Build Peace 2015 Conference: Peace through Technology

We want to make our network aware of an exciting community and conference that we know will interest many of our NCDDers, especially those of us oriented toward conflict resolution and technology.

Build Peace is a community that brings together practitioners, activists and technologists from around the world to share experience and ideas on using technology for peacebuilding and conflict transformation as well as an annual, international conference. The Build Peace 2015 conference will be taking place April 25th & 26th in Nicosia, Cyprus, and we want to encourage anyone who might be interested to consider attending.

Build Peace 2015 is titled Peace Through Technology: By Whom, For Whom and will be focused on alternative infrastructures for peace. Here is how the conference planners describe the gathering:

Where Build Peace 2014 aimed to demonstrate the potential of using technology for peacebuilding in terms of ‘breadth’ of initiatives and ideas, Build Peace 2015 will begin to examine issues of ‘depth’: How is the use of technology resulting in the creation of alternative infrastructures for peace? To this cross-cutting theme, the program adds three sub-themes:

  1. Empowerment. One key reason to use technologies in peacebuilding is that they can empower a larger number of people to engage and participate. But there are also tensions between state uses of technologies for surveillance and security implications of some grassroots uses. Who is empowered, by whom and how?
  2. Behavior change. And empowered to do what? Technological tools can affect behaviours that pertain to patterns of violence and peace: by shaping the peace and conflict narratives, through training or education, or by helping shape alternative identity formation processes.
  3. Impact. Another assumption underlying the use of technologies is that it can help ‘improve’ peacebuilding, with the caveat that there are associated risks and ethical issues. What are the actual or possible impacts of using technologies for peacebuilding? How can we measure them?

We have designed the program to weave these guiding themes through the different types of content. Because the themes are interrelated, some sessions are guided by more than one theme. Different sessions are designed to offer different modes of interaction. Keynotes aim to be thought provoking and allow for deeper exploration on one aspect of a theme or themes. Panels offer an overview of one theme and permit interaction with the audience on the broader questions raised by that theme. Short Talks provide concrete evidence of practice and/or research in a particular theme. Working sessions are more practitioner-oriented and will produce a concrete output that contributes to practice in one thematic area.

We know that there a plenty of folks in our NCDD network who would gain and contribute a lot by attending this great gathering, and we hope that some of you can make it! You can learn more at or get registered for the conference at

Want to really contribute to the gathering? It’s not too late to apply to be a short talk speaker, to host a stand at the Technology Fair, or give a presentation during the Peace Lab at Build Peace 2015! But you have to act fast, because the deadline for application for speakers, stands, and presenters is this Monday, January 5th, so visit Build Peace’s call for speakers today!

We hope that some of our NCDDers will be able to take advantage of this great opportunity, and we thank Build Peace for inviting us to be part of it!

NCDD in 2014: A Year in Review

2014 was a pretty darn good year for NCDD. As I reflect on our work over the past twelve months, a few themes really stand out to me:

1. We made huge strides toward our goal of distributing leadership and responsibility for NCDD’s success more broadly.

The members of our amazing Board of Directors really stepped up this year, to launch new committees on membership, outreach and fundraising, to help plan a great national conference, and to strengthen the organization in numerous other ways. Special shout-outs to these Board members for especially huge lifts:

  • Marla Crockett for leading our local team for the 2014 conference
  • Susan Stuart Clark for running our Tech Tuesday series in 2014
  • RoshanWithSign-borderJohn Backman for moderating the NCDD Discussion list — a nuanced task I didn’t think I’d ever be able to let go of!

Roshan Bliss, our Blog Curator (pictured at right), began taking on more responsibility at NCDD by serving as our Student & Youth Outreach Coordinator for the 2014 conference. Thanks in large part to Roshan’s leadership and dedication, we inspired members of our community to donate over $15,000, enabling us to support the attendance of more than 60 young people and students at the 2014 NCDD conference.

