The ISOOKO platform was envisioned as a Peace and Values Education tool through which constructive information-driven dialogue would be conducted at a community level and piloted in both Rwanda and Kenya. Built on top of the BRCK/Moja & Ushahidi technologies, it was conceptualized that through the ISOOKO platform, community-led dissemination of information and associated discussions pertaining to peacebuilding, democracy and corruption would be conducted albeit via a digital safe space. The use of Ushahidi for crisis mapping and response particularly during the post election violence in Kenya during 2017 had far-reaching impacts in as far as ensuring that people that heeded to SMS alerts and visual warnings displayed through the platform remained safe. This tool has since found application in various other countries and communities such as Malawi, Uganda, Zambia, Mexico and India where the needs align with the capabilities of the technology or extensions to it and it was for a combination of these reasons and related successes that it was chosen as the platform on top of which ISOOKO would be built to further tackle challenges related to peacebuilding in these two East African contexts. BRCK/Moja technologies serve as additions to the Ushahidi technology. Put simply, the BRCK is a rugged hardware device that serves as a Wi-Fi router that broadcasts the Moja network through which persons can freely access information hosted on the Moja captive portal, the Ushahidi platform and access the internet. ISOOKO thus sought to leverage the combination of these technologies to build an inclusive peacebuilding tool that allows for interaction and engagement between persons with access to stable and good internet connectivity and those located at the edge of the network. In considering the use of these technologies or alternatives to them, the “Living Labs” research methodology[1] was employed and spear-headed by Leiden University prior to conducting nationwide trials and pilots related to the project. As described by Anna Ståhlbröst, “A Living Lab is an orchestrator of open innovation processes focusing on co-creation of innovations in real-world contexts by involving multiple stakeholders with the objective to generate sustainable value for all stakeholders focusing in particular on the end-users”.

After various interactions (through workshops and trials) with different categories of persons in Rwanda and Kenya, it quickly became apparent that the ideal target audience for ISOOKO was the youth (defined as aged 18-30 in Rwanda, and 18-35 in Kenya) as they were found to be more receptive to the proposed use of technology for peacebuilding. In the trials, the project sought to disseminate information and collect responses from users via surveys some of which sought to gather immediate outcomes pertaining to knowledge, attitudes and awareness. Other elements of the surveys sought to gather information pertaining to peacebuilding attributes such as empathy using the IRI survey and resilience using the BRAVE-14 survey both of which are validated in various contexts. For the trials, the tools that were used included the BRCK/Moja and Ushahidi technologies and in one of them, a separate tool known as Democratic Reflection (DR)[2] was used. The DR tool allows users to watch content and to interact with it by means of answering questions displayed on cards as the audiovisual material plays. With this tool, a set of questions can be set along a video’s length and as the participants watch, it automatically pauses allowing them to answer pre-set questions associated with the different segments of the video. One of the apparent findings from the trials was that in controlled settings where the users were asked to provide responses either via paper-based surveys, in one on one oral interviews or when asked to sit at a desktop and respond to the surveys prior to accessing the internet, the quality of data gathered was richer as compared to scenarios where respondents had to either use their smartphones (unsupervised) to participate in the trials or take part in one out of their own volition with minimal or no campaigns. This finding suggested that another alternative would be to integrate face to face discussions within the platform and in so doing referring the users to existing off-line spaces (clubs, youth centres etc.) where young people can meet and discuss more about peacebuilding. The platform then becomes a hybrid space where the line between on-line and off-line spaces gets blurred.

Democratic Reflections Trial Session in Rwanda (Youth Group)

Schematic showing the ISOOKO Trial and Pilot Processes

ISOOKO pilots were meant to run in both Rwanda and Kenya but were unfortunately canceled due to COVID-19 and this forced the project to run online. The target group was the youth and the tool selected was Facebook (using Facebook Groups). The team chose to use Facebook based on the assumption that it would be the preferred platform to use for building an on-line community, as it is freely accessible and it has the highest number of users among all social media in  both countries. Prior to running the pilot campaigns, youth volunteers were trained on a variety of topics related to peacebuilding and asked to open and run different Facebook groups through which youth participation in line with peacebuilding would be solicited. As evidenced by the data and in observing the time series patterns pertaining to traction, these Facebook groups did not generate as much activity as desired. Overall, the ISOOKO trials and pilots were aimed at encouraging active listening. The approach that was used encouraged passive listening instead as content was pre-selected for the different audiences. We therefore attribute the observed low level of engagement from the participants to the fact that it sort of seemed one sided to them as in most cases, they were restricted to answering a certain set of questions in line with the audio visual material presented to them thus restricting them from expressing their broader view of peace building and their perceived role in it. The findings and data collected from the use of either one of these tools in the trials and at the onset of the pilots speaks volumes as to what approaches need to be taken when using ICTs for peacebuilding. It might be that different design approaches need to be employed when dealing with the subject of peacebuilding and the use of existing tools or deeper user-centric consideration ought to be made in building a tool aimed at addressing this challenge effectively. 

Recommendations: The following are some of the recommendations for future peacebuilding projects based on what we learnt: (1) use a bottom-up approach driven by consultations with youth and any other target group to identify the most appropriate digital technologies for online discussions (for example, Messenger rather than Facebook); (2) employ a mixed methods approach that allows participants to interact in both physical and digital spaces as to enrich their experience; (3) ensure that the participatory digital tool allows for an active listening experience as opposed to passive viewing.

[1] https://u4iot.eu/pdf/U4IoT_LivingLabMethodology_Handbook.pdf

[2] https://democraticreflection.org/