This week’s focus was on information problems in conflicts: How do actors establish ground truth and assess biases in sampling and among sources when there are competing narratives? Conflicts in Somalia and Hawaii served as case studies, although our solution is specific to Somalia. Slides after slide 12 demonstrate some of our thinking before further refining.
The Bell Jar
Briefly, one of the main problems with establishing credible information about the political and social dynamics related to the conflict in Somalia is that ad-hoc negotiated power dynamics between tribal factions affect the performance of a constructed message. The inherent riskiness of deviating from your tribe’s messaging means people are unlikely to share information beyond what is politically calibrated. In class we learned that it is widely known who is talking to the outside organizations and the appropriate messaging is funneled through them. We also learned that it is very difficult to broaden sampling by developing new sources.
We took on this problem from the perspective of an international NGO interested in providing social services. At the start, we knew very little about the power dynamics in Somalia, tribes and clans that exist, the current political situation, the current state of infrastructure and connectivity, and the incentives motivating relevant actors. Without a launch into all of Somalia’s recent history, we oriented ourselves with the following facts, assumptions, and questions:
- There have been recent and recurring efforts to put together a provisional constitution, and while there is inter-clan fighting regarding how they should be represented by a central government, outright violence seems to have lessened
- We theorize the leaders of Somali clans will see the independent providing of public goods as a threat to their leadership, since this is the role of government/leadership, and thus will find clan members communicating with outsiders threatening
- We also theorize that actors within these clans know this (working with outside organizations to provide these things as a sort of defection from these leaders) and thus find communications not ‘sanctioned’ as dangerous
- How do actors now talk to the UN now? Could anyone, if they wanted to?
- What, if anything, is exchanged for information?
We decided to focus on the problem of connectivity–since Somalia actually has growing telecommunications capacity even though market penetration is still low. Most importantly for the stakeholders we’re designing for: communications can’t happen without secure infrastructure to support it.