The amount of information circulating in the vastness of the web holds huge potential for analytic and predictive purposes. Identifying a way in which to harness this massive amount of data, and a purpose to harness it for, has been the mission of contemporary researchers. The analysis of trends and the identification of patterns in massive data sets is the ambition of the architects of ‘big data’ software and programs, who have used this vast information to gain insights into a wide variety of issues. A London-based firm called Ethnographic Edge has become an exciting actor in this space. By identifying trends in large amounts of information related to geopolitical developments, and relating these trends to similar patterns observed in the past, the researchers of this institute aim to forecast geopolitical crises and developments before they happen. To date, Ethnographic Edge has 80% accuracy with its predictions.
Ethnographic Edge uses a two-step analytical process they call social risk analysis (SRA) to forecast whether tensions will increase or decrease in a number of geopolitical hotspots. The first step in this process is a passive procedure that uses data analytics software formulated by Recorded Future to scan mainstream media publications, search trends and important blogs related to the countries in question. Through this scanning process, the software is able to quantify the ‘sentiment’ expressed in these sources.
The findings of this scan are then run through a series of in-house predictive algorithms designed to match the findings to any historical patterns. If a match between current and past indicators is found, the Ethnographic Edge software generates a positive or negative signal, corresponding to whether tensions are expected to rise or decline in a given area. After a signal is generated, the second step of SRA occurs, as Ethnographic Edge’s team of researchers use ethnographic methods to qualitatively assess how and why these indicators are significant. The findings are compiled into reports that also correlate how the development of the crisis will put some assets at risk. A recent case study of how Ethnographic Edge’s process was applied to an analysis of the Palestine crisis can be found below.
In late November, Ethnographic Edge registered a signal indicating that short-term regional tensions would increase in the Gaza strip. This signal came as Iran reached a tentative deal with the P5+1 (United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France and Germany) countries regarding the enrichment of uranium in Iran. Ethnographic Edge researchers identified this agreement as a trigger point for increased regional tensions, particularly between Israel and Palestine.
The Iran nuclear deal served to increase Israeli fears regarding its security in the region. However, lacking a direct voice in the negotiation process, researchers concluded that Israel would turn to its relations with Palestine in order to demonstrate its strength in the region. As predicted in this report published by International Policy Digest, tensions have been increasing in the Gaza strip. Ethnographic Edge researchers pointed to the strain that the Iran deal had placed on US-Israel relations as being a relevant factor for regional stability. Furthermore, the humanitarian crisis faced in Gaza also pointed towards the social influences affecting the crisis negatively.
In the following weeks, these factors became increasingly prominent as a new round of US-mediated Israel-Palestine peace talks began. Throughout these talks, Israel pushed for increased concessions on the part of Palestine. A controversial deal offer by US mediator of the Israeli and Palestinian talks, John Kerry, which would include US drones over the hills of the West Bank, was slammed by Palestine. Palestinian representatives voiced their concerns regarding the role of US, as they felt the US mediators were giving concessions to Israel in order to mend the frayed relations. These issues have been largely responsible for stalling negotiations.