The ICT4Peace Foundation welcomes the release of the UN’s ‘Performance Peacekeeping’ Report, looking at the how technology in general and ICTs in particular can strengthen the mandate of the UN’s peacekeeping efforts and missions. The Expert Panel on Technology and Innovation in UN Peacekeeping was launched by Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General Department of Peacekeeping Operations and Ameerah Haq Under-Secretary-General, Department of Field Support, and chaired by Jane Holl Lute. The ICT4Peace Foundation was closely consulted in the creation of this report, which we feel reflects the ideas and recommendations the Foundation has, over many years, urged the UN to embrace as part of its Crisis Information Management (CiM) portfolio.
From the Foundation’s perspective, this report by the Expert Panel on Technology and Innovation in UN Peacekeeping, complements the UN Secretary General’s report of 10 October 2014 on Information and Communication Technology in the United Nations (A/69/517), to better exploit the enormous potential of ICTs for decision-making and delivery capacity of the United Nations in the areas of peace and security, humanitarian operations and development, human rights and international law.
‘Performance Peacekeeping’ reflects many months of hard work and intensive consultations. The Foundation has met with members of the Panel and its Secretary repeatedly in New York and Berlin, providing input based on years of working with UN peacekeeping missions around info-sec, and the use of ICTs for situational awareness, crisis management and strategic communications. Just a few weeks before the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the Foundation undertook a mission to work with MINUSTAH with the UN’s Chief Information Technology Officer. This mission led to, unexpectedly, the exploration of new ways around how information from within the UN and importantly, from outside it, could help disaster resilience, response and recovery – ideation at the time that was path-breaking. It also lead to the development of the UN SG’s Crisis Information Management Stratgy (CiMS) in 2010. In 2014, at the invitation of the UN’s DFS, the Foundation undertook a week’s mission to MONUSCO which also involved training around CiM and the facilitation of conversations around the very tools, principles and recommendations presented in ‘Performance Peacekeeping’.
In June 2014, Daniel Stauffacher was invited to meet with the Expert Panel at the Centre of International Peace Operations, ZIF in Berlin, around the following questions,
- What available technologies have the potential for improving the conduct of peace operations?
- (How) are they employed by the United Nations and other organizations? What lessons have been learned?
- What are the challenges evolving around the use of these technologies? How can they be addressed properly?
As we noted at the time,
Decision makers increasingly rely on high quality, near real-time data to inform operational and administrative decision-making. The data that is fed into information management tools can come from various sources. At the operational level, this data might be captured by reports from peacekeepers in the field, GPS tracks or satellite data. In addition, “crowdsourcing” can play an important role. Cell phones and smart phones, now cheaper and more available to the average citizen, can produce and transmit decentralized/public data, to produce reports on violence or damaged infrastructure.
These points are echoed in the Expert Panel’s final report.
The report’s emphasis on interoperability is a key determinant in the Foundation’s own substantive input to the UN’s peacekeeping divisions in particular, and the UN system writ large, based on the belief that in order for the institution’s many faces to work as a single responsive, agile, effective and efficient entity, the sharing of information in a timely manner is deeply entwined with its mission. We have trained UN staff around ISR technologies, including open source information verification, data visualisation and mapping. ‘Performance Peacekeeping’ flags the need for standardised mobile telephony and Internet access to augment, especially during crises, proprietary communications infrastructures and platforms by various peacekeeping actors. Combined with surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) tools, working with, inter alia, open source information sources, the Foundation is pleased that the authors of the report acknowledge how much can be done using tools that are today either open source, freely available online or can be, with little to no cost in most instances, adapted and adopted for peacekeeping purposes – along with obviously larger and deeper investments around information management at the enterprise level.
The Foundation is particularly pleased to note the emphasis on innovation, and in particular a culture of innovation within the UN’s peacekeeping sector. The UN Crisis Information Management Advisory Group (CiMAG) – (see UN Secretary General’s Report to the General Assembly of 10 October 2014 on Information and Communication Technology in the United Nations (A/69/517), led by the Chief of the UN’s Office of Information and Communications Technology (OICT) Ms. Atefeg Riazi, and since 2008, actively facilitated by the Foundation – has for years explored and highlighted innovations from the crisis mapping community as well as private sector that can help strengthen the UN’s mandate. DFS and DPKO are lively participants in these dialogues at CiMAG.
The Foundation supports many of the key recommendations in the ‘Performance Peacekeeping’ report, some of which are highlighted here:
- DPKO and DFS should work with UN Agencies, Funds and Programmes and other humanitarian actors in the field to establish a common information exchange policy and protocols sensitive to humanitarian principles, to enhance common situational awareness and understanding,and explore the use of available inter-agency data-sharing tools.
- Every mission should undertake a comprehensive review (at least) annually of its information priorities, as well as its information gathering, management, analysis and dissemination practices as measured against those priorities.
- To enable missions to make better immediate use of open source information, the UN should reiterate the policy that lifts Internet restrictions for those engaged in open source information collection, and provide training on basic cyber security and ethics protocols. It should also ensure that open source analytic tools are immediately available and accessible to those whose core business requires them.
- Peacekeeping missions should seek to incorporate technology in the design and implementation of protection of civilians strategies, in particular their early warning and early response mechanisms.
- Missions must take care to protect sensitive information as well as the privacy of particularly vulnerable individuals in protection scenarios.
- DPKO and DFS should partner with—and learn from—others innovating within the UN system and with external leaders in technology and innovation.
- DPKO and DFS should establish a dedicated office for technology and innovation, supported by a small advisory group and field-based innovation incubators, together with a small cadre of “technology scouts”, designated centres of excellence within the UN and an “idea factory”.
- DPKO and DFS should commit to a broad programme of continuous learning and training, and the establishment of forums where new technologies or innovations could be presented and discussed.
The Foundation looks forward to working with our partners in the UN to substantively implement these recommendations, and others around ICTs, in the peacekeeping domain.