And most importantly, we were able to bring on Courtney Breese as Program Director of NCDD!  A young leader in the field, Courtney served on the NCDD Board of Directors for three years while working full-time at the Massachusetts Office of Public Collaboration. She served as Conference Manager for NCDD’s last two national conferences. We have a wonderful working relationship, as is evidenced in the photo below — and the fact that we survived working on two conferences together! ;)

NCDD's Year in Review

In addition to all of this, we also distributed leadership to our members in new ways. Members are always involved in planning our conferences, creating content for the website, and so much more, but this year we started engaging some of our members in mini-contracts for critically important work that usually can’t be accomplished by volunteers. We contracted with talented members like Kathryn Thomson, Ben Roberts, Kim Crowley, Chris Berendes, and Kyle Bozentko for report-writing and interviewing tasks.

If you’d like to be on our list of potential contractors and didn’t fill out the “rolodex survey” we conducted earlier this year, it’s not too late. Complete the survey here so we can have a better sense of your skills and interests.

2. We really bumped up our level of professionalism in a lot of ways.

Though NCDD continues to serve everyone who work in dialogue, deliberation, and public engagement, and our website, online events, listservs, membership, and more are accessible and free to all who are interested, we allowed ourselves this year to find new ways to serve our field’s top leaders.

Due to our strong relationship with the Kettering Foundation, and my new role as part-time “Research Deputy” for Kettering, NCDD had the opportunity to convene top leaders in our field both in February at the Kettering Foundation, and in May in DC — in activities surrounding Kettering’s annual Public Voice event (group photo below).  We also helped identify leaders in online engagement who were invited to Kettering in July to preview KF’s new deliberation platform Common Ground for Action.


We provided space at our conference for two groups to convene top leaders in transpartisan dialogue and civic infrastructure work. I was torn about using the limited space we had the day before the conference for invitation-only events, as NCDD’s style tends to be more open-to-all, but realized that all conference attendees would benefit if these meetings brought leaders to the conference who might otherwise not attend.

GrandeLum-NextStepBubble-borderOne of our most exciting initiatives in 2014, launched at the fall conference during Grande Lum’s speech, is NCDD’s work with the Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service (CRS) to plan meetings between NCDD members and CRS staff at their regional offices across the country.  CRS provides mediation, dialogue, and reconciliation services for communities in crisis, and is interested in finding ways to partner with NCDD members who can potentially increase their effectiveness and reach.

We continued offering regular Confab Calls and Tech Tuesday events for our community, with an average of more than 60 participants in each one!  And we continued investing time and energy in collaborative projects we feel are important to the future of our field — including Creating Community Solutions (part of the National Dialogue on Mental Health) and its innovative Text Talk Act project, the CommunityMatters Partnership, Participedia, the Dialogue, Deliberation & Public Engagement Certificate Program at KSU, and numerous projects (many of which are still in progress) in partnership with the Kettering Foundation.

3. And of course, much of the year was devoted to putting on a great national conference.

Our 2014 National Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation was a major highlight of the year, for us and for our 415 attendees. Words cannot express how amazing it feels to not only be in proximity to hundreds of what I consider to be the most important people on the planet — but to have the honor of hosting them, welcoming them, and organizing a one-of-a-kind event for them. Those of you who attended know what I mean when I say that the raw energy and excitement at the conference was palpable.

We may not solve the world’s problems at NCDD conferences, but we replenish each other’s energy for this critically important work, learn about myriad innovations in the field, and develop tons of valuable relationships and partnerships that last for years.

Please take a minute to watch this wonderful video of highlights from the conference…

NCDD’s Creative Director, Andy Fluke, outdid himself this year, designing gorgeous stage banners and signs, and what I think is our best conference guidebook yet.

And if you haven’t yet checked out our report on how the NCDD community thinks we should tackle our field’s biggest barriers to success (a conversation we began at the conference and continued on the listserv and after the event), please do take the time to look it over. The results of this engagement project give us valuable FieldMapWithGRsinsight into the ideas and actions that resonate most with the dialogue and deliberation community.

You can also learn all about the exciting visual field mapping project we ran leading up to the conference, and see all ten of the gorgeous maps created by the graphic recorders we worked with. And be sure to peek into the conference here on Storify, where you’ll clearly get a sense of the energy, excitement, and absolutely wonderful people who came to the 2014 conference.

