University's ISG and PSRP Receive International Recognition for COVID-19 Ceasefires Tracker
The University’s Information Services Group (ISG) and Political Settlements Research Programme (PSRP) leveraged their collaborative partnership, with support from international organizations, to launch a digital tool to track the relationship between COVID-19 and global conflict resolution.
The University’s Information Services Group (ISG) recently supported the School of Law’s Political Settlements Research Programme (PSRP) and their organizational network with creating a COVID-19 Ceasefires Tracker, a public digital tool to track and examine the consequences of COVID-19 on armed conflict and peace processes around the world.
ISG’s Development Services and PSRP have worked in ongoing collaboration for the past few years organising and visualising research on peace agreements between warring factions. In particular, they developed the peaceagreements.org website to document, analyse and extrapolate items covered in peace agreements and their impacts on the overall peace process.
The project grew from the Peace Agreements Database where we first engaged with IS in probably 2014. Over time we have evolved a quite specific way of working which works really well. At the heart it involves writing a detailed spec for a project and engaging collaboratively in developing it, and then establishing a joint workflow. I would say we now view them really as joint research collaborators as much as a service,
Another unique element of the PSRP team is its student involvement. The programme offers paid fellowship opportunities to join the team and conduct research. “Working on such interdisciplinary projects, such as with the ISG team, has been one my favourite aspects during the past year as a Graduate Fellow with the Political Settlements Research Programme,” said Fiona Knäussel, PSRP Graduate Fellow. “It involves the communication between collaborators – the speaking of different ‘languages’, the product design and development of such tools and a lot of research in many of the different fields.”
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, in March 2020 the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for a global ceasefire to halt violent conflict and redirect efforts to addressing the pandemic. In response the PSRP launched a collaborative project with other global peace organizations, peacebuilders, researchers and mediators (notably, the Mediation Support Unit of the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs) to develop the Ceasefires in a Time of COVID-19 tracker, designed to reflect health data and inform attempts to support ceasefires and pandemic responses in a coordinated way.
As COVID-19 poses distinct health challenges and complications to conflict-affected states, the project set out to highlight the relationship between the global coronavirus pandemic and conflict resolution efforts. The project operated on a tight timeline with development and delivery of the tool taking place over the space of a few weeks at the end of the summer.
Generally, we’ve worked a lot with PSRP on small-scale enhancement and maintenance. In this past year we’ve embarked on a major investment in the time and effort spent to modernize and extend the collaborative work we do and our relationship with PSRP,
The internationally recognized COVID-19 Ceasefires Tracker monitors ceasefires alongside live data on infection rates in the context of an interactive timeline and map. ISG enabled the team to share their data and findings through the digital site, translating inputs from a Google spreadsheet into an innovative, intuitive interface.
Overall, the ISG team has been incredibly helpful and open-minded, also patient and creative when it comes to our inputs, and they take great care in anticipating and flagging potential problems or easy fixes, as well as communicating to us regularly how far in with the process we are,
Data is collected using media reports coupled with the expert knowledge of participating organizations and their partnership networks. ISG helped facilitate data collection through the design of back-end coordination mechanisms enabling collaborative spreadsheets to be uploaded and integrated with open-access COVID-19 health data.
“The ceasefire data completely depends on being innovative and online. In fact, our whole project would have been impossible without IS,” said Christine. “Due to the developmental nature of our data, going to an outside company for technical support would have involved going to different companies for ‘back end’ and ‘front end’ database support, and led to a series of commissions. By working with IS, we could work more iteratively with a single team, and then build in their costs to future grant applications.”
The ISG team built a database within the existing administrative interface to update data in a meaningful way, and then constructed the external website to present a toggle map view of the data, search interface and filterable timeline. The tracker is filterable based on whether the ceasefires were temporary, indefinite, unilateral, bilateral or multilateral. It provides information on the location of the ceasefire, content, associated public statements, conflict context and links to any previous agreements. The tracker is available free-of-charge and can be viewed alongside real-time COVID-19 infection and death data pulled from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering COVID-19 Dashboard.
“We are really grateful to IS for the ways that they have worked with us over the course of the last six years to evolve innovative ‘PeaceTech’ data and tools and evolve ways of continuing to work together, along with all their other pressures and demands,” said Christine. “It has helped us be very visible in the emergent PeaceTech field and helped place us and Edinburgh on the map as having a unique capacity related to it, which also then helps the work to be supported financially.”
In December 2020 The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal published a short article from the University of Edinburgh’s PeaceTech team, co-authored by ISG’s John Allison, highlighting their work analysing the impacts of COVID-19 on global conflict resolution.
“The tool built with the ISG team generally provides a great basis for future projects, because it’s one that can be replicated and used for other purposes and topics,” said Fiona. “I have always felt like the ISG share our passion for developing tech tools to support peacebuilding and human rights related endeavours, which is a very important part when it comes to working together well in this field.”
Ceasefires in a Time of Covid-19 is a collaborative project between the Political Settlements Research Programme (PSRP), the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), the Center for Security Studies (CSS) at ETH Zurich, Conciliation Resources, Mediateur (European Forum for International Mediation and Dialogue) and the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), with thanks to contributions from the Mediation Support Unit in the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, that aims to track ceasefires and related events such as extensions and terminations, that have occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic. At University of Edinburgh Christine Bell (PSRP), Siri Aas Rustad (PRIO), John Allison (UoE), Sanja Badanjak (PSRP), Devanjan Bhattacharya (PSRP), Govinda Clayton (CSS), Juan Diaz-Prinz (USIP), Fiona Knäussel (PSRP), Thérèse Lynch (MediatEUr), Alexander Ramsbotham (CR) and Laura Wise (PSRP) have all contributed research and/or technical support to CV-19 Ceasefires.
The current database is an output of the Political Settlements Research Programme (PSRP) www.politicalsettlements.org, from a project funded by the UK Aid from the UK Department for International Development (DFID) for the benefit of developing countries. However, the views expressed and information contained in it are not necessarily those endorsed by DFID, which can accept no responsibility for such views or information or for any reliance placed on them. In particular, it draws on the methodology and database infrastructure of PA-X Peace Agreements Database (www.peaceagreements.org).