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Communication in Crisis / Crisis prevention, modeling social conflict, early warning systems, monitoring

Prevention of social crisis

Crisis is an intense experience in society with huge destructive potential. For powerless and marginalized groups seeking to restore injustices or extreme inequalities in recognition and distribution, conflicts resulting in crisis are an inherent characteristics of their struggle for life.

Social crisis is preventable. In contrast with natural catastrophes social crisis only appears as fatality. The advent of crisis is signaled by a multitude of signals. Paradoxically, these signals cannot be seen by those actors who involved but experts know how to decode them.

Sociologists and public policy decision makers have developed a tool called „Early Warning System” that can announce the imminence of social crisis. The Early Warning System is a kind of sociological Richter scale that measures the social and social psychological disorders that are likely to be followed by major conflicts, unrest, crisis, even a civil war.

Paradigm change in sociological research

Results of sociological research are frequently subject of criticism on the grounds of the time perspective. According to this kind of criticism results of sociological research are only for interpretation and explanation of past events without the potential to predict future events. Sociological research has traditionally been based on studies dealing with the question of „how”. These studies do not aim to building models that would have predictive power. Social scientists following the paradigm of description formulate hypotheses, collect data, and at the end of the research they are satisfied with the acceptance or rejection of the initial hypotheses. The objective of these studies is to tell whether a linkage is casual or not. (Csepeli-Prazsák, 2004).

Explanatory models, in contrast, deal with the question of „why?” Once we know the explanation of a phenomenon we are able to predict it. The explanatory model of the emergence of a crisis makes possible the prediction of the crisis. Any predictive model of crisis should move between necessity and impossibility, because necessity is not to be predicted and impossibility cannot be predicted. There are two prerequisites for predictive models: simplicity and nonabsurdity (Taagpera, R. 2008).

Whenever destructive social processes predominant over constructive social processes crisis can be expected in the society. Mass of people lose control over themselves resulting the emergence of social crisis. Crisis can be the effect of many causes. Ethnic conflicts, mass poverty, civil war, panick, economic depression can result in crisis.

Psychologically speaking crisis can be considered as a state of mass frustration resulting in mass aggression. In crisis, social order is replaced by chaos.

You can open the (larger) image in new window.Greek debt crisis worsens, as chronic drug shortage is risking the lives of the sickgreekcrisis_full.jpgGreek debt crisis worsens, as chronic drug shortage is risking the lives of the sick

Collection of data

In order to predict crisis data are needed. The operation of early warning systems are based on different kinds of data. Primarily there are datasets produced by statistical data collection institutions. Business companies in the service sector produce an evergrowing mass of real time real data. Such data are produced continuously and stored by the sectors of ICT, public traffic and public utilities.

Past and present sociological surveys can yield data that can be built in the model of predicting social crisis. Field observations and experiments can be considered also as invaluable sources of data for early warning system.

Prevention of social crisis requires establishment of early warning systems. First the location should be specified where violent social conflict, unrest, mass discontent can be expected. The territory monitored by early warning systems should be selected on empirical basis. Indices of underdevelopment and measures indicating conflict potential of the given territory help the identification of the region to be monitored by the early warning system.

In selection, variables should be taken into account such as high rates of unemployment, prevalence of ethnic underclass resistant to social entropy, delinquency, poor health condition, single parent’s households with many children, underdeveloped infrastructure.

Without effective operation of early warning systems there is no such a thing as social crisis prevention. In order to make the early warning system to work all crisis-relevant data must continuously collected, stored in a datawarehouse that makes possible the analysis of the data. In case imminent crisis is predicted the insights of the report should be turned into practice.

Chaos theory tells us that events of small importance have the potential to trigger events of paramount importance. Consequently, builders of early warning systems strive to create systems using a large number of indicators. The large number of observances allows to reveal hidden influences and identify patterns leading to crises.

The variables to be monitored correspond with the set of variables used for identification of the region covered by the early warning system. Larger categories of monitoring can be distinguished. One category can be created for the variables of social inequality. Variables such as the size, age and gender composition and distribution of the population are related to demography. Variables of the economic development relate to a separate category. Unemployment rate, the prevalence of grey and black economy fall into this category. Measures of alienation such as alcoholism, drug abuse, family violence and suicide rate should be taken into account as well. The absolute and relative size of an ethnic underclass resistant to social entropy indicates the likelihood of ethnic conflict. The data warehouse must incorporate historical indicators of conflict that might be relevant in predicting the future.

Aside from its use for early response, the data warehouse serving the needs of the early warning system generates a body of knowledge on the nature of conflict and its implication for the lives and livelihoods of the communities in territory monitored.. This body of knowledge would be relevant to interested academic, and government policy-makers. It would also be relevant to NGOs and other agents striving to elaborate conflict sensitive development and peaceful coexistence between groups with conflicting interests.

Basically there are three types of indicators with which early warning systems deal with. The first type are structural indicators, which relate to socio-economic factors. The second type of indicators can be called as „proximate” indicators related to the people living in deprivation. The third type of indicators are connected with the triggering events.

