Virtual Reality Conflict Transformation: Theory and Practice

We are integrating virtual reality technology into our conflict transformation as well as our advocacy.

The underlying idea is that by enabling policy makers and communities to ‘meet’ each other and experience alternative points of view, VR can help reduce ‘moral distance’, improve understanding, and enhance shared information. As a result, interest-based and humanitarian incentives for peacemaking are both increased.

It’s an exciting and experimental process, but one we believe is founded on well established conflict change methodologies. At the moment, we are focused on using film for VR headsets as this gives the most realistic experience of ‘being’ somewhere else, but augmented environments will have their place. Here is a short table outlining how virtual reality sits alongside a few well known existing approaches:

Conflict Theorist Causes of Conflict Recommended focus for Conflict Prevention Potentials of Virtual Reality
Lederach Conflict is inevitable and natural part of human relationships and can generate positive or negative socio-cultural and socio-economic relations. “Conflict transformation” sees conflict as a process, caused by and causing changes in relationships. In order to build peace, destructive patterns need to be transformed into constructive ones. ‘Levels of leadership’ provides most efficient way to engage in policy-level change. Virtual reality experiences among ‘middle ‘level’ influencers – who connect the ultimate decision makers with the grassroots – to improve access to shared information, improve inclusivity by bringing voices into the room. For example, a VR presentation outlining local and expert views on challenges facing a remote conflict.
Galtung Growing gap between individual expectations and realisations leading to, or being caused by structural, cultural or physical violence. Define the violence along cultural, economic and physical dimensions and envision positive peace; mediate (resolving incompatibility) and reconcile (removing traumas from relationships). VR experiences that enable people to spend time with the other in a virtual environment, help close policy gaps (through providing communities with the experience of directly hearing from leaders and vice versa).
Collier and Hoeffler et al Failure of economic development and greed and grievances. Support to governance processes, state development and state dividends. 2-way VR advocacy (local citizen-policy maker interaction),  training services (e.g, civic education walk-through)
Gurr Relative and perceived group deprivation and mobilisation along ethnic/religious/identity lines. Improved relations between state and citizen and reconciling diverse identities. VR experiences which ‘transport’ participants into ‘other’ communities to increase understanding of shared interests and commonalities, to facilitate ‘personal’ interactions.
Relationship Foundation Conflict is relational and caused or sustained by distance along a number of relational domains. Developing and experiencing “relational proximity” in five domains creates an enhanced quality of “relational experience”, which can contribute to outcomes such as trust, understanding, support, accountability and belonging. (As above) VR experiences allowing personal interactions in the five domains; enabling meetings between people who would otherwise not be able to see each other, or increasing the frequency of interactions.
Ronald Fisher Historical trajectories, different conceptions of peace, competitive group strategies and zero-sum mentalities. “Interactive conflict resolution (ICR)” involves problem-solving discussions between unofficial representatives of groups or states engaged in violent protracted conflict. All the above.

Early indications from our advocacy and those of our friends and partners is that VR can produce strong policy and public engagement, though we need to undertake more systematic and longer term evaluation.

In the conflict transformation realm, we look forward to testing whether the ’empathy machine’ of VR really can contribute to sustainable peace processes, and if so, helping support the development of best practice for its use.

Citizen’s Theatre on Al Jazeera – مسرح الشعب يناقش هموم ومشاكل سكان جنوب السودان

Check out an excerpt from an Al Jazeera feature on Citizen’s Theatre, viewed across the Arabic speaking world.

Transformedia and South Sudan Theatre Organization worked with support from USAID VISTAS to establish Citizen’s Theatre – with the aim of creating a national network of theatre practioners across the country working for reconciliation and social justice.

How to track engagement with micro-SD memory cards?

In 2012, we noticed that the use of microSD memory cards to share information between rural persons was reaching a potentially critical level. Could it be considered a significant medium for social change communications and conflict resolution?

People at tea places, in buses, markets and homes were all sharing audio and video recordings through microSD cards in phones. Common material included political speeches, news recordings of major events, recorded radio shows and pop music (android devices allow you to record radio with one click), football highlights and videos of local traditional music and dance.

Since then Transformedia has worked with partners to disseminate our media outreach content on microSD cards as well as through more traditional means, and the anecdotal evidence so far is that microSD can help film and audio clips spread quickly through urban and semi-urban networks. But how to really track user engagement with content?

Continue reading “How to track engagement with micro-SD memory cards?”

Motorbike Cinema “Cineboda” Tests, Northern Bahr al Ghazal, South Sudan, Part III, Test Screenings

To test the mobile motorbike cinema unit, we drove out from Aweil an hour or so north on poor roads to Wanyjok, where we spent a couple of days showing participatory films. The films were jointly created by Dinka and Misseriya participants, facilitated by the amazing folk at BuildPeace. This is how we got on.

Simon and Deng Deng set up the first screenings, using the solar powered light (included and in post featured image above).

We also screened selected clips from inside the February Dinka-Misseriya peace conference as well as a number of other films (including the South Sudan Theatre Organisation’s Citizen Theatre film).

The first night at the Abyei Community Development Foundation was a good run through, but since the venue had a generator and a TV (which kicked in half way through) it was not a good example of our target location.

However, the kit really came alive on the second night when we drove it through floodwater to a women’s training center just outside town. This place, like the overwhelming majority of Northern Bahr al Ghazal, does not have any access to electricity.

The response was fantastic.

Continue reading “Motorbike Cinema “Cineboda” Tests, Northern Bahr al Ghazal, South Sudan, Part III, Test Screenings”

World Theatre Day 2015, supported by Transformedia, OSIEA and USAID

South Sudan Theatre Organization, supported by Transformedia, OSIEA and USAID, organised a World Theatre Day festival in Juba on March 27th 2015. The event included lectures on the role of theatre in reconciliation and on the history of South Sudanese theatre, followed by performances from a broad range of drama groups including SSTO, Orupaap and Emmaus.

Many argue that reconciliation necessitates at heart a change in identity. At the least, we must transform a part of ourselves; that part which is defined as negation of another. This is an uncertain process that requires reflection and cross community exchanges, so that otherness be let go, contextualised or positively reshaped. This long term, not necessarily linear exercise is too often elusive, dismissed as “intangible”. But today this dialogue grabbed us all by the scruff of the neck, 1500+ performers and audience members alike.

SSTO’s tale of community strife and reconciliation had the audience in stitches and tears in equal measure. Orupaap’s truly inimitable fusion of modern and traditional dance was here set in an elaborate framework of dangling and knotting stools. On a personal level, the first ten minutes of Emmaus’s half hour show was quite simply the most beautiful thing I have seen since I witnessed Cirque Plume for the first time aged 10.

The themes showed a theatre in earnest reflection. Chairs featured highly, as symbols of power and position. The painful descent of from state-of-nature-paradise to brutish anarchy played out in slow motion. Every day life versus newspaper headlines… Ethnicity versus nation-belonging… Modernity versus tradition… And waves upon waves of convincing suffering, expressed on stage in technicolor, but always overcome at last by seemingly superhuman powers of forgiveness, or at least an incontrovertible, searing, burning desire for unity.

This was an angry and honest day, and full of purest celebration, struggling to terms with the disappointment of the last four years as well as the dislocation and community of the preceding decades. A daunting challenge indeed, but South Sudan’s artists showed that they are more than equal to the task.