Why a Strategy for the Digital Transformation of UN Peacekeeping?
The Secretary General’s Strategies on New Technologies and on Data set the stage for UN peacekeeping to forge its own path toward harnessing the potential of digital technologies and better deliver on its mandates, now and for the future.
In his Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, the Secretary-General specifically recognises that:
“Digital technologies can support United Nations peacekeeping efforts globally, including by ensuring the safety and security of peacekeepers.”
The vision for deeper internal capacities and exposure to new technologies is consistent with the Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) initiative; the A4P Plus (A4P+) priorities of 2021 emphasise the need for innovative, data-driven, and technology-enabled peacekeeping.
Recognizing the need for a deliberate and systematic approach to achieve digital transformation in field missions led the Under-Secretaries-General of the Department of Peace Operations (DPO), Department of Operational Support (DOS) and Department of Management, Strategy, Policy and Compliance (DMSPC) to initiate the development of the Strategy for the Digital Transformation of UN Peacekeeping in November 2020.
The overarching goal of the strategy is to enable missions to implement their mandates more effectively and to enhance the safety and security of peacekeepers by harnessing the potential of digital technologies as well as mitigating risks, while positioning peacekeeping to continue to evolve in its use of technology.
To achieve this, the Strategy builds upon earlier and ongoing targeted initiatives and strategies, in areas such as, peacekeeping-intelligence, performance assessment for planning and decision making, information security or data management, and addresses challenges such as the weaponization of technologies by non-state actors, cyberattacks, misinformation, disinformation and hate speech, and key ethical questions related to the use of digital technologies in UN peacekeeping. At the same time, the Strategy aims to maximize the potential of current and emerging technologies, conceiving of digital technologies as a potential enabler that allows UN peacekeeping to achieve an analysis-driven, forward-looking understanding of the conflict environment, strengthen the safety and security of its personnel, and shape agile and responsive mandate implementation. Setting up peacekeeping for the future requires addressing both cross-cutting and cultural issues, and taking targeted action to support peacekeeping operations in the field. The comprehensive nature of the undertaking suggests that this represents nothing less than a digital transformation of UN peacekeeping.
The Strategy has multiple target audiences, including:
- Mission and Headquarters staff working in and/or supporting peacekeeping operations. The strategy should provide tangible support when introducing, expanding and managing the use of digital technologies and identify gaps where guidance and clear direction may be required, with a particular focus on the role of senior leadership in the stewardship of transformation.
- Member States, including troop and police contributors, as well as Member States contributing equipment, training and capacity-building support. The strategy recognises Member States as an integral actor in safety and security and mandate implementation and seeks Member State engagement and support for equal opportunities when it comes to access and use of technology as well as their responsible application.
- UN system and external partners in international organisations, research communities and civil society. Peacekeeping’s path towards digital transformation will be strengthened by learning from others; the strategy will cultivate opportunities for practical and multidisciplinary collaboration.
Principles guiding the Strategy
- Accessibility. In accordance with the UN Disability Inclusion Strategy, and relevant bulletins and conventions, the introduction, design and operation of digital information and communication technologies ensures that persons with disabilities have access, on an equal basis with others.
- Data protection and privacy. Data gathered is managed in accordance with UN confidentiality, classification and privacy standards and rules; and used solely for mandate implementation.
- Demand-driven. Technology employed by peacekeeping missions is driven by their needs for solutions, not by supply, and based on consultations with peacekeeping missions throughout development and implementation.
- Do-no-harm. Digital technologies in peacekeeping place the best interests and needs of people first, as subjects and users of new technologies.
- Gender-sensitive. The design and use of technology factor in gender considerations, including differences in access, literacy and bias.
- Human-centred. Technology used in peacekeeping is simple, intuitive, and enable accessibility to all relevant peacekeepers.
- Human rights compliant. Technology use is consistent with the legal framework governing UN peacekeeping operations, in particular with full respect for human rights standards and obligations.
- Inclusion and transparency. The adoption of advanced technology by peacekeeping operations is in support of mission mandates and used in an inclusive and transparent manner.
- Multidisciplinarity. Technology builds upon strength in diversity and incorporates different skills, experience and perspectives.
- Partnerships. Peacekeeping seeks to engage and work closely with diverse partners as part of a multistakeholder approach, including Member States, other international organisations, the technology sector, research institutes, and civil society organisations, to increase and share collective knowledge and overcome challenges.
- Realistic expectations. Technology is an enabler, but will not resolve or compensate for fundamental operational or strategic challenges.
- Sustainability and scalability. Technology used is interoperable with other systems in use, build on what has already been achieved and learned, be sustainable over time, with training, hand-over, maintenance and continuity measures in place, and flexible enough to be easily adapted and deployed to multiple missions to achieve greater returns on the investment.
How the strategy was developed
The recommended goals, outcomes and actions were developed on the basis of extensive consultations across disciplines within the organisation, complemented by input from external sources. The methodology included over 100 consultations, a baseline survey and four focus groups, five commissioned research papers, and four roundtable discussions. In addition, the content of the strategy was subject to a reference and validation process through meetings of an interdepartmental working group and an external Red Team, which reviewed the relevance, feasibility and sustainability of proposed recommendations. The UN system and other partners, ranging from Agencies, Funds and Programmes to Member States, international organisations, to researchers and civil society peacebuilders, contributed valuable insights from their own digital transformation journeys and use of digital tools, identifying common challenges and sharing good practice that have informed the goals, outcomes and actions laid out in this strategy.