Center on Conflict and Development, Texas A&M
I. The Problem
How can donors close the feedback loop between themselves and local institutions in war-to-peace transitions? Donors often do not understand how their behavior positively or negatively affects the dynamics within countries emerging from civil war. They often lack real relationships with the communities that they aim to serve, failing to receive regular feedback from them about the evolution of the country’s local level dynamics. Instead, donors monitor conflict and cooperation among elites without engaging local institutions and the diverse perspectives of the country’s population. The lack of direct feedback from conflict-affected populations undermines donors’ understanding of the relationship between their aid allocation strategies and the evolution of a country’s war-to-peace transition. We argue that geocoded aid data and information communications technologies, such as crowdsourcing, can help donor agencies to keep on top of a dynamic political context, engage with community members and local institutions, and respond quickly to information that is presented in clear maps. Geocoding of the aid given by donors, crowdsourcing that enables populations to ‘speak’ directly to donors, and the visualization of this data through maps together create a powerful approach to enable donors to better understand the relationship between their aid and the evolution of a country’s war-to-peace transition. Better informed donors will, hopefully, be better able have a more positive influence on these dynamics.
II. The Solution
This project will employ a triad of approaches to gather data on donor behavior and conflict and cooperation events in war-to-peace transitions: geo-coding of donor behavior, support for the development of crowdsourcing platforms, and the visualization of donor behavior and crowdsourced data. We will pilot our research approach in Sudan and DRC with key donors, with whom our research team has strong contacts. We are currently in discussions about this approach with UN Volunteers, UNDP-Sudan, and World Bank Open Government Practice, all of whom are interested in using these mapping and crowdsourcing technologies to close the feedback loop between international donors and the populations in the conflict-affected countries that are supposed to benefit from their assistance. Well-targeted support from Conflict and Development at Texas A&M University would enable us to lay the foundation for a larger approach that couples mapping and crowdsourcing of war-to-peace transitions, enabling us to refine the approach and demonstrate its value and relevance to the broader community of donors.
The project focuses on two relatively contemporaneous peace processes in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Sudan / South Sudan. We will employ the geocoding methodology pioneered by one of the authors of this proposal (Prof. Findley) to gather information on sub-national aid flows, and use GIS software to generate maps and visualizations of the crowdsourcing data and subnational aid information. To crowdsource information on conflict and cooperation events in war-to-peace transitions, we will collaborate with local telecommunication companies to develop an initial framework for a platform whereby citizens can send anonymous SMS/text messages via cellular telephones about the evolution of local-level conflict and cooperative dynamics.
IV. Expected Outcomes
This is a pilot project and its purpose is to initiate the innovative combination of three techniques – geocoding aid, crowdsourcing, and mapping/visualization – to begin to close the feedback loop between international aid and local communities in war-to-peace transitions. The initial results of this study and methodology employed will be published as an article, which we will then distribute to the policy community through our partner organizations – United Nations Volunteers, World Bank Open Government, and UNDP-Sudan – as well as Texas A&M (if funded), the Geneva Peacebuilding Platform, and AidData. We will also produce maps and visualizations based on the data to include in our report to policy makers. The results will also be used to enable efforts to bring the project to scale within and across multiple conflict-affected countries.
V. Budget estimation
The project requests 9,600 USD to pay research staff that will geocode donor behavior in DRC and Sudan over the 2014-2015 academic year. We will hire a Research Assistant to work at 15 USD an hour for 20 hours per week for the total 32 weeks of the academic year. The project requests an additional 15,000 USD for travel to DRC (2 round-trip tickets at approximately 1,500 USD) and South Sudan (2 round-trip tickets at approximately 2,000 USD) over the 2014-2015 academic year. The remaining 8,000 USD will be used towards securing hotel accommodations, in-country travel, food, and local research assistants to support the field work in each country. While in DRC and Sudan, we will gather information on donor behavior from the government and donors; meet telecommunication companies to establish the foundations for the crowdsourcing (CrowdPeace) platforms; and talk with partners in the international donor community, government, communities, and civil society who are stakeholders in this project.
We currently have a grant from the Swiss Network for International Studies (SNIS), which we would leverage to enable this proposed grant to be more successful. Under the current grant, we are investigating donor behavior in conflict-affected countries, but mapping and crowdsourcing are outside the scope of the current project. With a grant from ConDev at TAMU, we would be able to leverage existing data efforts and contacts to make the crowdsourcing components fully feasible. That is, we would devote effort on research in the SNIS grant to obtaining baseline data that we would be able to build on with research assistant funds and subsequent travel related to the ConDev grant. Also the SNIS grant provides some travel funds for DRC and Sudan, and a grant from ConDev would enable us to make a follow-up trip so that we could advance work with contacts in developing a crowdsourcing framework.