“Hacking” for Successful Peace Implementation in Colombia (Part 1)

A group picture from the hackathon. Photo via Oliver Kaplan.

By Michael Findley, Oliver Kaplan, and Joseph K. Young.

[This is the first post of a multi-part series that introduces hackathon-style events, exchanges that bring policymakers and academics together to solve public policy challenges. Subsequent posts will discuss what we learned from a recent peace hackathon. The final post will discuss next steps for this hackathon and for conducting additional hackathons.]

Earlier this month we trialed an innovative approach to engaging scholars and policymakers in Bogotá, Colombia, with the hope of addressing the challenges of implementing the peace agreement ratified by the Government of Colombia and the FARC rebels in December 2016: a peace “hackathon.” Combining inspiration from Think Tanks and computer science, our hackathon sought to bridge the academic-policymaker gap. The laudable aim of academics is to produce rigorous, deliberate research, though they often work on a slow timeline. Policymakers, by contrast, need to make decisions in short order, but as a result can lack strong bases of evidence. Because of their differing procedures and incentives, scholars and policymakers can end up talking past each other, perhaps at the expense of those who need help during global crises. The rapid pace of global events and limited time to ingest expertise calls for new models like hackathons to generate evidenced-based policy for contemporary challenges.

The hackathon idea is focused on near-term policy issues and is intended to go beyond simply generating policy-academia dialogue. Instead, the aim is to rapidly produce novel research findings and policy implications through an interactive process. Our hackathon focused on the implementation challenges to the peace agreement. One participant characterized herself as a “paranoid optimist,” since the peace accord is in place but faces the headwinds of few resources, unfavorable public opinion, and questions about how to overcome entrenched governance and security obstacles.

Data4Peace, an initiative jointly sponsored by the University of Texas at Austin, Universidad de los Andes (Angelika Rettberg and Michael Weintraub), and Cifras y Conceptos (Cesar Caballero), brought together faculty and graduate students from American University, University of Denver, Princeton University, Universidad del Rosario, and Universidad Externado de Colombia, as well as over 30 policymakers and practitioners from all levels of elected office and from the NGO community. In true hackathon style, we did not begin with answers in mind. Ahead of the event we had some exploratory conversations with local mayors in conflict-affected areas, identified some broad topics, and then gathered up some (mostly) publicly available data that could be used at the event. Together, the academics, policymakers, and practitioners worked collaboratively on data and analysis and crowd-sourced expertise.

We began by interviewing local authorities from conflict-affected regions. We asked them, “What challenges do you see for implementation of the peace agreement?” We grouped concerns into three broad areas: (1) Territorial security; (2) Political participation; (3) Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR). We then brainstormed specific questions about implementation of the agreement in those areas. Efforts then turned to gathering lots of new and exciting data, much of it in collaboration with Cifras y Conceptos, and conducted statistical analysis to better understand challenges and possible solutions.

In the true spirit of learning and exchange, we devoted the final day to a joint academic-policy discussion of what we learned from the data about the peace implementation challenges. We also identified several policy recommendations. We will discuss the specific recommendations and research findings in upcoming posts.

  1. What a wonderful and innovative process. I’m curious who designed the process, whether it was conducted entirely in person (v. online), how the process was led and managed, and what some of the findings or policy outcomes were. Looking forward to subsequent posts.

    1. Hi Suzanne. It was Mike Findley who really designed the idea. The work was all done in person but organizing was online. There was a plenary session outlining the problems/hackathon process and some background on the Colombia conflict. We then split into groups to work on more detailed problems and suggest solutions using the data The survey firm, Cifras y Conceptos also supported the event, shared data, and sent folks to help. Feel free to shoot me an email if you want more info.

  2. In future iterations of this hackathon, what would the participation process look like for graduate students, i.e., is it an open application or are students selected via mentors/university affiliation?

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