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Remember the basics

Nicholas van Praag's picture

Earlier I wrote about ‘connect technologies’ like Twitter and YouTube, and how they are changing the way the world perceives and acts on conflict. Examples are the so-called Twitter Revolution in Moldova and, more recently, the use of YouTube to get the story out of post-electoral Iran.

The potential of these technologies is not in doubt. The challenge is to harness them to make a difference. This is of particular interest to the WDR team because we are looking at communication in relation to the causes and dynamics of conflict, as well as expectations and legitimacy of institutions after violence.

The peace campaigners and political activists I met at of the London meeting of the Alliance for Youth Movements have built their success on new media but they have never lost sight of these tested principles of political advocacy:

    The best storyteller wins.  Photo © Donatella L. Lorch.

Tell your story: If you want to break through the noise in our cacophonic world, you need to find ways to grab your audience’s attention and make them ‘feel’ your cause. Once a human face, voice and a compelling narrative are in place, people are more likely to engage and take action. Remember, the best storyteller wins

Focus on the long-term. Measure your progress against clear benchmarks. Beware of an over-simplistic drive for the endgame and recognize that the activist’s job is seldom done, even when you think you’ve got there.

Think laterally. The best route is rarely a straight line between two points. Esra’a Al Shafei, who runs the digital network, spoke about her fight for the rights of Ba’hais and Kurds as a way of addressing, tangentially, other entrenched forms of injustice in the Middle East and North Africa—including discrimination against women.

Frame the debate. When opposing sides are stuck, try reframing the problem. Joel Braunold of the OneVoice movement defines the impasse in the Middle East as a stand-off between extremists on both sides. His goal is to convince the silent majority of moderate Israelis and Palestinians to step forward and take back the agenda—so far, 650,000 have signed up on his website.

Avoid prescriptions. The most effective movements illuminate the path towards a better world. It is seldom smart to prescribe every step along the way or to spell out how or when to take them.

Assign responsibility. Go beyond assigning tasks to your co-activists and followers. Rather, make them responsible for making things happen. Joe Rospars, who was candidate Barack Obama’s New Media Director, described how the campaign had turned 13 million supporters into an unstoppable electoral tide.

Leave no stone unturned. Victor Hugo apparently said: ‘Armies can be resisted but not ideas whose time has come’. Maybe, but it is best not to leave things to chance. Jeremy Gilley is using every asset he can marshal—from the Dalai Lama and Jude Law to his own compelling documentary film making—to get closer to the aspiration behind his Peace One Day movement which convinced the UN General Assembly to declare September 21st an international day of peace.

Make partnerships you can believe in. Choose your partners carefully so they add credibility and build trust in your advocacy ‘brand’. Sir Martin Sorrell, WPP’s boss, made a strong pitch for engaging with private sector partners for whom doing good is not only sound business but part of a broadening sense of corporate social responsibility.

By expanding opportunities for dialogue, new communications technologies can act as game-changers in resolving conflict. Combined with the tried and tested basics of strategic communications, we have a potent combination—one that is potentially world changing.


Submitted by Alan Tidwell on
This is great to hear about how technology is being utilized to support conflict resolution efforts. I think it important to get this message out to as many as possible. I wonder, too, whether such technology could be used to support cease fire monitoring. In places like Mindanao in the Philippines it would be great to see texting -- linked with social media sites -- as a way of reporting on conflict.

Submitted by tade on
You commented on the technology for conflict resolution. But I am seeing that technology is a means to create conflict in what ever situations where it is used. Let me know your stand and in what context you are saying it. bless you.

technology coupled with more openess and connectivity - not just online but face to face brings a better understanding of the 'others' - we need to listen to all sides whether considered moderate or extreme - we need not agree - but listen. by the way Nicholas is was great meeting you guys at the AYM

Yes indeed. Technology has become an advantage to show people why we need to end the conflict. I'm from the Philippines, Davao City in the island of Mindanao to be exact. Mindanao was once known as the land of promise, but because people cannot accept ones differences, the conflict emerges. There have been two major types of the conflict in my island, the first one is Religion and the second is Government. There were plenty of Advocacy created using the Technologies we had today, to promote conflict resolutions. I would like to commend my fellow youth of our country, because we were the ones spearheading the advocacy. Our government is divided by those who want to go all out war and those who wants to negotiate. But the youth we choose to be in the all out war. A war without bullets and guns, but a war using our skills, of writing, photography, artistry, and with the help of these modern technologies, the youth have done more than enough than that of the government.

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