The early warning system cannot operate well without event analysis. The collection of these data refer to events considered relevant to crisis escalation. The logic is simple: events are assigned to a certain numeric value according to the scale measuring the specific conflict dimension. These values are added up for given time intervals and displayed in a curve as a function of time. The event day analysis is based on reports of in situ-recruited and well trained local networks. The main task of this network is to systematically collect data, monitor and submit report about events likely to lead to unrest, violence and crisis inareas of operation, using an empirically based standard format.

The collection of early warning data is entrusted to field monitors. The field monitors collect information about the area from open sources using overt means. These include informants, personal observation and local media. The field reports come into two formats, namely event and situation reports. The event report captures incidents displaying physical violence or being of aggressive nature that have relevance to the escalation of sub-national, national or cross border conflict in the area the field monitor is stationed. Each reported event must have an initiator, a certain action/happening, a recipient, and must be located in time and space. The situation report, on the other hand, has indicators that capture events/ action that contribute, on the one hand, to an easing of tension and de-escalation of conflict, or, on the other hand, that lead to an escalation or destabilization of the area of reporting (CEWARN, 2002). .

The field monitors are urged to send the reports in time. If the reports are not based on real time information, they will loose their significance.

The case of IGAD countries

In the framework of IGAD (inter-governmental authority on development) a Conflict Early Warning System and Response Mechanism (CEWARN) was launched in 2002. Members of IGAD are conflict ridden countries such as Dijbouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Uganda, Sudan and Eritrea.

CEWARN was created in order to assess situations that could potentially lead to crisis. Three territorial clusters were selected where CEWARN since 2002 has successfully been operated, namely, the Karamoja territory (includes cross-border regions of Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, and Uganda), the Somali territory (encompassing cross-border regions of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia), and the Dikhil region (cross-border regions of Djibouti and Ethiopia).

According to the mission statement of IGAD “the ultimate goal of CEWARN is to establish itself as a self-sufficient, functional and long-standing conflict warning and response system in the IGAD region; promoting a environment of co-operation among the stakeholders, in response to possible and real violent conflict between these countries, and set the grounds for peacefully settling disputes in the area.”

Early response units

Setting up an early warning system, however, is not enough. In order to be able to prevent effectively social crisis an institutionalized decision making system should be established, providing effective response to the challenge of crisis. The insights of the early warning reports are transformed into action by the operation of the early response units. The personnel of these units are specifically trained for crisis intervention and prevention. Psychologists, sociologists, police officers, social workers, priests provide immediate support on the spot.

The case of Northern Hungary and Eastern Slovakia

In order to create an early warning system in Northern Hungary and Eastern Slovakia the Sociological institute of the University of Miskolc in 2010 launched a project aimed at to establish an early warning system in this region which is underdeveloped and full of crisis potential. Estimates of the Roma population in Northern Hungary vary from 100000 to 300 000. The estimated number of the Roma population in Eastern Slovakia is about 300000. These is the region where the most underdeveloped areas of the two countries can be found. Unfortunately the project has not been supported.

In the course of the project three regional panels of the Hungarian and the Slovak citizens were to be created representing three segments of the total population in terms of ethnic background and communication status. One of the genuinely novel aspects of the proposed research was the elaboration of the measurement of ethnic affiliation in the dimension of being Roma-non Roma.

In Northern Hungary as well as in Eastern Slovakia three panels were to be set up. Each panel was to consist of 100 respondents. In the first panel persons with no Roma identification would have been questioned regularly. In the second panel persons with various aspects of Roma identity (self-identity, attributed identity) would have been questioned. In the third panel local opinion leaders would have been the subjects (GP-s, priests, teachers, entrepreneurs, etc.).

Members of the panels were to be exposed by the field monitors regularly to specific projective tests measuring aggression. Results of the measurement would be transmitted to the data warehouse. Prediction of conflict between groups of different ethnic background was hoped by the analysis of the results.

The idea of this early warning system was based on the frustration-aggression theory. According to the research of Peter Huncik inter-ethnic tension stems from frustration caused by recent events of ethnic importance. ( Hunčík, P.1999). Contemporary Hungarian and Slovak societies have unfortunately been producing such events in the context of the Roma-non-Roma relations. As a consequence of these events (violence, delinquency, discrimination) and their media coverage practically there is no citizen in these countries who can be considered as uninvolved. The hypothesis of the research was that the change of the aggression level among the members of the Roma and/or Roma segments of the population would give empirical grounds to establish predicting models. Different patterns of change would indicate reduction, stagnation or flaming of interethnic conflict.

The proposed monitoring system would have been useful for business purposes as well. Members of the individual panels could regularly response to any type of questions unrelated with the original purposes of the establishment of the panel. Moreover, marketing research would serve ideally as a disguise of the original purpose, i.e. monitoring ethnic conflict.

As a result of the Conflict Early Warning System and Response Mechanism in Northern Hungary and Eastern Slovakia the likelihood of the development of malignant social processes in the region would have reduced. The early warning system and the crisis intervention units together would have contributed immensely to the improvement of social relations of Hungary and Slovakia.

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