Blog Posts

OSRx Guide 4: Using Big Data to Counter Violent Extremism

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.

OSRx Guide 3: Using OSRx to interpret the Lahore attack

On March 27th a massive suicide bombing in Pakistan killed at least 70 people - mostly women and children - and wounded hundreds more. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack, which occurred in a busy park in Lahore where Christians were gathered on Easter Sunday. Although the bomb targeted Christians, most of those killed were Muslims who were also in the park during the attack. 

For the PeaceTech Lab, this attack hit close to home. Just hours prior, the Lab, in partnership with the Technology for People Initiative, concluded a PeaceTech Exchange workshop. Participants had spent the past three days exchanging ideas and solutions for applying technology effectively to  peacebuilding programs in Pakistan, including promotion of narratives of tolerance online and tools for communication and data analysis. For the PeaceTech Lab and its partners, the event served as a reminder of the importance of the courageous work being done by peacebuilding organizations in Pakistan, and the urgent need to support their efforts to counter extremism.

 

 

While you may have not been on the ground in Lahore, you can still you use OSRx to find out what happened, and to place this event in context of broader trends in the country: 

 

 

To explore the background and aftermath of the Lahore terrorist attack, click “By Country” at the top of the OSRx home page, and select Pakistan from either the world map or list of countries. Next, scroll down to explore the following information on the real-time events map:

 

  • GDELT (Global Database of Events, Language, and Tone)

The GDELT map provides a visual analysis of news reports about violent events and protests for the past 7 days. Using the example of Pakistan, articles referencing protests and violence against civilians are represented by the red and yellow dots on the maps in the location they occurred. Clicking the different dots will show you a list of hyperlinked news articles that provide more context about specific events. 

The map below shows the real-time events and protests in Pakistan for March 30 - April 6, 2016. 

 

 

  • ACLED (Armed Conflict Location and Events Database)

The ACLED map provides a visual analysis capturing political violence data, including the specific dates and locations of the political violence, the types of events, the groups involved, facilities, and challenges in territorial control for the past seven weeks. 


The map belows shows the location and details of the Lahore terrorist attack (by clicking the large dot around Lahore) classified as ‘violence against civilians’ in the date range of March 24, 2016 - March 30, 2016. 

 

  • News Analytics Timeline

This is a live-updated timeline depicting an “instability” measure or average tone for news coverage at the national level displayed in a day-level view over the last 180 days. 


The higher the line, the more unstable the country is according to global news coverage.

In the timeline below, we see that “instability” news coverage started to rise on March 27 when the attacks occurred and steadily increased until March 29 when there was a sharp decline in instability news coverage:

 

 

  • News Analytics Word Cloud

This word cloud is updated in real-time, and depicts the top themes of news media coverage related to conflict and violence. 

The following map shows the real-time word cloud of news coverage as of March 30, 2016 showing the frequent sue of the words “Terror,” “Conflict and violence” and “kill:”

 

 

  • Violence and Instability in Social Media - Word Cloud

This world cloud displays the top themes of social media conversations over the past day, week, month or year. You can also capture the social media conversations from different regions.

The following map displays the top themes from social media worldwide for the past week showing that “killed,” “army,” “police,” “military” and “attack” were the top words used, with the hashtag #LahoreBlast arising as a secondary trend in conversation. By opening the link to Twitter Search found in the text below these visualizations, users can execute a query to view conversation related to “#LahoreBlast” even without a Twitter account:

 

 

  • Violence and Instability in Social Media – Volume Timeline

This graph displays a time series of the volume of social media conversation surrounding violence and instability emerging from the country.

The timeline below shows a steep increase in social media volume on March 27, 2016, the day of the attacks, followed by a decline:

 

 

  • Political Stability and Governance Timeline

This map displays a timeline of indicators of political stability, regime type, government effectiveness and forecasts political violence and governance for the country.

As shown here, political stability and governance have been on a steady decline in Pakistan until 2011, where there was a slight uptick:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OSRx Guide 2: Exploring the recent attacks in Brussels

On Tuesday, March 22, 2016, attacks struck throughout Brussels, killing 32 people and wounding over 300 others. The deadly bombs exploded in the Brussels airport and at an underground metro station in the quiet city of 1.2 million people, home to the European Union and NATO. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks, heightening security concerns around the world. The death toll does not include the three suicide bombers involved in the attacks.

