• October 10, 2011
  • From the Team
  • 2

Behind the LRA Crisis Tracker: Chelsea Geyer

The LRA Crisis Tracker is the result of many many hours of hard work by people from Resolve, Invisible Children, and Digitaria. There are two members of Resolve’s team who work entirely behind the scenes, but whose efforts are indispensible. This week we want to highlight the contributions of John Beaton and Chelsea Geyer. They have done the dirty work of filtering through hundreds of reports of brutal LRA attacks, building a methodology, verifying reports, then loading them into the database. The LRA Crisis Tracker would not exist today without them, and they are largely responsible for its accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Chelsea Geyer joined the project in February of this year, and since then, has written the LRA Crisis Tracker methodology and worked with John to code past LRA attacks. Says our Executive Director Michael about her work: “No doubt fewer than one in a hundred visitors to the LRA Crisis Tracker will take the time to download the data methodology. But our ability to use the data to analyze and understand LRA behavior in any meaningful way stems from having an air-tight coding methodology. Chelsea saw that, and was crazy enough to tackle it almost from day one.”

AG: How and when did you get involved with Resolve?

CG: I started my fellowship with Resolve last February. I knew of them beforehand through Invisible Children, but I found out about the opportunity because of a connection between my school and a former Resolve staffer.

AG: What is it about crisis mapping, and the LRA Crisis Tracker in particular, that originally intrigued you?

CG: For me the idea that these attacks don’t go unnoticed and that these stories are being told is critical to the project and the conflict. Strategically speaking, the LRA picked an excellent place to commit these atrocities because very few people know about them. Very little word of LRA atrocities makes its way out of central Africa. The Crisis Tracker helps take away the anonymous power the LRA had and ensures that these stories are being told.

AG: What were some of the early obstacles the LRA Crisis Tracker team faced and how did you overcome them?

CG: Several obstacles come to mind. The first was the need to define an organizational system out of an incredibly chaotic situation. There are so many variations and nuances in the conflict that make developing a consistent coding scheme and verification process extremely difficult. The key for me through everything was remembering the end goal and the importance of even the most detailed policies. We want it to be a trusted, credible tool, and I knew that compromising in any area could jeopardize its usefulness and credibility.

AG: What has your specific role been?

CG: We have all had similar jobs with different focuses. We all helped load data into the database and we all were part of the development process of the verification systems and policies. My focus was writing the Database Codebook and coordinating its edits and policy changes.

AG: Can you describe what that looks like?

CG: Coding in the context of crisis mapping involves reading a report, parsing out what happened, and breaking it into the different data fields. Sometimes it’s easy, but other times it’s very difficult, with translations, conflicting descriptions and general inaccuracies found in the original report. That’s where strong development of the verification systems came into play. We had to create a chart and vetting process that each report went through, and then assign a verification value to each incident based on the degree to which we trusted the information.

AG: What are some of the challenges of your job? Rewarding aspects?

CG: The first couple weeks of being on this project, I was a wreck. I remember almost crying in Michael [Poffenberger]’s office and then always feeling like a volcano was about to erupt. I was reading these horrible reports about people dying and being chopped with machetes and children being kidnapped, and it naturally took a toll on my emotional state. It was (and is) really hard for me to comprehend everything that I read. I still have a handful of difficult reports that I remember and are very vivid in my mind.

Having said that, there are also incredibly rewarding aspects. One of my favorite moments was when Paul sent me a scanned image of a notebook where a man had kept a record of all the attacks on his village. The man had kept these records for years and we were able to use his work and tell the story of his  village. I felt so privileged to be part of that.

AG: What is your favorite feature/capacity of the LRA Crisis Tracker?

CG: When an abduction took place and it has a “related incident,” which then turns out to be the return or escape of that person—I love that.

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