In addition to all of this, NCDD continues to grow steadily.  Early in the year, we reached the milestone of 2,000 members (I was so excited!), and we’ve since grown to over 2,200 members. Our subscriber list for the monthly NCDD Updates grew to over 34,000 this year.

Does this make you want to support NCDD with an end-of-year gift? We need your support to keep this work going strong — so please think of us as you consider end-of-year donations. It’s super-easy to donate to NCDD using the short form at NCDD is a tax exempt 501(c)(3) organization, so your donations are fully tax deductible.

Natural Experiment on Policing Underway

We’re about to find out what would happen if policing decreased by 66%-94%:

It’s not a slowdown — it’s a virtual work stoppage.

NYPD traffic tickets and summonses for minor offenses have dropped off by a staggering 94 percent following the execution of two cops — as officers feel betrayed by the mayor and fear for their safety, The Post has learned. […]

…overall arrests down 66 percent for the week starting Dec. 22 compared with the same period in 2013, stats show.

Citations for traffic violations fell by 94 percent, from 10,069 to 587, during that time frame.

Summonses for low-level offenses like public drinking and urination also plunged 94 percent — from 4,831 to 300.

Even parking violations are way down, dropping by 92 percent, from 14,699 to 1,241.


NYPD by Flickr user Brett Sayer

Ask yourself this: is this likely to be better or worse for the city of New York?

A recent study found that older hospitalized heart patients did better when their specialists were away at national conferences. Treatment effects are difficult to test because we tell ourselves that experimenting by withholding treatment is wrong. But every so often the world throws us a natural experiment, where treatment is withheld unavoidably and independently of predicted outcomes.

Many of my collaborators use the word abolition when it comes to police and prisons, and while I balk at that language I can see their point and share many of their goals. Now it looks like we’re going to get some data to help organize our thinking about that debate, because the police have effectively abolished themselves in New York City!

“A federal criminal investigation of Koch Industries West refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas, helped spark Charles Koch’s interest in the criminal justice system.”

Charles Koch is committed to reforming the criminal justice system:

“We are not a nation of bad people. We are a nation that made some bad choices,” he said.

“We’ve become addicted to severe sentences, to the point where we are mass-producing convictions in many courts, while not providing defense counsel on a timely basis.

“We’ve got to fix that, and there is now a growing consensus among people knowledgeable about justice and economics that we are wasting precious human resources in criminal justice.”

Koch is never quoted in the article, just his chief council. But still, this is the promised conservative critique of prisons we’ve been waiting for. On the other hand, Koch has only donated single-digit millions, (i.e. “seven figures”) which is a small amount of his political contributions in total. The real question is what kind of pressure he’s putting on Republican nominees and politicians.

Will this be in the Republican Party’s platform for 2016? Will it be in the debates?

What Dreidel Teaches

Eric Schwitzgebel does the math, interprets the lessons:

(This past Hannukah, my daughter Kate and I spun a sample of dreidels 40 times each. One in particular landed on shin an incredible 27/40 spins. [Yes, p < .001, highly significant, even with a Bonferroni correction.]) [….]

You can, if you want, always push things to your advantage: Always contribute the smallest coins you can, always withdraw the biggest coins you can, insist on using what seems to be the “best” dreidel, always argue for rule-interpretations in your favor, eat your big coins and use that as a further excuse to only contribute little ones, etc. You could do all this without ever once breaking the rules, and you’d probably end up with the most chocolate as a result.

But here’s the brilliant part: The chocolate isn’t very good. […]

Dreidel is a practical lesson in discovering the value of fairness both to oneself and others, in a context where proper interpretation of the rules is unclear, and where there are norm violations that aren’t rule violations, and where both norms and rules are negotiable, varying from occasion to occasion — just like life itself, but with only mediocre chocolate at stake.

I tend to think that early exposure to randomness (at low stakes and without a skill element) can supply more than one important lesson for children. But I like this lesson best: the benefits of fairness usually trump the benefits of unfairness.