Brussels is slowly inching back to normalcy, with the airport working to reopen and the metro service now running. These attacks are yet another reminder of longer-term issues surrounding violent extremism and its impacts felt globally. Beyond these security concerns, wider political implications remain for the EU still dealing with the aftermath of last year’s attacks in Paris and the refugee crisis.

 

How can you use the OSRx to find out what is happening on the streets of Brussels?

 

 

To explore the background and aftermath of the Brussels terrorist attack, click “By Country” at the top of the OSRx home page, and select Belgium from either the world map or list of countries. Next, scroll down to explore the following information on the real-time events map:

 

  • GDELT

The GDELT map provides a visual analysis of news reports about violent events and protests for the past 7 days. Using the example of Belgium, articles referencing protests and violence against civilians are represented by the red and yellow dots on the maps in the location they occurred. Clicking the different dots will show you a list of hyperlinked news articles that provide more context about specific events.

The map below shows the real-time violent events and protests in Belgium as of March 31, 2016, which are still centering around Brussels:

 

 

 

You can click on a dot on the map to see the articles associated with that location, or to execute a Google news query about that location.

 

  • News Analytics Instability Timeline

This is a live-updated timeline depicting an “instability” measure or average tone for news coverage at the national level displayed in a day-level view over the last 180 days. The higher the line, the more unstable the country is according to global news coverage.

In the timeline below, we see that “instability” news coverage started to rise when the attacks occurred and steadily increased until March 26 when a slow decline in news coverage began:

 

 

  • Violence and Instability in Social Media - Word Cloud

This world cloud displays the top themes of social media conversations over the past day, week, month or year. You can also capture the social media conversations from different regions.

The following map displays the top themes from social media in Europe and Eurasia for the past week showing that “police,” “attack,” “security,” and “Brussels” were the top words used, with #:

 

 

  • Violence and Instability in Social Media – Volume Timeline

This graph displays a time series of the volume of social media conversation surrounding violence and instability emerging from the country.

The timeline bellows shows a steep increase in social media volume on March 22, 2016, the day of the attacks, followed by a decline:

 

 

As always, PeaceTech Lab welcomes your feedback on the site, which you can provide here.

 

OSRX Guide 1: Using data to explore militant border attacks in Tunisia

Two weeks ago militants attacked an army barracks, police and National Guard posts on Tunisia’s border in Ben Guerdane. According to official figures the March 7th attack led to the deaths of twelve soldiers, seven civilians, and 49 militants. While there has been no official claim of responsibility for the attacks, authorities are blaming ISIS present in neighboring Libya. According to Reuters, militants used a megaphone to chant “God is Great,” exclaiming to residents that they were the Islamic State coming to save the town from the “tyrant” army.

It is unclear what the Islamic State’s intentions were, but this incident emphasizes the risk and vulnerability Tunisia faces from violence spilling over from neighboring countries.  

How can you use OSRx to find out what is happening on the ground in Ben Guerdane?

To explore the context in which events have unfolded in Tunisia, click “By Country” at the top of the OSRx home page, and select Tunisia from either the world map or list of countries. Next, scroll down to explore the following information on the real-time events map:

 

  • GDELT

The GDELT map provides a visual analysis of news reports about violent events and protests for the past 7 days. Using the example of Tunisia, articles referencing both protests and violence against civilians are represented by the red and yellow dots on the maps in the location they occurred. Clicking the different dots will show you a list of hyperlinked news articles where you can read about the specific events.

This map below shows the protests and violence against civilians that were being reported on March 16, 2016:

 

 

  • ACLED

The ACLED map provides a visual analysis capturing political violence data, including the specific dates and locations of the political violence, the types of events, the groups involved, facilities, and changes in territorial control for the past seven weeks.

The maps below shows the location and details of a student protest organized on March 10, 2016 in support of the armed forces and citizens of Ben Guerdane:

 

 

 

  • News Analytics Instability Timeline

This is a live-updated timeline depicting an “instability” measure or average tone for news coverage at the national level displayed in a day-level view over the last 180 days. The higher the line, the more unstable the country is according to global news coverage.

In the timeline below, we see that “instability” news coverage spiked during the Ben Guerdane attack in early March.

 

 

  • News Analytics Word Cloud

This word cloud is updated in real-time, and depicts the top themes of news media coverage related to conflict and violence.

