name, country you are contacting us from and whether you want your comment to be published anonymously.

Comments Panel

‘This is a very interesting and very important undertaking… This whole issue is of great interest to me.  I am convinced that after the mobile phone revolution in Africa, the Internet will become the next big thing in underpinning sustainable development… The project is laudable in principle but I fear that too many key influencers will look the other way even when faced with overwhelming evidence.  If this project is able to somehow generate political activism on the ground whereby the country's own people can force change in their own Governments - ala Eastern Europe 1989 - then it will be worthwhile.'

Ross Macdonald PalmTree Technology and formerly of MTN

‘A crowdsourcing approach has a more long-term perspective.  Crowdsourcing constitutes in my opinion the 4th generation of Early Warning systems.  You will find today already a couple of crowdsourcing platforms available. Best known is of course Ushahidi. Then there is for example SwiftRiver, a relatively new Open Source platform for crowdsourcing and more are probably in the pipeline. The beauty of these new approaches is, that they leave the door open for a lot of creativity of their potential users.’

Gerd Hagmeyer-Gaverus Stockholm International Peace Research Institute

‘Your project has real merit and we will follow your progress with interest’

Martin Sweeting Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd

‘We agree with the assumption underlying Pax’s approach, namely that political will is not a fixed quantity but responsive to persuasion and that digital technology can play a key role in 1) identifying impending conflicts earlier, with higher confidence and with much higher level of detail as to the timing and geographical location of what is happening and 2) to use technology, and in particular, audiovisual imagery not available through standard channels as a tool for persuasion (private and public) . Furthermore, we also agree that it is important to link warning with response structures and to empower citizens both as warner and as conflict preventers….  Are you really in the business of early warning, rather than late or crisis warning? Satellite technology is pretty useless for early warning except for cases when violence has reached a high level already, whereas mobile technology can be useful to spot ethnic riots before they occur. Satellite imaging can be, however, very useful to highlight ongoing or past human rights violations and convince potential aggressors that they are being watched.’

Christoph Meyer FORESIGHT, King's College London

‘Pax will definitively be a very useful tool particularly in areas with limited access to new technologies where militia/armed groups or police are tempted to use this weakness to commit crimes without any fear of prosecution’

Landry Ninteretse Amahoro Youth Club, Burundi

'I remain unconvinced PAX will be able to sort the wheat from the chaff - separating outbreaks of violence which might escalate from those which are purely local. The best next stage would surely be a reality test, using a current/very recent protest or outbreak of local unrest. How would PAX deal with what has been happening in Cairo? Would it really contribute new knowledge, over and above that already provided by the news media? If Yes, that would indeed be great. But until it's tested, I for one am unsure.'

Winston Fletcher Consultant

'An excellent idea - - - ! This has got to be worth trying even if the political and military options often remain limited.

If we'd had advance warning of China's invasion of Tibet, in 1950, would we have done any more than we did then? Or taken on North Korea or Zimbabwe, or Israel for that matter, with anything sharper than words?

Even so, being visible to world opinion may slow down or dissuade dictators from the most obvious and violent oppressions.'

John Coppinger

PAX sounds like it has the potential to be very useful as a tool for responding to conflict in certain situations.  For example, the xenophobia crisis in South Africa which emerged in 2008, where there wasn’t enough prior awareness of the rising tensions, among institutions and organizations responsible for resolving conflict and building peace.  Perhaps also currently in Swaziland, where elements of civil society have expressed regret over the international community’s lack of attention to the situation in the country, which now teeters on the edge of crisis. But is insufficient “early warning” really the main problem when it comes to many conflicts?  Very often, there is plenty of awareness among the local, national or international peacebuilding and even journalist communities about conflicts which are already happening, such as in Northern Uganda, Somalia, Zimbabwe: yet these conflicts fester on.  How will PAX be helpful in these situations?  The possession of “information” by non-governmental organisations, policy groups, journalists and people in the conflict zone, although important, is not the remedy it might seem for peacebuilding success.  There is also the question as to whether information produced by such platforms will be adequately used, or will it create expectations which won’t be met?  For example the project initiator of Voix des Kivus, a pilot deployment of ushahidi led by Columbia University in South Kivu province of DRC, says that although “many organizations expressed great interest in the concept and the data… we do not know of any serious reactions from international actors to the messages coming in, including real time reports of attacks and abuses. Phone holders have continued to engage with the system despite the poverty of reactions, but we cannot expect that to continue forever.” (see http://blog.ushahidi.com/index.php/2011/05/16/voix-des-kivus-a-crowd-seeding-system-in-drc/.)

Technology such as PAX is great. But what requires equal innovation and funding is the response of the various conflict resolution actors to use the information it produces for maximum peacebuilding effect.

Antonia Porter Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding Support, Centre for Conflict Resolution, Cape Town, South Africa

While the track record of key actors, domestic or international, responding to growing signs of tension is not great, I think a system like you are working on is part of the solution.  The signs of trouble are a bit nebulous; hindsight is always easier than foresight.  It is tempting to sit tight and hope for the best.   If you develop a good system that is not expensive to use, its track record in predicting trouble might make it easier to get key actors to recognize they must be proactive and not just wait.

 

In a different vein, bear in mind that elections are a time of both increased danger and opportunity.  Danger is obvious;  opportunity comes because everyone is more alert/engaged, and extra resources are flowing on all sides in the preparations for elections.   To the extent you can design this system in ways that work well in elections, I think you will find it easier to attract users with the resources needed to advance the technology.  There are lots of elections on a regular base, and lots of actors who need to track the atmosphere.   A low-cost way to evaluate conflict factors in the months leading up to elections would be widely used by many election bodies, election support agencies, and international actors, I believe.  

 

Making the software friendly to the task of going from "tension noted" to figuring out proactive responses, including peace messaging and shoes-on-the-ground peace strategies would greatly increase its value.  Eg: at a minimum, include carefully prepared, concise lists of possible response strategies (with examples of where used elsewhere) that are appropriate to each level of alert.    When conflict levels rise, people are under high stress and don't have a lot of time.   An easy connection between the info patterns identified in your system and presenting clear, concise info about possible responses would be important.

Ron Kraybill UNDP Lesotho

I came across the site on your initiative- which I find excellent and timely!  I hope there will be continued updates as you move along as our ability to scan the emerging trends for early warning signs, a paradigm shift away from hypothesis based research toward looking at the data first and then forming models based on this is a vital skill in the world of constant disruption.  Within UNDP we’re currently experimenting in a similar regard- we’re undertaking two prototypes in partnership with Patrick Meier (one with a for profit company Recorded Futures and one with the Harvard Medical Centre) on how on line data can be used for a more timely detection of emerging patterns and for learning about where that pattern may go next before it does.  We hope to have some results in the coming weeks so ill share in hope to get some of your expert feedback on what we do and maybe explore some potential for cooperation.

Milica Begovic UNDP