How data can help counter violent extremism

Shutterstock image (by Sakkmesterke): big bang of technology and data, abstract.

A new initiative by Peace Tech Lab aims to provide anonymously available usable data that people in conflict zones can take advantage of to strategize and counter violent extremism on the ground.

"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," Noel Dickover, Technical Director of Global Network Strategies at Peace Tech Lab, told FCW on April 7 during a two-day conference on countering violent extremism.

The Open Situation Room Exchange (OSRx) was launched in March and is hosted by the United States Institute of Peace, a federally funded organization. The data hub has been in the works for a year but Dickover, a veteran of the eDiplomacy office at the State Department, said it will take about three to five years to get to where they need to be, given that this is a fairly new use of data in the peace-building arena.

The way OSRx works is that people in conflict areas globally can access aggregated local data alongside social media conversations, and then baseline information to get a better idea and bigger picture of the topic or policy in question. That can then help them in strategizing more quickly and efficiently on the ground.

"Part of the challenge is there are so many different dimensions for it and everybody is coming to the data for its own purpose," Dickover explained. He said having the data anonymous makes it available more quickly and to more people. That way the practitioners, researchers or policy makers on the ground can use it to further expand their efforts. 

"Usable," in this context, means a format that can be applied to decision making. "That's the critical gap," Dickover added. "Not that the data is accessible, that it's usable, that they can actually apply it."

"Technology tools and data as a whole are underutilized in the CVE space," Charlie Caris, an analyst consultant at Praescient Analytics, told an audience at the day-long seminar. Dickover concurred, noting: "It is a fair statement to say that peace-building gets significantly less than what maybe you would get in the Department of Defense space and so forth." OSRx is being funded by the U.S. government and in collaboration with some private industry as well.

"It's the messenger more than the message which is critical for addressing violent extremism," Dickover said.

About the Author

Aisha Chowdhry is a former staff writer for FCW.


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