ICTs and Human Security: 2016 Fieldwork Highlights and 2017 Next Steps

7 minute read

Government Offices in Turkana County, Kenya (Margaret Scott)

When we first wrote about technology and security nearly a year ago, SIMLab had just begun to test our hypotheses about how inclusive technologies can help strengthen relationships between communities and police through community-oriented or community-based policing. Community-oriented policing is broadly defined as an approach to security in which police departments or security agencies work toward public safety and crime reduction together with local communities. Today, we want to share some of our research methodology, a few findings from our fieldwork in 2016, and our next steps in 2017 and beyond.

Currently, SIMLab is part of a consortium project known as “Information and Communications Technologies for Community Oriented Policing”— ICT4COP for short. The consortium led by the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) and funded by the European Commission is tasked with researching community policing and human security in countries undergoing police reform. While technology is a central feature of the research agenda, researchers are also examining cross-cutting issues such as post-conflict security, chronic violence, and formal and informal security providers. SIMLab helps our research partners to understand local communications and technology environments, engage community perspectives on security and relationship-building with the police, and identify how inclusive technologies might be applied to help strengthen community-police relations.


Our research looks at 11 total countries, across four regions:

  • East Africa: South Sudan, Kenya, Somalia
  • South Asia: Afghanistan, Pakistan
  • Eastern/Southern Europe: Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia
  • Central America: El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua

In these 11 countries, our research focuses on a core question: In what ways has, can, and might the use of information and communication technologies contribute to, promote, or threaten the human security of vulnerable populations? Preliminary research reveals that in many of these study countries, the police are regarded with distrust, whether due to the historic involvement of civilian and/or military police in violence perpetrated during authoritarian regimes or civil war, or present-day corruption and involvement with criminal gangs. Technology solutions promoted by the police—surveillance through cameras or drones, or predictive policing through data analysis—are often met with resistance from residents, community organizations, and NGOs alike. Although these technologies have an important role to play for safer and better serviced communities, their application is often disconnected from local realities and can have the opposite of their intended effect; making community members feel less safe and less likely to communicate with the police about possible threats or crime reporting. Even where technology solutions, such as text message based SMS reporting, have been oriented toward community use, these solutions have often failed to incorporate the specific preferences or socioeconomic conditions of vulnerable groups (e.g. limited access to a mobile device; costliness of text messaging; perceived retributions for crime reporting; etc.). Given the demonstrated challenges of linking technology to community engagement for public safety, SIMLab’s research aims to answer the following questions (within the core question above):

  • How do communities use technology in addressing or dealing with insecurity or chronic violence?
  • How do new information technologies pose risks to vulnerable populations in active conflict or post-conflict settings?
  • How the police interact with community members? (e.g. What is the communication process? How do the police use technology in their work?)

As we conduct our in-country research on these core questions, SIMLab relies on our Context Analysis Frameworkto engage with communities and understand how they use technology every day, to shape questions for Key Informant Interviews (KIIs) and Focus Group Discussions (FGDs), and to guide the findings that we share with our colleagues and partners. Our Context Analysis Framework uses five “Lines of Inquiry”: the people directly and and indirectly targeted by the project; the community and culture in which they live; the market and technology environment; the political economy; and the implementing organization or environment. In the context of our research on ICTs, community policing, and human security, these lines of inquiry help to understand the affordable, accessible, inclusive technologies that communities regularly use. This knowledge will serve as a foundation from which to build community engagement around security issues and strengthen relationships with the police.

Recently, we have successfully conducted research in Kenya (Turkana County, November 2016) and in Serbia (Belgrade and Novi Becej, December 2016). We are happy to present brief findings from that fieldwork research here.


In Kenya, with the help of Danish Demining Group (DDG) and Handicap International (HI) SIMLab traveled to several different communities throughout Turkana County over the course of a week. Here, among Kenya’s poorest counties, access to services of any kind is deeply challenged. Government services including policing is no exception, and access to electricity, let alone basic technology, is limited, even in spite of Kenya’s notoriously high mobile penetration. Conflict in Turkana County is characterized by competition over scarce resources, interplayed with animosity between tribal groups in the region: communities are highly dependent on land and livestock, creating a heightened risk of violence, exacerbated by the onset of drought.

Turkana County’s remote geography also plays an important role in determining how individuals and communities stay in touch with one another, and with their government and other service providers. Namely, our research revealed that community members are most likely to connect with one another, whether on a daily basis or in times of emergency, face-to-face, going door-to-door or contacting neighbors and friends in person. One example of how these person-to-person connections have been leveraged as a security intervention in the region has been the implementation of the Community Peace Representatives (CPRs) program, organized by Handicap International. In this intervention, local community members volunteer as CPRs and gain special training to engage the community around Armed Violence Reduction (AVR) and to act as first responders to local emergencies, filling a gap left by the limited police service in the region.


The fieldwork in Serbia took place over the course of two weeks in Belgrade, the nation’s capital city, and Novi Becej, a rural region. Generally phone and internet penetration has grown significantly in recent years. Although feelings toward technology are generally positive, research revealed wariness about the increasing availability of personal data and research participants acknowledged concerns about surveillance or violent retaliation from posting political opinions publicly, such as on social media.

In general, research participants reported an unfavorable view of the police, expressing mistrust for police as well as political leadership through the government. With regard to community-oriented policing (COP) specifically, research participants reported little familiarity with the concept, but acknowledged the potential benefits for implementation of this policing approach. Overall, the Serbian government has been slow to develop and or implement community-oriented policies for policing. Where they do exist, the integration of technology or community-based communications strategies has been sporadic and not part of a broader policy strategy. For example, Municipal Security Councils have been outlined as a means to connect municipal government, police, and community members through regular meetings and communications, but none of the research participants noted any familiarity with these Councils. Overall, considering that Serbia’s relationship with technology is still rapidly evolving, it is reasonable to expect that the use of technology for security purposes will also continue to evolve. It remains to be seen whether this will be leveraged for community engagement or for broader data collection and surveillance.

Next Steps

Moving forward in 2017, SIMLab will continue to conduct desk research on inclusive technologies and human security in all 11 study countries. While security issues will prevent SIMLab from conducting in-country fieldwork in every study country, we’ll continue with fieldwork in Central America, Eastern Europe, and Kenya, engaging with rural and urban communities alike to better understand how inclusive technologies can be leveraged to support community police relations. We’ll also begin to plan and implement two pilot interventions that leverage inclusive technologies to strengthen community engagement by the police as well as other security actors, with one in Kenya and one in a country to-be-determined. As the research and pilot design moves forward, we will continue to post updates here, so watch this space for more.

Interested in hearing more about our work on inclusive technologies and human security? Please get in touch with Margaret or at hello@simlab.org!