Digital risk in conflict mediation: Digital Risk Management E-Learning Platform for Mediators

Increased use of tech has added to mediation challenges. A new e-learning platform, backed by the CyberPeace Institute, will help.

Digital technology plays an important role in conflict mediation and global peace building. It can extend inclusion, allowing more women or people from marginalized groups to take part in or follow a mediation process. It can make mediation faster and more efficient and can allow mediators to draw on resources from around the world. 

However, digital technology brings risks too. It can increase polarization, for example, and allow disinformation to spread to more people, more quickly. And digital technology can increase vulnerability to malicious actors, spying and data breaches. These risks can undermine trust in the process.

‘Cyber risks are now strategic risks’

Mediators work in low-trust, volatile contexts and don’t always have the knowledge to assess the risks posed by digital technology. A new online platform will help to raise awareness of those risks, as well as offering training on how to deal with them. The Digital Risk Management E-Learning Platform for Mediators has been created by the Cyber Peace Institute, CMI – Martti Ahtisaari Peace Foundation, and the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (UNDPPA)’s Mediation Support Unit.

Speaking at a webinar to mark the launch of the platform, Janne Taalas, Chief Executive Officer at CMI — Martti Ahtisaari Peace Foundation, said: “Cyber risks are now strategic risks.” Rather than landing on the desk of the Chief Technology Officer, these issues belong on the CEO’s desk, he said, adding: “These things are not digital and technical issues. They are political issues.”

Stéphane Duguin, Chief Executive Officer of the CyberPeace Institute, agreed, saying: “Digital or tech doesn’t really make sense as a terminology. We have to understand cyber as an ecosystem of norms, laws and standards, and we have to understand these issues from the point of view of what is happening to human beings.”

Digital technology use will grow

The use of digital technology has been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which brings a corresponding increase in risks – and not all institutions have access to expertise in cybersecurity or information security. The landscape in which the mediator community is operating has changed significantly and rapidly.

However, we can’t go back to a time before digital technology, said Teresa Whitfield, Director of the Policy and Mediation Division at the UNDPPA. She said: “The use of digital innovation and hybrid models in mediation processes will likely continue to grow, so ignoring and failing to address these new forms of risk is not an option.”

Organizations will therefore need to invest in staff and training that helps them to understand which technologies they should use, when they should use them and why. How easy this is depends on different regional, cultural and resource realities.

Mediators also need to spend time assessing risk. Doing that, said Mr Duguin, means understanding the threat landscape. Who is targeting you? For example, is it criminals or a nation state? How are they targeting you? And what is their target?

A growing learning platform

This will require greater collaboration. Information security experts and mediation experts don’t always understand one another, so there is a need to bridge that gap. And the public sector cannot tackle these problems alone. Public sector bodies will need private sector support, webinar attendees agreed.

The Digital Risk Management E-Learning Platform for Mediators matters because some risks are specific to mediation, so other information sources cannot help. Mediators are invited to test the platform and share feedback. “It is a living tool,” said Mr Duguin. He said that the platform will grow and change based on this feedback, and that the materials would develop as technology and threat types evolve.

Ultimately, like the threats themselves, the platform is not about technology. Mr Taalas said: “It’s not about systems, it’s about humans and it’s about training. That’s why the platform matters.”

Have a look at the introductory video about the platform.

© Copyright 2022: The concepts and information contained in this document are the property of the CyberPeace Institute, an independent non-governmental organization headquartered in Geneva, unless indicated otherwise from time to time throughout the document. This document may be reproduced, in whole or in part, provided that the CyberPeace Institute is referenced as author and copyright holder.


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