Making Peacekeeping Data Work for the International Community

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Arts Languages and Cultures


Humanitarian and peacekeeping organisations rely on high quality information to ensure their own security and to deliver their mandate. Whether they have access to this information and are skilled in using it, is another matter. A number of UN Peacekeeping missions record the date and location of reported incidents, such as movements of militia and arms, summary executions and abductions, raids on villages, displacements of refugees and threats to UN staff, as well as political affairs such as meetings and treaties. This evidence is compiled in real time by the relevant Joint Mission Analysis Center (JMAC). Although used intensively during the lifetime of the mission, the data are often lost or archived rather than shared with outside agencies and scholars. This project aims to fully exploit the dataset collected by the UN mission in Darfur and for the first time to triangulate it with perceptions held by local communities, and by other data held by NGOs, academic data resources and from media sources.

The day-to-day pressures on UN operations mean that peacekeeping data collected in real time in the field are often under-exploited. By examining and analysing the data in a systematic way, the proposed project aims to better understand the dynamics of decision-making in a UN peacekeeping operation, the interaction between indigenous and external actors, and the changing dynamics of conflict. The project will bring together qualitative and quantitative scholars who will use innovative methodologies to show the potential of this data to inform policy and tell us about the changing character of violent conflict.

The underlying research question is whether there is consistency of practice and communality of perception in conflict situations and how this information may be converted into evidenced-based policymaking for peacekeeping and humanitarian relief operations. The project will put together a methodology for the quantitative and qualitative interrogation of the UN peacekeeping data from Darfur that can be replicated in other conflicts.

The project team have had discussions with Herve Ladsous, (UN Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping) and Valentina Kalk of the statistical offices within United Nations Publications, examining ways we can work together to make the peacekeeping data more widely available to the research and NGO communities, using the Darfur peacekeeping dataset as a test case. One important aspect of this proposed project will be to build on this work to locate and evaluate data produced by other peacekeeping missions. We will also exploit linkages with colleagues at the OP Jindal Global University and the Jamsetji Tata Centre for Disaster Management in India who have engaged in similar work in relation to political violence in the North-East of India. Their experience will be vital in guiding us through methodological issues.

The project will make its findings available to NGOs, other UN agencies including UNHCR and other researchers. The GIS mining of the Darfur data will also allow the research team to develop spatial and historical understandings of this multifaceted security situation and enable its evolution to be studied in space and time. This in turn will enable the UN peacekeeping data to be correlated and contrasted with existing narratives of violence from local communities, humanitarian agencies and other actors in the region.

The main aim of the project is to make better use of already-existing information. The data from Darfur is a test case and we hope that the methodology we develop to mine this data can be applied to other cases, and be useful to the UN and other organisations in their mission planning.

Planned Impact

The principal non-academic beneficiaries of the research will be those working in or with the humanitarian sector, and more generally those working on or in conflict zones. This includes international organisations (especially the United Nations) and INGOs, NGOs and bilateral donors. The sector is faced with a series of difficult ethical and practical challenges associated with a changing security context. It is not enough for organisations to have access to information; they must interrogate it to its fullest extent, and understand the implications of this information for policy. This project seeks to help those working in the humanitarian field better understand the information they have gathered, and develop ways in which the information can be made policy-relevant. In essence, the project seeks to enhance evidence-based decision-making.

The project involves the development of systematic ways in which UN peacekeeping data can be analysed. Once piloted on the data from Sudan, the methodology of data analysis should be applicable to other UN operations.
The secondary analysis of the UN data will open the evidence to UNHCR and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) with which the project will collaborate. The project will be of relevance to prominent NGOs present in the field such as MSF, Oxfam, WorldVision and Islamic Relief. HCRI is well networked in the humanitarian sector, with many of its staff having a humanitarian professional background. Collaboration with a humanitarian GIS expert (through MapAction, a humanitarian mapping agency) and the creation of situational maps will ensure that the project is informed by current information management practice in the humanitarian arena. Making data available to UN agencies that are currently unaware of its existence will itself constitute a demonstrable impact in enabling them adapt their planning, response times and contingency planning.
In particular it should enable NGOs and other actors to fully appreciate the violent circumstances in which they are intervening and the data will help enrich their analysis of the conflict zones they enter. The main impact of this research should therefore be to improve the coordination of UN agencies and NGOs, facilitate their decision making in the light of precedents and evidence, and enhance the conflict sensitivity of their programming.

Practitioners and NGO's analytical teams such as EPICENTRE (MSF) will have direct access to the data as soon as it is made non-disclosive - the website will open up this evidence to all NGOs in its GIS form and the GIS consultant will provide maps which will complements the ones produced by OCHA and other actors in the region. The project website will include a basic introduction to the peacekeeping datasets and means of customizing the GIS maps for the purpose of operational deployment in the region. It will contain a peer to peer component enabling users to compare notes and a blog zone for practitioners wishing to engage with the material. The humanitarian GIS consultant will use his/her networks to make the maps available to current actors in the field and to NGOs and OCHA in particular.

Given that a major part of the project is the triangulation of conflict data back to the communities that actually experienced the conflict, local communities - and prominent actors within local communities such as municipalities and mayors - will also benefit from the project information. They will be able to gain a clearer picture of the information-gathering systems available to international actors and the extent to which they are capable of conveying an accurate picture of the situation on the ground.