“The modern police union movement originated largely in reaction to the civil rights movement and its criticisms of police conduct during the 1960s….”

Shawn Gude at Jacobin discusses The Bad Kind of Unionism:

“It’s easy to focus on the individual over the institution. Not a few police officers are drawn to the profession out of a desire to “serve the public.” Many genuinely want to serve, and take great pride in their chosen occupation. Police don’t have to enjoy breaking up protests; they don’t have to be racists or hate homeless people. But once they decide to do their jobs, institutional exigencies overwhelm personal volition. When there’s mass resistance to poverty and inequality, it’s the cops who are summoned to calm the panic-stricken hearts of the elite. They bash some heads, or infiltrate and disrupt some activist groups, and all is right in the world again.

Such is the inherent defect of law-enforcement unionism: It’s peopled by those with a material interest in maintaining and enlarging the state’s most indefensible practices.”


Probleme und Beweggründe Im Rahmen des Bologna-Prozesses, also der Umstellung von Diplom- und Magister- Studiengängen auf Bachelor- und Master-Abschlüsse kam es europaweit zu Bildungsstreiks. So auch in Nordrhein-Westfalen. Das Ministerium für Innovation, Wissenschaft und Forschung des Landes NordrheinWestfalen (MIWF) bot in der Folge unter Wissenschaftsministerin Svenja Schulze den Studierenden des...

Philosophical Research and Political Diversity

There’s an interesting discussion over at Daily Nous regarding whether we ought to pursue political diversity in philosophy. I suspect the following three things to be true:

  1. There is nothing intrinsic or essential enough about political ideologies. Ideologies are arbitrary assemblages of procedural and substantive policy preferences that are aggregated sociologically, so “diversity” may be either an infinitely receding goal or it may end up mistaking sociological groupings for natural kinds.
  2. One of the main problems here is the criterion by which we judge philosophical results. Kristie Dotson’s paper How is this Paper Philosophy?” does a really good job at laying out how the absence of stable criteria for the acceptance of scholarship allows white and male scholars to privilege their own work and exclude the work of non-white and non-male scholars. The same holds for liberal and conservative scholars: if there’s no criterion for good work, it is far too easy to use political heuristics and litmus tests to stand in for the quality of a person’s scholarship.
  3. Insofar as we are engaged in a collective project, we must both mutually support each others’ inquiry and avoid errors. These two goals are at odds: homogeneity can also lead to unchallenged motivated reasoning and thus to polarization and error. But mutual inquiry requires some degree of shared values, assumptions, and methods which make political diversity divisive and paralyzing.

Your Brain on PoliticsIt’s not clear what we want when we say we want more political diversity or conservatives. Much of Haidt’s argument is deliberately equivocating about the relevant terms and tendencies. (That is: using partisan identification as a stand-in for shared values, assumptions, beliefs, and topical interests, where most of the work done by psychologists doesn’t have either explicit or implicit political valence.) According to Haidt’s early work, the problem is that liberals somehow just don’t recognize several fundamental moral intutions: liberals don’t think purity, loyalty, and appropriate authority matter. So he’s been telling this “liberals have broken moral compasses” story for a while now, and it’s dumb, and he’s mostly backed away from it, only to replace it with this other kind of story: liberals have different hobby horses than conservatives, and we need as many hobby horses as possible to keep everyone honest.

The liberal response has largely been to say that Haidt’s (early) description is right (i.e. liberals really don’t care about purity, ingroup loyalty, or hierarchical moral intutions) but that this is really liberals being rational and overcoming bad impulses. I think that story is bullshit, too: everyone on both sides of partisan debates finds ways to incorporate the full panoply of moral intuitions. We just do it differently, on different topics: liberals don’t find homosexuality unpure and thus immoral, they find GMOs and pollution unpure and thus immoral. Liberals don’t respect priests, they respect scientists. Etc.

