Community Cohesion in a Digital Space

Kenyan man looking at his mobile phone

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Lessons from YAFE Pilot Combating Dangerous Speech

In 2018, Mercy Corps’ Technology for Development team supported the development and proof of concept testing for a mobile app designed to address community cohesion challenges in the face of rampant misinformation and dangerous speech in Nigeria. The YAFE app was designed to support local leaders in addressing negative narratives and dangerous speech before they escalated to violent conflict or deepened divisions. YAFE aimed to use artificial intelligence to educate users about dangerous speech, provide a reporting mechanism, and create a digital community of practice to build capacity among local leaders, and by extension, their communities.

The pilot was also meant to test new ways for Mercy Corps staff to engage remotely with people they could not reach due to safety concerns or remote locations without the use of technology. During the course of designing the YAFE pilot, Mercy Corps learned a number of key lessons, including setting flexible expectations, drawing work plans, and understanding technical limitations early in order to define clear outcomes and streamline effective workflows that can adapt to change.

Design:

  • Set expectations and frame hypotheses early
  • Ensure clear focal points and key responsibilities between HQ and field staff are established
  • Have a thorough understanding of limitations posed by the available technology and infrastructure
  • Adapt to and account for the digital literacy constraints and incorporate training in pre-work and implementation

Implementation:

  • Plan and design content production alongside participants, allowing for content to evolve and be shared in meaningful, actionable ways
  • Create a closed, curated group. This allows for safe, trusting digital spaces where users can build relationships with each other
  • Bringing together diverse groups of people helped to spread trustworthy information between key leaders, despite distance that would have previously limited ongoing discourse
  • When creating digital communities, there needs to be mediation, monitoring and management
  • At this point, list out the learnings from the design and implementation sections. I'd then add the conclusion/next steps section.

Overall, the YAFE pilot discovered the importance of closed, private groups in creating trust and developing relationships among users for community mediation activities. This opened the door to dispelling rumors and addressing events occurring in the community, particularly as they were triggered by dangerous speech. It is critical that a moderator is always ensuring mediation and dispute resolution in this space, to maintain the relationships and trust between users.

Because of the ability for the YAFE digital community to bring together users across geographically remote and insecure locations, and thus aggregate potentially dangerous narratives or rumors being spread, there would be a potential use case for an approach like this to inform an early warning system, allowing for identification and tracking of indicators that may indicate an escalation in violence or group tensions.

The Mercy Corps Technology for Development and Nigeria teams are currently working together to further hone our utilization of digital communities and ICT tools to combat the spread of misinformation and to support the creation of digital communities that support cohesion between groups.