Ecole de la paix - Research on peace and datasets

Summary of workshop findings

Wednesday 1 August 2007 by Mayeul Kauffmann

The workshop addressed the reasons for which datasets are needed, why and how they should be shared among researchers, and how their use could be improved. In particular, the interest of combining datasets, cross referencing, creating general datasets, seeking more reliable data sources, developing standards and allowing easy access of data, creating a meta-database for searching data, and developing standard indices, were emphasized. Theoretical rationale and practical solutions were presented and debated for each of these topics.

Examples were taken from many databases, in most cases by those responsible for maintaining these databases. The fields covered were conflicts (internal, international, internationalized internal), terrorism, international cooperation, human rights, the environment, and other security-related issues. Practical examples on how data are built in each of these fields have been carefully studied. Emphasis was put on cross-cutting issues, and the need for further work on such matters was acknowledged.

The disadvantages of heterogeneity of datasets (including confusion about the reliability of different methodologies, the integrity of data collection efforts, and disagreement about the reality of studied phenomena) were weighted against the advantages of diversity (including the possibility of cross-checking information and to signal definition-dependency of results) ; the trade-offs between the two approaches were debated and solutions to reduce the chasm between them were discussed.

The different uses and users of datasets were thoroughly reviewed. Examples were given of uses by research centers and universities for scientific progress, think tanks and government agencies for political action and risk prevention, NGOs for awareness raising and advocacy, ... The discrepancy of the definitions used and the very different final uses of datasets were seen as checks on synergies among competing approaches but, nonetheless, areas for cooperation were identified.

One example of a successful initiative was the case of synthetic indicators, which included indexes on contribution to peace and human rights, conflict and cooperation, arms exports control, early-warning and conflict prevention.

Finally, the workshop’s participants shared their experience and ideas on appropriate tools for dealing with the issues of managing, displaying, merging and disseminating these datasets. The use of RDBMS [1], GIS [2], be they installed as stand-alone applications or on a server with network or internet access, were exemplified by demonstrations of working systems, which served as a basis for the discussion of a common framework for managing and disseminating the above-mentioned datasets.

The discussion made the link between the technical, scientific, human and organizational aspects of data management and communication, including innovative solutions to display highly complex and rich data in an interactive, user-friendly way. General guidelines were drawn, as well as conclusions more specific to certain subject areas. The experience of experts on data management and merging were confronted with the needs of users, which led to the redaction of rules and advice for improving the compatibility of existing and future datasets.

[1] RDBMS: Relational database management systems

[2] GIS: Geographic information systems

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