 

 

  • Political Stability and Governance Timeline

This map displays a timeline of indicators of political stability, regime type, government effectiveness and forecasts political violence and governance for the country.

As shown here, political stability and governance have been on a steady decline in Tunisia since 2008-2009:

 

  • Violence and Instability in Social Media


These visuals provide a topic wheel and word cloud displaying the top themes of social media conversations over the past day, week, month or year. You can also capture the social media conversations from different regions.

The following visuals show the top themes from social media in Middle East and North Africa for the day of March 16, 2016 showing that “police,” “guerre,” “militaire,” and “#benguerdane” were the top words used. You can click on the Twitter Search link below these visualizations and explore the hashtag #BenGuerdane

 

 

 

  • Violence and Instability in Social Media


This graph displays a time series of the volume of social media conversation surrounding violence and instability emerging from the country.

The timeline below shows a steep increase in social media volume during the Ben Guerdane attack and a sharp decline afterwards:

 

 

 

 

Tents and Tech: Iraqis Using Data to Address a Displacement Crisis

Arbat Refugee Camp. Source: ABC News

Arbat Refugee Camp. Source: ABC News

 

The conflict with the Islamic State has created numerous crises in Iraq, not the least of which is an astronomical number of people left homeless.  As of June 2015 more than 4 million Iraqis have been forced to leave their homes and cities, accounting for one tenth of the global displaced population. While many Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Iraq have been absorbed by cities and are renting homes or living with host families, a significant portion have ended up in camps - large tent communities struggling to gain access to economic and humanitarian resources. In Iraqi Kurdistan, governments and civil society organizations (CSOs) struggle to address the needs of the displaced communities, many of whom come from Anbar, Ninewah, and Diyala.

The conflict with the Islamic State has created numerous crises in Iraq, not the least of which is an astronomical number of people left homeless.  As of June 2015 more than 4 million Iraqis have been forced to leave their homes and cities, accounting for one tenth of the global displaced population. While many Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Iraq have been absorbed by cities and are renting homes or living with host families, a significant portion have ended up in camps - large tent communities struggling to gain access to economic and humanitarian resources. In Iraqi Kurdistan, governments and civil society organizations (CSOs) struggle to address the needs of the displaced communities, many of whom come from Anbar, Ninewah, and Diyala.

People supporting the camps express frustration over the lack of information about the IDPs in their region. While some high-level data is collected on IDP camps, both civil society and government groups in Iraq routinely lack information about the demographic, health, and economic  status of displaced people to help them determine their priorities and plan their engagements. Fortunately, civil society organizations and governments can capture and share this data if they have access to the proper tools.

 

IOM's Displacement Tracking Matrx in Iraq
I
OM's Displacement Tracking Matrx in Iraq

PeaceTech Exchanges in Iraq

PeaceTech Exchanges in Iraq (PTXs) are workshops designed to connect CSOs and government reps with technologies that enable data capture and analysis as well as communication for better, more effective governance. Since September 2013, PeaceTech Exchanges have trained nearly 300 civil society organizations (CSOs) and 70 government employees  from across Iraq on low-cost, easy-to-use media and data tools.

In May of 2015, the PeaceTech Exchanges hosted a workshop in Sleimani, Iraq. Addressing the needs of IDPs emerged as a central issue to both civil society and government participants. These groups quickly identified low-cost, easy-to-use technologies to service their work with IDPs. Among the most popular tools that CSOs selected were KoBo Toolbox and Storymaker.

New Tools for New Projects

Developed by the Harvard Humanitarian Society, KoBo Toolbox allows people to easily create survey forms for to collect  information. Once a KoBo survey page has been loaded on a laptop or smartphone, it can be used to collect information in areas without access to the Internet. Data is stored locally on the device until a connection is available, then uploaded to an online service with analytical tools. The tool has changed the way many PTX CSOs collect information. “We're able to re-use the technology KoBoToolbox in multiple projects,” said the KWA, “because it is low cost and reduces the amount of time required to collect and save necessary data… Regarding our use of this technology it is the most important lesson that we learned from and can use it in future projects to facilitate our work.”

