Exploring cross-cutting approaches to conflict prevention, peacemaking and peacebuilding for a more sustainable future.

As the means of conflict change, so must the means to bring and maintain peace. Challenges such as geopolitical tensions, climate crisis, the spread of mis- and dis-information, as well as global systemic shocks such as COVID-19, require new approaches and solutions.

To answer this need, in 2020 the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) established a dedicated unit called the Innovation Cell. Aiming to explore, test, and pioneer new methods for peace, the Innovation Cell acts as a catalyst for innovation across the Department.

Detecting new methods to achieve can mean several things: applying new technologies to support inclusive peace processes, exploring futures foresight to bring about preventive resilience, or strengthening organization-wide innovation-friendly environment. As the Innovation Cell is constantly exploring new ways to promote peace, some of the existing work includes:

Strengthening the innovation infrastructure of the UN

If innovation is to be truly transformational, it needs to be an organization-wide effort. The Innovation Cell aims to support UN colleagues, especially in the DPPA-DPO, to explore and implement innovative methods in their work. In addition, the Cell examines other new ways of working by investigating methods such as speculative design, art and spatial design to promote peace. The Cell upholds innovation structures within the UN and is a proud member of the UN Innovation Network.

Providing instruments for data-assisted political analysis

To allow UN staff members and other experts to focus on analysis, the Innovation Cell has introduced user-friendly solutions to conduct some of the manual research work around data and political analysis. These solutions include for example Sparrow, a social media tool for UN officials and Diplomatic Pulse, a search engine for UN Member State press releases available for everyone. These solutions are to detect political signals and strengthen analysis around diplomatic questions.

Inclusive peace processes through large-scale AI-enabled digital dialogues

To broaden the scale of voices heard in peace processes, the Innovation Cell offers large-scale digital dialogues to scope the opinions of the vaster public. These virtual discussions can host up to 1,000 participants, and as the AI algorithm groups their answers, the participants can react and reflect each other’s answers. The dialogues allow immediate analysis of the broader opinion. Dialogues have been held for example in Libya, Haiti, Bolivia, Northeast Asia and Lebanon.

Engaging in immersive storytelling through Virtual Reality (VR)

Virtual Reality (VR) provides an opportunity to understand conflict contexts on a deeper level, as well as to bring an opportunity for people in conflict settings to express their views through this immersive technology. Throughout the years, the Innovation Cell has produced several VR experiences from Iraq, Sudan, Colombia and Yemen as well as on climate security, and they have been used to brief the UN Security Council and other entities. The Innovation Cell is also exploring other ways to use the metaverse for peace as well as Augmented Reality (AR) and Extended Reality (XR) in general.

Using geospatial analysis to detect potential sources of conflict

The Innovation Cell is using open-source earth observation to work on the climate-security nexus. This has included using satellites to detect changes that may be affecting water, agriculture, food, and other forms of security, for early warnings of conflict. The approach has seen increased traction in multiple settings, such as detecting changes in water levels and soil moisture, with a view to monitoring possible rising tensions in the Middle East region.

Foresight and Futures

DPPA, through the Innovation Cell, has started to explore new approaches of applied foresight, including anticipatory intelligence, multidimensional analysis, and future-leaning programming. First pilots were implemented in our work in Sudan, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Guinea, Mongolia, and Guyana. There has been an increasing demand for support on foresight in order to make better sense of political complexities, prepare for possible changes and disruptions, and improve programmatic action of the UN.

Behavioural Science

Behavioural Science (BSci) refers to an evidence-based understanding of how people behave, make decisions, and respond to programmes, policies, and incentives. The recently published Secretary-General’s Guidance on Behavioural Science stresses that in many areas, the delivery of UN mandates is linked to changing human behaviour, such as reducing stigma and discrimination. In line with this Guidance, the Innovation Cell has launched pilot projects and continues to explore the area further.