The Ideas Box is a portable media center designed as a kit that fits on two standard transportation pallets and that can be set up in under 20 minutes. The Ideas Box creates a cultural space covering 330 square feet, and provides access to laptops and tablets, a library with both paper books and e-readers, and a built-in cinema. The Ideas Boxes can be transported to remote areas by truck, and can be quickly moved from one area to another in response to dynamically changing needs.
Libraries Without Borders (LWB) has partnered with the Colombian Ministry of Culture and the National Library of Colombia to utilize Ideas Box programs for peacebuilding. The design of this intervention is based upon the premise that cultural programs are critical for individuals and communities who have faced crisis and conflict. The mobility provided by the Ideas Box design will allow the Colombian Ministry of Culture to reach FARC ex-combatants and civilians in all 23 special jurisdictions and other prioritized rural communities.
LWB will place one Ideas Box in each of the 23 special jurisdictions set aside for demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants. The focus of this first phase of the project, in alignment with the Governments 180-day demobilization strategy, is to offer FARC ex-combatants cultural tools and programs aimed at building trust between ex-combatants, Colombian citizens and Government institutions.
Contents for each Ideas Box will be curated by experts from both LWB and the National Library of Colombia. Focus groups and surveys will be conducted to ensure that content selection places ex-combatants and rural community members at the center of content curation. These contents will include paper and digital materials, such as historical primary sources, novels, movies, and resources from other governmental departments such as information relevant for public health. Books and e-books will include titles for all ages, with a strong focus on materials to support literacy and professional development. There will also be a special selection for ex-combatants that includes essays, booklets, videos and tutorials associated with the peace process and the contents of the peace agreements negotiated in Cuba. Each Ideas Box will also include a digital library curated with educational and reference materials such as Wikipedia and Khan Academy videos in Spanish. This digital library will create local WiFi networks that provide access to pre-loaded content, even without Internet connection.
LWB will hire and train 5 technical experts who have worked with the Ideas Box in other contexts, such as in UNHCR refugee camps in Jordan. These technical experts will rotate between each of the 23 Ideas Box sites to provide support with logistics, content selection, technology troubleshooting, program design, program implementation, and evaluation and monitoring. In parallel, the National Library of Colombia will hire experienced librarians to facilitate Ideas Box programs.
These facilitators and technical experts will open access to and facilitate programs at the Ideas Boxes Mondays through Saturdays. Schedules will be customized for each site, and updated through dynamic feedback loops. Facilitated programs will include workshops to promote literacy, to explore information about employment opportunities, and to foster collaboration and civic engagement. Each Ideas Box expects 25% of the population of each area of deployment to visit the library at least once per week, totaling an estimated 2,000 visits per box per week.
After the Governments 180-day demobilization period comes to an end, attention will shift to the 23 special jurisdictions in surrounding rural settlements. Accordingly, LWB will launch phase two of this project, shifting focus of Ideas Box programs to rural communities affected by the conflict.
Each Ideas Box will offer comprehensive library services to a rural community for 12 months. These communities will be chosen from the nearly 200 municipalities identified by the Government of Colombia as critical for peacebuilding. As a consequence of the armed conflict, these towns have been isolated from government services for decades. Here, the Ideas Box program will play an essential role in broader efforts to replace illegal structures with legitimate institutions, and to strengthen relationships between these rural communities and the Government of Colombia.
LWB understands that it is important not to leave institutional voids after each one-year intervention. Thus, in parallel, the National Library of Colombia will work with local authorities to finance and build permanent infrastructure for a public library in each of these towns. At the end of each Ideas Box program in phase two, rural communities will be prepared to inaugurate their own public libraries, and to sustain and defend these democratically built and legitimate institutions.
The Ideas Box team guarantees that programs will be relevant to community demands and needs through a participatory process of content curation and program design. Contents, including book titles, will be selected and updated with user input. Feedback from the Ideas Box will also shape the design of the permanent library infrastructure scheduled to come at the end of each Ideas Box implementation. In this way, LWB and the National Library of Colombia will create clear outlets for local communities to shape the design of legitimate governmental institutions through a bottom-up approach. This will, in turn, foster more sustainable relationships between the government and rural communities.
During this 3-year commitment, the LWB and National Library of Colombia teams will monitor the following indicators:
- The extent to which the Ideas Box programs are building trust among users (both ex-combatants and civilians);
- The extent to which the Ideas Box programs are facilitating the installation of formal institutions; and
- The extent to which the Ideas Box programs are strengthening literacy and digital literacy among users.
By September 31, 2016:
- First Ideas Box arrives in Colombia, with 22 additional Ideas Boxes to be manufactured and transported to Colombia over the following 3 months
By October 14, 2016:
- Procurement of all content completed, including books and IT equipment
By October 21, 2016:
- First Ideas Box configured and deployed, with 22 additional Ideas Boxes to be configured and deployed over the following 3 months
By January 6, 2017:
- All 23 Ideas Boxes manufactured and delivered to Colombia
By January 27, 2017:
- All 23 Ideas Boxes configured and deployed to the 23 special jurisdictions outlined for demobilization
By June 30, 2017:
- Over 6,000 ex-combatants (75% of the estimated total active combatants) have participated in Ideas Box programming
- Collected social cohesion indicators that demonstrate the capacity for the mobile libraries to create and strengthen ties between and among ex-combatants and other members of the community
By June 30, 2018:
- Over 20,000 additional individuals from rural areas have participated in Ideas Box programming
- Surveyed the number of partnerships developed between the mobile libraries and other government services and other non-profits. These will indicate the extent to which other stakeholders view the mobile libraries as a catalyst towards peacebuilding efforts and as safe spaces to reintroduce target communities to formal institutions.
- Established formal and legitimate institutions in rural communities affected by the conflict, built together with the community from the bottom up
- Developed plans for the extension of the Ideas Box program that do not allow communities to be left with the institutional voids that exacerbate vulnerabilities
By June 30, 2019:
- Over 20,000 additional individuals from rural areas have participated in Ideas Box programming
- Collected quantitative and qualitative indicators that demonstrate improved literacy and digital literacy skills for individuals who have engaged in Ideas Box programming
- Surveyed the percentage of communities registered to utilize the mobile library. These surveys will also indicate the extent to which community members consider public libraries to be safe spaces and trusted institutions.
After five decades of armed conflict in Colombia between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Government of Colombia, an estimated 218,094 people have died (81% of whom were civilians) and an additional 5 million people have been displaced. In June 2016, the FARC and the Government of Colombia signed a ceasefire. A peace treaty was finalized on August 24, 2016.
Recent estimates cite 8,000 active fighters in the group. Pending a referendum scheduled for October 2, the Colombian Government will begin relocating former FARC members to temporary normalization zones, beginning the transitional justice period which is planned to last at least 180 days.
Most of these combatants come from poor, rural communities. Throughout the duration of the conflict, the Government of Colombia has faced several challenges in providing services in rural areas. Such voids created vulnerable spaces for non-democratically elected authorities to take control. In response, the Government of Colombia has established a comprehensive 10-year strategy to prevent conflict from rising up again in 186 critical municipalities, and to build legitimate institutions together with rural populations from the bottom-up.
De jure peace does not automatically heal social, emotional, and political wounds. Libraries Without Borders sees a narrow window of opportunity for the international community to support the Government of Colombia in closing rifts between ex-combatants and Colombian citizens, and to build strong bridges for reintegration at the offset.