This blog post follows the discussion on first-, second- and third-generation early warning systems from the previous post below. The purpose of this entry is to make more clear the distinctions between third-generation (3G) and fourth-generation (4G) early warning systems.
Note that the distinction between 3G and 4G systems does not imply that one is necessarily better or more effective than the other. Each generation of early warning systems has its own comparative advantage and a role to play in an ecosystem approach to conflict early warning and rapid response.
4G initiatives are a relatively new evolution in the field of conflict early warning and rapid response. Like 3G systems, they are also based in conflict areas. However, unlike 3G systems, there are no pre-designated “field monitors” in 4G initiatives. In 3G initiatives like the FCE approach to conflict early warning, designated field monitors need to have “substantial influences on the masses and/or stakeholders in the conflict zone” and need to “assume the role of a ‘near’ mediator.”
Furthermore, 3G systems have a highly structured reporting and coding protocol (often based on the FAST protocol) and usually employ a sophisticated, proprietary software program. In contrast 4G initiatives draw on crowdsourcing both early warning and early response, and draw on open source, freely available software. Ushahidi is an excellent example. To this end, one important distinction between 4G initiatives and 3G systems has to do with organizational frameworks. 4G initiatives like Ushahidi are more horizontal and decentralized than FAST ever was, for example.
For a comprehensive and in-depth study on organizational frameworks of conflict early warning and response systems, please see Meier 2007 (PDF).
4G initiatives take a Third Side approach to conflict early response and focus explicitly on conflict preparedness and contingency planning. While 1G, 2G and 3G systems formally define early warning as “the systematic collection and analysis of information,” 4G initiatives draw on the UN-ISDR‘s people-centered definition of early warning and response crafted at the Third International Conference on Early Warning (EWC3). According to this definition, the purpose of people-centered early warning is to:
“Empower individuals and communities threatened by hazards to act in sufficient time and in an appropriate manner so as to reduce the possibility of personal injury, loss of life, damage to property and the environment, and loss of livelihoods.”
In other words, 4G initiatives are about strategic and tactical (self) empowerment and protection. 4G initiatives could also be called “tactical conflict early warning and response” because they are less about advocacy and more about direct, first-responder intervention.
In this respect, 4G initiatives are comparable to strategic nonviolent action and nonviolent civil resistance. As Rubin (2002) has noted, “prevent[ing] violent conflict requires not merely identifying causes and testing policy instruments but building a political movement” (cited in Meier 2007, PDF).