Digital co-operation in action: A collaborative case study

18 Jun 2019 12:00h - 14:00h

Event report

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The workshop presented a case study of an Internet-based digital tool designed to fight land-grabbing practices around the world by calculating and visualising the potential risks for these practices to occur. The participants focused on the challenges and potentials for co-operation among interdisciplinary and multistakeholder teams when innovating for digital governance.

The session moderator, Mr Geoff Gordon (Senior researcher, The Asser Institute) explained that the Asser Institute, supported by partners and the city of The Hague, organised a hackathon in 2018 aimed at hacking peace, justice, and security for a greater good. ‘Technological solutions can be used to advance international law.’ Gordon said. The hackathon invited new perspectives on how digital co-operation happens. A set of behaviours exist in the field, but a lot of governance issues arise. Policy, engineering, and research tend to speak their own language. According to Gordon, the more we reflect on collaborative exercises, the better we can understand the mix of the input in the space.

From an academic perspective, Mr Oane Visser (Associate professor, International Institute for Social Studies, Erasmus University) explained why large-scale land acquisitions are problematic. Visser explained the of land grabbing by saying that the debate intensified around 2008 due to booming commodity prices for food. Investors got interested in farmlands which led to a shift from local, family businesses to global, transnational land deals. The negative consequences include loss of livelihood or land and environmental damage, while research shows that it leaves communities worse off. Due to the complexity of stakeholders involved, the legality and legitimacy of these practices varies. Visser added that social scientists partnering with the technical community to research such issues could provide innovative solutions.

Building on this, a group of doctorate students from Leiden University built a digital tool that assesses and visualises the risk of land grabbing across the world. The JuSy.Pi team created the LandMatrix tool that is aimed at civil society use when fighting land grabbing. Their design process included gathering data, collecting relevant country features, identifying ‘potential negatives’, and then training the classifier to predict a grid across the globe showing potential risks of land grabbing. The tool then visualises this data which can be fed new features in order to refine calculations. JuSy.Pi stressed that their main challenges include the transfer of knowledge between stakeholders for a more relevant choice of country features. They also stated that social scientists should keep in mind that some problems and solutions cannot be computed, while data scientists need human evaluation of computing tasks.

Engaging with the tool from the humanitarian sector, Ms Chantal Wieckardt (The Netherlands Land Academy) spoke about the potentials of such projects for equitable land governance and sustainable development. Wieckardt noted that a qualitative approach to assess these tools is crucial, and to that end multistakeholder workshops should be organised.

Ms Kate Dodgson (Data Science Initiative) added that ‘it is important to ensure after the hackathon that the work continues’. Problem recognition workshops are organised to help multiple stakeholders define their objectives with such tools. She pointed to lack of ownership and funding as the biggest issues, and invited interested actors to get involved by supporting the LandMatrix and similar projects.

By Jana Misic