Are there ways to use technology to build peace? How much is misinformation from social media impacting an electorates’ thinking about what they want? Is it possible to create an online process of deliberative democracy to allow citizens to freely express their views and arrive at outcomes that are more closely aligned with fact and the public good? Can you bring people together online in conversation from opposite ends of the political spectrum to have constructive dialogue about issues that affect everyone?
In this episode, I interview Elvira Maria Restrepo, University of Miami Professor and special advisor to President Santos on the peace building process in Colombia. Elvira talks about her personal journey and the influence on her of growing up in a country that has been at war for her entire lifetime, from the period of La Violencia, through the more recent conflicts between the government, the paramilitaries and the FARC, to the historic signing of a peace accord this last year.
She talks about how the Colombian experience has formed her understanding of the need for social inclusion and justice as the underpinnings of building peace. She then goes into describing a super interesting experiment that she is spearheading to use a WebApp for citizen engagement around the peace process in Colombia. She and her team have been studying the impact of social media on citizen awareness and social division. Misinformation generated from social media, especially Facebook, has had a huge impact on the outcomes of the peace referendum in Colombia as with Brexit, the Trump election in the U.S. and elsewhere.
The App is an attempt to engage Colombians in a non-partisan debate to create a more informed citizenry and build common ground around the peace process, which is a hugely polarized topic. The App is based on the theory of deliberative democracy that has been applied in many parts of Europe and North America around many types of social issues. However, it is the first time an App of its sort has been created and applied to a conflict situation such as this.
In spite of the fact that you can’t reach many parts of Colombia by road, more than 50 % of Colombians have access to the internet and 80% of those go on line via Facebook. The way the App works is “players” are grouped in diverse pods of 5 who think differently from each other on an issue. The idea is that through deliberation, the group will not necessarily reach consensus but rather the best conclusion for all (i.e. the public good) and greater understanding of different perspectives. So far, the testing with 100 individuals has shown an important trend to depolarize the extreme positions which is the expected outcome of deliberation. Topics can include land, system of justice for ex-combatants, tax issues, gender relations and can bring together in conversations diverse perspectives such as bankers and house cleaners.
The link to the App can be accessed here if you are interested in participating and can speak Spanish. Elvira welcomes all feedback as the technology is tested.
This episode is sure to engage your thinking about creative ways to bring people together across the divides of difference. And, of course, the possibilities for scaling in other contexts around the world are endless.
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Hope everyone is getting off to a good start for the New Year.