The Guardian Project's StoryMaker is a tool for citizen journalists and organizations that want to tell a story using video but lack expensive video capture and editing tools. StoryMaker allows the user to create, edit, and publish movies from a single Android or iOS device. In addition to documenting challenges faced by IDPs (explained in more detail below) PTX participants also used the app to document pollution of local lakes and rivers, using video to tell new stories in the Kurdistan region. In 2013, a video about the plight of Farmers in Diyala province won the United Press Unlimited award for the Best Story of 2013 “which would have remained untold without mobile storytelling.”

The Kurdish Women Association conducts an interview using a KoBo Toolbox survey on a smartphone.
The Kurdish Women Association conducts an interview using a KoBo Toolbox survey on a smartphone.

Gathering IDP Data

The PeaceTech Lab funded three IDP-focused data projects conceived at the PTX workshops. The Kurdistan Women Association (KWA) visited the Arbat and Tasluja IDP camps in Iraqi Kurdistan and conducted 85 interviews with displaced Yezidi women. Using KoBo Toolbox to record responses,  KWA gathered various data about women in the camps, including their age, marital status, living conditions, literacy levels, sources of income, skills, psychological condition, and whether they had been sexually harassed. The data will now be used to connect Yezidi women to humanitarian and economic resources.

Results from the interviews indicate that the camps are safe and provide satisfactory services, but that multiple challenges exist to finding employment. Sixty-eight percent of the women interviewed were illiterate, and that those with education had only progressed to the secondary level. Only eight percent  of women interviewed currently held employment (this was universally in farming) and most believed that they had no skills that they could use in a job. No women reported sexual harassment or instances of violence while living in the camps, but many reported health problems.

Visualizations of sampled KWA data.
Visualizations of sampled KWA data

“After spending a month collecting information about a number of women this has made it easier for us to find job opportunities for them and contact them for other humanitarian purposes,” the KWA project report concludes.

Two other organizations, the Youth Activity Organization (YAO) and the People's Development Organization (PDO) also organized projects to gather data on IDPs in Sleimani, this time focusing on medical data.

IDPs in Iraq often lack access to sufficient medical resources. This is particularly dangerous as diseases can spread throughout camps, compounding the challenges faced by local governments and civil society organizations to keep displaced Iraqis healthy.

The Youth Activity Organization tackled the issue of disease in Arbat. Like the Kurdish Womens Association, YAO gathered medical data on the spread of disease in the camps. In the Arbat IDP camp, they diagnosed 278 cases of leishmaniasis, a disease caused by single-celled parasites that causes skin ulcers and impacts blood cells, the spleen, and the liver. Documenting these cases with KoBo Toolbox, YAO presented their findings to the emergency hospital inside the camp. Within a month, hospital had treated 72% of the documented cases of leishmaniasis, as well as several other diseases.

 


The Youth Activity Organization presenting its findings

"Due to its ease of using these techniques and the speed of transfer and dissemination of information", said YAO project manager Nabil Abdulsalam, the tools KoBo Toolbox and Story maker were "effective, good and easy, with a high possibility of access to the public and decision-makers."

Youth Activity Organization incorporated StoryMaker into their project by documenting the medical cases of displaced Iraqis and their collaboration with local medical officials to secure medical aid.

Another group to partner with local government was the People's Development Organization (PDO). Focusing on Qoratu camp and the neighboring Salih Agha area in the Kalar region, PDO conducted a systematic survey of 530 families, totaling to 2,779 people.

 “116 of [IDPs interviewed] are infected with epidemiological diseases, 48 of them are males and 68 are females. The number of people infected with measles are 2, the number of people infected with pemphigus are 6 and number of people infected with pox are 10. 19 people are infected with typhoid, another 60 are infected with skin diseases such as Alopecia and Baghdad boil and other unknown skin diseases spread among IDPs and specially children. The number of children infected are 43.”

PDO found very difficult circumstances, both for the IDPs and the medical centers struggling to treat them. The camp medical centers lack the medicines and equipment needed to treat the IDPs in their area, and because of the cost of traveling to the nearby hospital in Kalar, many IDPs failed to get access to the medication they need.
 

A PDOteam member conducting interviews in Qoratu.
A PDO team member conducting interviews in Qoratu

Data capture technologies like KoBo Toolbox allowed the PTX participant People Development Organization to capture vast amounts of previously uncollected data on the status of IDPs in Qoratu camp and throw a spotlight on the difficulties faced by IDPs in Iraqi Kurdistan. After the story has earned coverage in local press Kurdish parliamentarian Meryam Samad contacted PDO director Bahar Osman and promised a health committee hearing on the subject of displaced Iraqis in camps. $12,000 dollars of medical supplies were delivered to Qoratu, and a relationship was established between government and civil society.


