Tag Archives: ACLED

New Dataset Represents Breakthrough for Crisis Mapping Analysis

The Peace Research Institute in Oslo (PRIO) has just released the latest version of the Armed Conflict Location and Event Dataset (ACLED), which I blogged about last year here. The new peer-reviewed paper on this latest release is available here and you can watch ACLED’s presentation at the 2009 International Conference on Crisis Mapping (ICCM 2009) right here. The unit of analysis for ACLED is “an individual event that occurred at a given location.”

This new version has geo-referenced data for 50 unstable countries from 1997 through to 2010. The real breakthrough here is not just the scope of geographical coverage but more importantly how incredibly up to date the data is. I’m excited about this because it is rare that academic datasets can actually inform policy or operational response in a timely way. Academic datasets are generally outdated.

PRIO’s updated dataset codes the “actions of rebels, governments, and militias within unstable states, specifying the exact location and date of battle events, transfers of military control, headquarter establishment, civilian violence, and rioting.” As the authors note, the dataset’s “disaggregation of civil war and transnational violent events allow for research on local level factors and the dynamics of civil and communal conflict.”

Indeed, “micro-level datasets allow researchers to rigorously test sub-national hypotheses and to generate new causal arguments that cannot be studied with country-year or static conflict-zone data.” The authors identify four distinctive advantages of disaggregating local conflict event-data:

  1. Data can be aggregated to any desired level for analysis;
  2. The types of conflict events (e.g. battles or civilian violence) can be analyzed separately or in tandem;
  3. The actors within a conflict can be grouped or analyzed separately;
  4. The dynamics of national or regional war clusters can be addressed together.

The academic paper that discusses this new release of ACLED doesn’t go into much geospatial analysis but the dataset will no doubt catalyze many  analytical studies in the near future. One preliminary finding, however, shows that using country-level data can lead to biased results when studying conflict dynamics. “The average percentage of area covered by civil war from the data sample is approximately 48%, but the average amount of territory with repeated fighting is considerably smaller at 15%. Further, most conflicts initially start out as very local phenomena.”

Armed Conflict and Location Event Dataset (ACLED)

I joined the Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO) as a researcher in 2006 to do some data development work on a conflict dataset and to work with Norways’ former Secretary of State on assessing the impact of armed conflict on women’s health for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).

I quickly became interested in a related PRIO project that had recently begun called the “Armed Conflict and Location Event Dataset, or ACLED. Having worked with conflict event-datasets as part of operational conflict early warning systems in the Horn, I immediately took interest in the project.

While I have referred to ACLED in a number of previous blog posts, two of my main criticisms (until recently) were (1) the lack of data on recent conflicts; and (2) the lack of an interactive interface for geospatial analysis, or at least more compelling visualization platform.

Introducing SpatialKey

Independently, I came across UniveralMind back November of last year when Andrew Turner at GeoCommons made a reference to the group’s work in his presentation at an Ushahidi meeting. I featured one of the group’s products, SpatialKey, in my recent video primer on crisis mapping.

As it turns out, ACLED is now using SpatialKey to visualize and analyze some of it’s data. So the team has definitely come a long way from using ArcGIS and Google Earth, which is great. The screenshot below, for example, depicts the ACLED data on Kenya’s post-election violence using SpatialKey.


If the Kenya data is not drawn from the Ushahidi then this could be an exciting research opportunity to compare both datasets using visual analysis and applied geo-statistics. I write “if” because PRIO somewhat surprisingly has not made the Kenya data available. They are usually very transparent so I will follow up with them and hope to get the data. Anyone interested in co-authoring this study?

Academics Get up To Speed

It’s great to see ACLED developing conflict data for more recent conflicts. Data on Chad, Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR) is also depicted using SpatialKey but again the underlying spreadsheet data does not appear to be available regrettably. If the data were public, then the UN’s Threat and Risk Mapping Analysis (TRMA) project may very well have much to gain from using the data operationally.


Data Hugging Disorder

I’ll close with just one—perhaps unwarranted—concern since I still haven’t heard back from ACLED about accessing their data. As academics become increasingly interested in applying geospatial analysis to recent or even current conflicts by developing their own datasets (a very positive move for sure), will these academics however keep their data to themselves until they’ve published an article in a peer-reviewed journal, which can often take up to a year or more to publish?

To this end I share the concern that my colleague Ed Jezierski from InSTEDD articulated in his excellent blog post yesterday: “Academic projects that collect data with preference towards information that will help to publish a paper rather than the information that will be the most actionable or help community health the most.” Worst still, however, would be academics collecting data very relevant to the humanitarian or human rights community and not sharing that data until their academic papers are officially published.

I don’t think there needs to be competition between scholars and like-minded practitioners. There are increasingly more scholar-practitioners who recognize that they can contributed their research and skills to the benefit of the humanitarian and human rights communities. At the same time, the currency of academia remains the number of peer-reviewed publications. But humanitarian practitioners can simply sign an agreement such that anyone using the data for humanitarian purposes cannot publish any analysis of said data in a peer-reviewed forum.


Patrick Philippe Meier