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Description The following key findings are discussed and contextualised in a number of publications and so the following list can be regarded as a summary. Fuller explanations will gladly be given by the PI:
1 Peacekeeping works. From the data we were able to show the impact of peacekeeping on violence and tension in specific localities. 2. That international organisations like the UN collect too much information relative to their capacity to analyse and interrogate it. 3 That relatively simple interrogating and visualisations can bring out hitherto unseen patterns in security incident data. 4. That conversations between qualitative and quantitative data are possible. 5. That women are under represented in UN security incident data. 6. That datasets - although seemingly the product of clinical and technocratic processes - are very human and subject to frailty. 7. That there is much work to be done on methodological innovation that draws from fields not usually drawn upon for the study of violent conflict. The MPKDW project experimented (successfully we hope) with using analyses primarily used in medicine.
Exploitation Route We have been in talks with international organisations (specifically the UN Dept of Peacekeeping) and major humanitarian organisations (specifically Save the Children UK and MSF) about their information gathering systems. We have showcased the visualisation of data already held by the UN and the African Union and both organisations have shown interest in taking this forward. The cleaned dataset is available for others to use and those interested in conflict data are likely to make good use of it and follow some of our methodological innovations.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy

Description The Making Peacekeeping Data Work for the International Community occurred at an opportune 'moment' in the development of humanitarian information systems. While such systems have been in place for decades (arguably centuries), in the past few years a number of factors have come together to spark earnest professional debate on the utility and reach of these systems. For example, technological advances, alongside a crisis of access, have opened the possibility of remote management strategies for the delivery of humanitarian assistance. In this context, the project has been able to spark discussions among UN personnel about their data-gathering capabilities in peacekeeping contexts. Indeed, one participant at the May 2017 workshop held in New York commented that this was the first occasion when relevant UN personnel were able to come together and talk about their data-gathering systems. Other specific impactful actions by the project include: - December 2016, MPKDW personnel visit United Stabilization Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) HQ in Tunis to brief their staff and JMAC staff (Joint Mission Analysis centre) on the potential of data visualisation, and the predictive possibilities of some of the data in relation o the incidence of violence attacks; - January 2017, MPKDW personnel visit the All Sources Information Fusion Unit (ASIFU) and the JMAC within the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). This was followed by work on a spatial analysis of violence for one of the information analysts. - July 2017, MPKDW briefing at UNHQ for personnel from Civil Affairs and the Director of the DPKO Africa Division. It is worth noting that some impact activity undertaken during the project was assisted by an Impact Acceleration Award from the University of Manchester. This was held by project research associate Dr Allard Duursma. A challenge to recording impact in terms of linking specific project outputs (briefings, publications etc.) to specific impactful outcomes is that the UN is a large multilateral organisation with multiple other factors impacting on it. So while project members have met with UN personnel and briefed them about the project, it is worth noting that UN personnel will be meeting with many others - and so any impact from the Making Peacekeeping Data Work project should be seen in the context of many inputs to the UN system. Moreover - and in terms of formally measured impact for the UK's REF exercise, we have found that UN personnel will generally not sign off on letters attesting to impact that are on behalf of the UN. It is an extremely hierarchical and formalised body that is subject to member states and so individual officials do not feel in a position to make claims on impact.
Sector Security and Diplomacy
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description R. Read and B. Taithe: submission to the ALNAP/World Humanitarian Summit Global Forum
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Title Security incident dataset 
Description We turned an extract from a database on UN security incidents into a dataset so that it can be interrogated. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Too early to say (March 2016) 
Description R. Read, Impact Acceleration Award: Towards the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit 
Organisation University of Manchester
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution To contribute information from the Making Peacekeeping Data Work project to the preparations for the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit
Collaborator Contribution Has facilitated collaboration with policy world actors in the run up to the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit
Impact Working towards a side-event at the WHS to be staged in May 2016
Start Year 2015
Description Briefing of UN personnel at Manchester 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A 1.5 briefing with personnel from UN Civil Affairs who visited Manchester. Talked about project findings and showed the visualisations
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description ESRC Seminar Series on research data and intervention 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Two team members (Mac Ginty, Read) gave papers at an ESRC Network seminar and drew on data from the MPKDW project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Talk with US university and college personnel 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Gave a talk to College and University counsellors from US colleges and universities on the research project findings as a way of illustrating how Manchester is internationalised and policy focusecd.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Workshop for Qualitative and quantitative scholars of peacekeeping 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The workshop brought together the main scholars on peacekeeping in the UK and a number of practitioners. What was unusual about the day long workshop was that it brought together qualitative and quantitative scholars who were able to discussed mixed methods work and possibilities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Workshop for UN personnel, New York, May 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact We held a bespoke workshop for UN personnel - particularly from the Dept of Peacekeeping Operations - to talk about UN data systems. The workshop sparked a wonderful conversation in which many UN personnel noted that they had wanted to have such conversations (about data systems) for years but did not have the opportunity to have them. The meeting then sparked further invitations to work wit/brief other UN personnel as they update their data systems.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017