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.

Motorbike Cinema “Cineboda” Tests, Northern Bahr al Ghazal, South Sudan, Part IV, Technical Lessons and Recommendations

An evaluation of the peacebuilding impact of the exercise was outside the scope of this activity. This test was simply intended to subject the Cine-boda concept to a real-world situation. Some findings and lessons are outlined below:

a. Screen
The screen was satisfactory and could easily entertain 200+ persons. Good tension was achieved in the first two showings using the bungee attachments provided. This provided a good cinematic experience. The screen was poorly set up in the third showing, which used the Velcro attachments provided. This was primarily because the team had not been trained in using the Velcro. Lessons include:

• Provide larger screen.
• Screen risks becoming creased. Consider spandex based screen for version 2.
• The Velcro attachment system can produce the necessary tension but will rip paint off surfaces on removal, limiting its application.
• Training for team in various methods of erecting screen is important.
• Develop a fold out frame from Cineboda for rear projection to avoid the need for a surface to attach screen.
• Need pegs and more holes in bottom of screen.

b. Power
The battery unit successfully charged from the motorbike alternator, the solar panels and the A.C power.

• Solar charging: Solar system successful and drew about 11watts of charging power continuously. 6 hours of sunshine fully charged system after 2 hours of screenings.
• Motorbike charging: 12v charging system from motorbike provided up to 40watts of charging power to battery system when driving and about 9 on tickover.
• Charge still showed 90% after two hour screening.
• Screenings do not need engine running.
• Battery capacity is generous and could be reduced.
• Battery is large and heavy and could be reduced in size and weight.
• Next generation Cineboda should run both speaker and projector from single battery source.

c) Audiences of 100-250 people
Audiences were small because the activities took place within compounds and were not advertised outside of the immediate community. However, lessons include:

• System reaches audiences who do not have access to power.
• System can easily reach audiences of 250
• System can get to hard to reach communities off-road.
• Sound volume sufficient for outdoors and amidst background noise

d) Microphone to facilitate showings and discussion

• Microphone worked well.
• Bluetooth microphone would be an improvement because it would lower barriers to audience engagement in discussion (they would not need to stand and come to the front to speak)

Continue reading “Motorbike Cinema “Cineboda” Tests, Northern Bahr al Ghazal, South Sudan, Part IV, Technical Lessons and Recommendations”

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”

Motorbike Cinema “Cineboda” Tests, Northern Bahr al Ghazal, South Sudan, Part I

Q: What do some of the most remote and conflict-affected persons in the world need?
A: A mobile motorbike cinema?

Q: Are you sure….

USAID’s VISTAS program in South Sudan asked Transformedia to come up with a rugged mobile cinema solution for use in remote areas.

Our response was a solar-powered mobile motorcycle cinema, christened “Cine-boda”.

The solar and alternator charged Cine-boda can be used to transport and screen films to audiences of 250+ people in remote areas without access to external power for weeks at a time.

This post outlines the findings of our initial tests in a remote part of South Sudan

“Boda: East African motorbike taxi, originally used to transport people across the “no-mans-land” between the border posts without the paperwork involved with using motor vehicles crossing the international border.”

We needed to know how our concept would play in practice. So we arranged some tests.

The short video above is from our Cine-boda situation tests in remote areas of Northern Bhar al Ghazal State, South Sudan in late summer 2015. Massive thanks go to VISTAS team members Simon and Deng Deng who did a fantastic job of both running the kit and facilitating audience discussion.

We are now developing an improved Cine-boda Version 2 based on the lessons outlined in Part IV below and the test screenings outlined in Parts II and Part III. Please check them out and be in touch with your feedback!