swisspeace‘s FAST early warning project truly pioneered the practice of field-based conflict early warning. Indeed, FAST was the only project of its kind throughout it’s 10 years of operation. The project was the first to apply analytical framework using event-data at the field level, and the first initiative to implement local information networks across more than 20 countries worldwide. The field data collected by FAST was the only of it’s kind. FAST was one of the very first projects that sought to combine quantitative analysis with qualitative assessments in a coherent manner. And finally, the FAST model provided valuable guidance to other early warning initiatives over the past decade. While we have had different ideas about how to improve FAST over the years, we ultimately all shared the same goals: early detection and early response.
On a personal note, I first met the FAST team in October 2001 while on a visit to Bern. It was a truly memorable experience. In those days, swisspeace was still housed in a small office block closer to the city center. I met with a couple members of the FAST team whose enthusiasm for the project was captivating. And when I walked back out into the snowy streets, I knew what it was I wanted to do: I wanted to pursue a career in this exciting field. Coincidentally, there was an opening that Fall for a new position with the FAST team focusing on Central Asia, and I was kindly encouraged to apply.
Susanne Schmeidl interviewed me for the position the following month and offered me the job! It was one of the most agonizing decisions I had to face when it became necessary for me to decide between joining swisspeace and going to graduate school. To make long story short, I went for a potential win-win scenario: go to grad school and do my graduate internship at swisspeace. And somehow it all worked out! Indeed, I should emphasize that if it were not for swisspeace and FAST, I doubt the past seven years of my life would have been anywhere near as exhilarating both intellectually and professionally. While I haven’t been in touch with the team in a while, I am genuinely saddened that such a bold project has come to an end. For sure I had my criticisms of FAST, but it’s easy to criticize a pioneering initiative.
Since the news that FAST would be ceasing operations has been made public, I know many of us have begun to reflect (and ask each other) about what lessons we should be learning thanks to FAST. And of course hindsight is 20/20, especially since FAST was pushing the envelope to begin with. Last week, Susanne Schmeidl, Michael Lund, Lawrence Woocher and I were on an ISA panel that addressed the topic of early warning. Questions about FAST and, interestingly, FEWER were posed. We didn’t have the time to go in much detail but the conversations did remind me of Milt’s suggestion some four years ago in Belfast that we think about the reasons for FEWER closing down and the gaps that the group’s absence left.
So I wonder whether we might use this forum to share some ideas about the rich lessons that FAST has left us with? I know we also share a concern about the state of our field vis-a-vis donor funding, impact and future early warning projects. What consequences do we now face in light of FAST closing down? Is there a way to revitalize the field? How do we ensure that future projects are sustainable over the long term? If you think these questions are appropriate to ask at this point in time, and/or have others that we should be asking ourselves, may I suggest that we use this blog and the comments section (see below) to begin a conversation?
With best wishes,