The revolutionary effects of “big data” are frequently discussed in terms of scaling business and consumer relation management, but data has implications far beyond the business world. Building capabilities to analyze digital footprints - from online searches to social media feeds - will be key in advancing efforts to counter violent extremism (CVE). In CVE, big data analytics can be used by analysts to identify trends and patterns in violent extremism and even predict behavior of violent extremist groups. Equally important, though, is the capability of big data to inform those who are less tech-savvy of trends relevant to their own communities and those in which they work. Data hubs such as the Open Situation Room Exchange (OSRx) aggregate valuable data resources and serve as valuable tools for a broad range of users, including journalists, policymakers, researchers, and practitioners working in the field. Resources such as these can provide a lens into trends and unfolding events related to violent extremism.
The PeaceTech Lab’s OSRx site launched in February 2016 and is designed to provide critical insights into economic, social and political conditions on the ground in conflict zones globally. The initial release provides a baseline view of conflict and instability worldwide with dashboards for over 150 countries including:
- Real-time news and social media analytics
- Structured indices related to peace and conflict
- Forecasts of risk
The OSRx aims to lead a data-driven approach to peacebuilding and conflict resolution. As Noel Dickover, Technical Director of Global Network Strategies at Peace Tech Lab, told Federal Computer Week during a two-day conference on countering violent extremism, "The ultimate goal is to help people in conflict zones to be able to find, analyze, visualize and use this conflict data in a real way to address strategy and tactics on the ground." The site aggregates shareable information for worldwide networks of practitioners and researchers in the peacebuilding space, and is designed to provide open and accessible use of data to explore real-time and longer term trends that this network of users can use to inform their work. The OSRx database includes social media monitoring on conversations related to violence and instability, yearly indices related to conflict dynamics, and real-time event reports. These capabilities have the potential to provide situational awareness for local CVE practitioners. Overall, the primary ways in which the OSRx can contribute to CVE efforts include:
- Investigating the drivers of conflict through visualizations of current and historical trends
- Collaborating and sharing expertise on innovative ways to address violent conflict
- Producing new knowledge and situational awareness to inform policy decisions
Information is a powerful tool and big data is revolutionizing the way information is aggregated, shared and used. The PeaceTech Lab plans to continue to develop the OSRx by incorporating customized dashboards, interactive and collaborative features, additional data tools, and technology training for researchers, practitioners and policymakers focused in the CVE space.