Kevin Brownawell, interagency professional in residence, US Institute of Peace (USIP), observed that, though Americans may be interested in the acquisition and sharing of data, that is not necessarily the case in other countries. As a result, several basic questions need to be answered: Does everyone agree that data should be collected and shared? If so, what kind of data? With whom should data be shared? Are data open or closed? How will data be used? Brownawell suggested starting with the posting of country statistics generated by the US government and then seeing how far the system can expand into data provided by the NGO community and other countries.
Roman countered that many of the countries in which he has worked have been eager for the military to engage in development activities. The military understands its role, he said, and sharing information can allow development and stability to progress. Also, the military wants to show, in part through this program, that it can be a responsible partner in development as part of the security cooperation plan. “The more you know and understand and the more you understand what others are doing, the better it is for the unity of effort overall,” he said.
Marcia Hartwell, visiting scholar, USIP, also pointed out that, although she is not a fan of military involvement in development projects, the situation varies from country to country. In some cases, NGOs prefer the military to be active. For example, in Iraq, the military secured a perimeter within which everyone working on humanitarian aid could operate safely. She also acknowledged that the military excels in dealing with other armed groups and military organizations. “Civilians work well with civilian groups, and the military works well with armed groups,” Hartwell said.
In response to participants’ concerns about placing their data on a platform hosted by DOD servers, Roman and Hainsey both observed that UNITY could be hosted outside the DOD environment and that both DOD and USAID have been looking for opportunities to do so. In particular, Roman suggested that USIP might be an excellent place to host such a data-sharing program.
Another potentially valuable source of data cited by workshop participants is the information available through crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing techniques could be used to survey the viewpoint, priorities, and perceptions of the ultimate beneficiaries of development in a country—the people. However, this information, too, would most likely be accepted if available through a system not involving the military.
Patrick Vinck, research scientist, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, noted that many platforms offering data related to peacebuilding are emerging.