In late July, I attended the International Conference on Peacebuilding and Conflict Resolution held in Berlin, Germany. The main aim of the conference was to bring together leading academics to exchange and share their experiences and research results on all aspects of peacebuilding and conflict resolution. It was also an annual avenue provided as an interdisciplinary platform for researchers and practitioners to discuss the most recent innovations and concerns, as well as practical challenges encountered, and solutions adopted in the fields of peacebuilding and conflict resolution. 

Due to the ongoing pandemic, the conference was held virtually, and was well attended by researchers from several disciplines across the globe.

The Good. And the Not so Good (Pros and cons)

By the time the conference was held in July 2021, virtual conferences had become the norm for organisers and many attendees. For me, this was my first virtual conference experience. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect so I prepared with a pre-recording of my presentation. Unfortunately, I encountered technical difficulties with replaying my presentation, so I had to make a live presentation. I quickly observed that it was not possible to really gauge the mood in the virtual room or receive silent feedback from my audience/listeners in this format. Likewise, I observed that while listening to other presenters, I had the feeling I was watching a customised YouTube playlist, rather than a conference proceeding. Other major drawbacks for me included the poor networking opportunities and the lack of breaks in between sessions. 

Notwithstanding these limitations, I really benefitted from the convenience of attending a conference from the comfort of my home. I also found the in-session chat functions useful, because a question could be dropped to a presenter, and there was an easier means of responding to queries or follow-ups at a delayed time. The virtual conference also meant that I was able to avoid all the associated hassle of obtaining a visa or travel and accommodation related expenses. I have always dreaded the possibility of traveling out of the country which would entail leaving my kids for a couple of days, and the ad-hoc care arrangements required.

Research vs Reality. 

An important take away for me was that research does not always translate into policy. During the conference, I heard a lot of brilliant ideas from young and experienced researchers alike. As an example, key findings from my research in peacebuilding in sub-Saharan Africa indicated alternative peacebuilding mechanisms could be put in place, outside the traditional military approach, to ensure sustainable development in conflict regions. However, in early August, the USA, along with other allies, withdrew from military operations in Afghanistan. What immediately became apparent is that military operations alone are not enough. It is necessary for structural and sustainable mechanisms for development to be emplaced within a fragile community. This is necessary at all stages of peacebuilding, whether during or after the conflict. In the case of the Afghanistan operations, after 20 years, it has now become apparent that the structure for sustainable development has not been in place. Or rather, it was not fully integrated. 

Final Words.

As a result of the seeming disconnect between research and policy, I have responded to a call to action, and signed up for an upcoming session in a few weeks, targeted at providing young researchers the medium to pitch ideas to policy makers in various regions. This will further bring light to findings from my research. It will also give my findings a chance to not remain only within the pages of my PhD thesis.

Ah! And lest I forget… At the end of the conference, I was notified that I was the recipient of the best presentation award for the track. Turns out that the technical difficulties and impromptu live presentation didn’t have much impact on the presentation after all. 

Jamila was funded through the Manchester Metropolitan Graduate School’s Research Support Award to attend this international conference. You can find out more about the award and upcoming deadlines by visiting the PGR Development Moodle area.

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