So if that’s right, then it’s not about a “diversity of thinking styles” when we see calls to include conservative researchers. You won’t be including lost moral intuitions, but rather missing beliefs and priors. There’s no natural liberal/conservative divide, just commitments and policy views that get stacked together arbitrarily or sociologically. So political diversity is about whether we need to include, not just moral conservatives or libertarians, but Republicans. Perhaps without their arbitrary ideological constellations to counter our own, our research communities are prone to systematic errors and biases. But if political diversity gathers people with arbitrarily assembled constellations of beliefs, rather than Republican and Democratic brains, there is value in seeking out disagreement just for its own sake, to engage in some helpful motivated skepticism to counter our own motivated reasoning. When like-minded researchers engage in motivated reasoning to pursue lines of inquiry that support their arbitrary priors, they are likely to fall into error or polarize their results. This is even more likely when the criterion of evaluation is itself murky. (“Philosophers admit falsifying results of thought experiment,” etc.)

To be clear, if the cultural cognition view is correct, it’s not ideology or psychology that is driving my partisan affiliation, assumptions, values, beliefs, and topical interests; it’s identity-protective cognition garnered from my friends and our shared identity. So we can’t have a professional community that won’t have some of that: by dint of calling ourselves philosophers we’ll have some priors we’re not well-placed to challenge. Certainly we COULD do a lot to reduce the potential for bias in this way, but it’s just not clear that we SHOULD. The evidence suggests that research communities require shared beliefs and goals to engage in inquiry at all. It’s really difficult to build professional communities around fundamental disagreements, precisely because that community requires shared goals and methods, and identity-based disagreements create schisms and hunkering down and bullet-biting. Philosophy already suffers pretty badly in that area.

These are all good reasons to hope for more diversity in philosophy, though mostly on race, gender, sexuality, class, and disability lines. But not just the big stuff…. For instance, how many geologists do we have in philosophy of science? Wouldn’t that expand the kinds of research questions there? Where are the dentists and home health aids in bioethics? And sure, where are the great climate change skeptics? Where are the great defenders of Catholic sexual morality? Where are the great pro-IQ philosophers? (And are those even what we mean when we talk about conservatives? I prefer to think not, but Haidt et al explicitly mention IQ issues, so….)

Those dimensions of diversity seem (to me) to be of only minor importance compared to the big stuff, though of course worth cultivating. So far, though, I haven’t yet seen an argument for weighting it comparatively heavier.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Winter Solstice (But not really)

The Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year. In our calendaring system, it also marks the first night of winter.

But in many ancient European calendars, the solstice marked mid-winter. In Gaelic calendars, for example there were eight major calendar markers – though it’s disputed how greatly each was celebrated.

The eight markers were made up of the two solstices, the two equinoxes, and then four cross-quarter days – the days halfway between the a solstice and an equinox. These markers divided the year into eighths and governed what is now referred to as the Wheel of the Year.

We essentially still have eight year marker days, but they’ve shifted names and meaning.

Groundhog’s Day, for example, is essentially the cross-quarter day between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Today, Groundhog’s Day marks the middle of winter – will the groundhog see his shadow? But more traditionally, it – or more properly Imbolc marked the end of winter and the beginning of spring.

I’ve never been quite clear on how the Solstice went from representing the middle of winter to representing the beginning of winter – perhaps it’s just one of those things, like the Great Vowel Shift.

Also, there was an interesting piece yesterday claiming that this year’s solstice was, in fact, the longest night EVER. Pointing to the continual slowing of the earth’s rotation, the article estimated that every year’s solstice was negligibly longer than the last.

Of course, that could only make me think of Office Space’s Peter Gibbons reflecting that “every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means that every single day that you see me, that’s on the worst day of my life.”

But, it turns out the original article is not quiet true. They quickly posted a correction, clarifying that while the earth’s rotation is trending towards slowing down, there’s actually quite a bit of year-to-year variation.

And by “quite a bit,” of course, I actually mean changes so miniscule that nobody without a properly calibrated device of some sort would ever know the difference.

In this graphic you can see the average length of a day charted over time. As you can see – maybe – “the longest night in Earth’s history likely occurred in 1912.”

So that was the longest night ever.