This report provides a general overview of the literature on conflict early warning systems (CEWSs) and identifies the most commonly-used indicators of violent conflict. CEWSs use a variety of data sources and models to predict conflict. These systems usually distinguish between long-term structural factors, medium-term proximate or accelerator factors, and short-term trigger factors. This report focuses on indicators of medium- and short-term factors, particularly those that can be updated on a monthly basis.
Long-term structural indicators of conflict are often based on quantitative data produced on an annual basis. These indicators are often collected globally, permitting cross-country comparison. These kinds of structural indicators are seen as fairly unproblematic in the literature. Short-term indicators, on the other hand, typically rely on qualitative data such as expert surveys and questionnaires or locally-generated information. There is some consensus in the literature that key medium-term accelerators and short-term triggers of conflict vary considerably according to context. As a result, most CEWSs that measure short-term indicators are locally or nationally based and rely on data sources that are context-specific. A large number of these short-term indicators exist and their relation to conflict varies according to context.
While many short-term indicators are context-specific and are not based on globally replicable quantitative data sources, some short-term indicators appear to have broader relevance and can be generated from easily available global data sources, allowing cross-country comparison. These include movements of IDPs and refugees, and commodity price and currency related indicators. Other short-term indicators are produced globally on an annual basis – including those relating to governance, human rights, public opinion and security. Governance, human rights and security indicators are produced more regularly for some regions, countries or localities by various regional, national and local early warning systems.