"The best thing about the project is that it attracted the attention of the local authorities ​... that we built a good relationship with the health directory there and the local government. They promised us help with what we want to do in terms of new projects, new activities. They said that they appreciate the things that you did as an NGO, they are ready for any kind of contribution."


The flow of information and aid from data collection teams

 

The Power of Peacetech

One fundamental belief motivating the PeaceTech Lab is that low-cost, easy to use technology can empower peacebuilders in conflict zones to generate meaningful impact. Data collection and media tools can turn general realities (that there is a health crisis in IDP camps) into specific realities (there are specific numbers of people with specific diseases) that can be effectively communicated. They can help make the stories and needs of people displaced by violence known to their communities and to the world. As the PeaceTech Exchange series expands globally, we will continue to support organizations that address violence and create a more peaceful world.
 

 

 

 

PeaceTech Lab Summit - Feb. 4

 

The PeaceTech Lab will be hosting a PeaceTech Summit titled: Scaling PeaceTech: More, Better, Faster on February 4, at USIP. 

The global ubiquity of low-cost, easy-to-access technology is changing the way information and capital flow. This new normal has unleashed social entrepreneurs harnessing the power of technology, media and data. PeaceTech emerges when interdisciplinary experts collaborate to design, develop, and deploy new and existing technology tools for peacebuilding.

The 2016 PeaceTech Summit will probe the relationship between existing companies and emergent PeaceTech, test possible funding mechanisms, identify what works best to extinguish violent conflict, and chart the way forward for a PeaceTech industry. We will have visionary pioneers from multiple sectors – all discussing how enterprises can tackle drivers of violent conflict to create a high-impact PeaceTech industry.

The full agenda is here, but these are some of the highlights:

KEYNOTES

  • Jack Dangemond, Founder & CEO, Esri
  • Robin Chase, Founder, Zipcar, & author, Peers Inc.

FIRESIDE CHATS - TWO REVOLUTIONS: AI & BIG DATA

  • DJ Patil, Chief Data Scientist, White House
  • Nick Donofrio, former IBM Executive Vice President of Innovation and Technology; Chairman of the Board, PeaceTech Lab

FIRESIDE CHATS - SCALING UNIQUE ORGANIZATIONS

  • Gary Knell, President & CEO, National Geographic Society
  • Tom Monahan, Chairman & CEO, CEB; Board Member, PeaceTech Lab

Please RSVP if you'd like to attend. 

 

Welcome to the Open Situation Room Exchange

The PeaceTech Lab is are very excited to announce the launch of the Open Situation Room Exchange! This has been a long journey in the making, but we believe this initial step is providing some much needed capability to the peacebuilding field.  Our initial focus has been to develop the width of the site - so that there is data visualizations available for most of the world in an accessible way. Over time, we will be expanding with significant training content to help practitioners in the peacebuilding space to become more comfortable with accessing and using data on peacebuilding topics. We will also be expanding the depth of the OSRx to provide deep, layered views of the violent conflicts impacting our world.  

We are perhaps most excited about the possibility of exposing new users to some of these incredible open datasets that are already available.  

We have grouped the visualizations into three categories:

  • Real-time information: The OSRx pulls in real-time information from both social media and news sources, which has a blue-green header. For social media analytics, we use Crimson Hexagon's powerful ForSight™ platform to build social media monitors capture the conversation around conflict, and then send the results via Application Programming Interface (API) to the OSRx. We apply the Global Database of Events, Language and Tone (GDELT) dataset for news analytics. Real-time information includes word clouds, topic wheels and line charts on social media volume and the instability of news coverage. 
  • Structured Indices: The OSRx has incorporate a number of structured indices, which will have a purple header. These cover the gamut of topics including governance issues, risk of violence, economic concerns, education, gender and technology. Structured indices do not change often - they are usually updated yearly or quarterly. 
  • Forecasts: Forecasts provide our best guess on future outcomes. Forecasts headers are in orange.

We are very interesting in gathering your thoughts on this site. Please provide us your feedback. We are especially interested in what information you are looking for and how you plan on using it. Please share any features you think would make a significant difference in its impact.