Editor   12 Dec 2019   Diplomacy, E-Diplomacy

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Geneva, Switzerland, 19 November 2019: Diverse stakeholders in conflict mediation and technology discussed the findings of the CyberMediation Initiative, and the impact of new technologies on mediation. 

The one-day conference on digital technologies and mediation was the culmination of the work of the CyberMediation Initiative, launched by DiploFoundation, swisspeace, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD), and the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (UNDPPA) in March 2018. The event gathered more than 80 participants from several groups of stakeholders: diplomats; mediators; technology experts; civil society; and, academia.

As technological developments yield influence on every aspect of our lives, mediation is not immune from the influence. With the proliferation of digital technologies, peace mediation has shifted to a more open and inclusive approach. While the transformation is irreversible, and the influence is unavoidable, digital technologies have the potential to bring more inclusivity and efficacy in mediation processes. Setting the stage for the daily discussion, Dr Jovan Kurbalija (Executive Director of DiploFoundation) called for cross-sectoral, cross-organisation co-operation, saying ‘if you want to go fast you go alone, if you want to go far you go together.’ Mr Ashif Khan (Chief of the UN Mediation Support Unit) introduced the newly launched online mediation support tool, the Digital Mediation Toolkit. He explained that it will help peace mediators increase their digital literacy and their awareness of digital safety and security issues in the peace mediation landscape, the complexity of which continues to increase through the diversification of conflict, its causes, and actors involved. 

Executive Director of DiploFoundation Dr Jovan Kurbalija highlighting the need for a multistakeholder approach to CyberMediation

Discussing the CyberMediation Initiative’s findings, Mr Enrico Formica (Senior Political Officer, Mediation Support Unit, United Nations Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs) stressed that technology does not replace, but rather complements, face-to-face meetings. However, in order to benefit from the use of digital tools in mediation, the panellists agreed that it is important to build trust in the tool itself in addition to the mediator. Dr Katharina Höne (Senior Researcher, DiploFoundation) highlighted that bringing different constituencies together plays a key role in developing capability in mediators to leverage digital tools as well as mitigating confusion around the technical aspects of CyberMediation.

Panellists sharing the findings of the CyberMediation Initiative
Leveraging social media has shifted peace mediation from an exclusive event to a participatory one. Mr Andreas Hirblinger (Researcher, Center on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva) explained that social media can enhance the legitimacy of the mediation process by including the otherwise marginalised population. At the same time, new challenges emerge, such as the lack of a definition of digital inclusion in the context of mediation and the arbitrary selection of a platform for mediation. The discussion highlighted the possibility of social media as an early warning system for conflict. Mediators can identify risks and take action through analysing postings on social media.
Considering artificial intelligence (AI) and trust, Dr Höne explained three types of trust in AI in the context of mediation: trust in tools of mediation; trust in mediators; and, trust in parties in conflict. Trust in mediation tools should be enhanced through obtaining consent to the process; strengthening data security and privacy; and, demanding transparency on algorithms. Mr Miloš Strugar (Senior Mediation Advisor and Director of the Conflux Center) said that ‘do no harm should be a guiding principle for the use of technology in the mediation process,’ shedding light on the key elements of integration of AI into mediation. Highlighting the complementary role that AI plays in peace mediation, Ms Elenore Pauwels (United Nations University) elaborated that accountability should not be undermined by the use of automation technology in decision-making. Ms Stefania Grottola (PhD researcher, University of Geneva) emphasised that the engagement with the private sector should be open, transparent, inclusive, and agile, which can encourage each actor to take a proactive approach towards CyberMediation and the associated risks.

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