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Visualising early warning and preparedness in civilian protection: Investigating local vernaculars of community adaptations to insecurity

Visualising early warning and preparedness in civilian protection: Investigating local vernaculars of community adaptations to insecurity


Creating Safer Spaces Network & Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)

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Total value of project


Project team

Chas Morrison


Community Aid for Relief Development

Duration of project

12 months

Project overview

Using three field research sites in South Sudan, this research will investigate Early Warning (EW) as understood, communicated and interpreted by local communities. This EW is a fundamental aspect of Civilian Protection (CP) in response to threats from types of violence (political, criminal and cattle raiding) perpetrated by both state and non-state groups.

Steered by two South Sudanese field researchers with excellent peacebuilding and humanitarian networks, the project engages a semiotic approach to investigate symbols and signs in EW messaging, and how these are diffused, amplified and received in areas of low literacy where communication is mostly non-textual and sometimes non-verbal. This methodology also provides a suitable bridge for local perceptions and understandings to inform legal, training and policy frameworks using our existing CP networks. This research builds on the PI’s previous South Sudan fieldwork, and his research projects exploring local EW and CP and mechanisms to strengthen accessing and acting on such information. Our research is based on the premise that although multiple international CP frameworks exist, there are religious, cultural and tribal practices and perspectives which are highly relevant, organically produced and actionable. However, they have few formal links to policy statements and conventions, and remain under-studied.

Project objectives

The project investigates local vernaculars of community adaptations to insecurity, visualising early warning and preparedness in civilian protection.

The overall aim is to investigate the under-studied topic of community signs, symbols and culturally specific communications for gathering, sharing, and responding, in the face of threats of violence. This is the mechanics of local-level early warning: production, dissemination and response in conflict environments with weak textual communication mechanisms.

This research offers three interlinked concrete contributions to the civilian protection field:

  • Focus on Early Warning
  • Emphasis on the agency of local communities
  • Methods that incorporate Arts Based Research (through semiotics)

Impact statement

The research will produce impact in the following ways:

  1. Investigate under-researched local practices, leading to nuanced and critical insights into operationalising EW and practical measures to increase its applicability and scope;
  2. Suggesting mechanisms to engage at-risk communities where textual communications lack relevance, reach or meaning and adapt CBO programming towards conflict preparedness;
  3. Feed into scholarly and practitioner audiences on community engagement for improved EW;
  4. Incorporate findings into post-graduate teaching and courses and CPD training with Universities of Coventry and Juba;
  5. Project is methodologically innovative, novel in its approach to transmit learning and achieving fieldwork requirements in constrained environments;
  6. Demonstrates research processes that are sensitive to communities and conflict, able to link knowledge from below to decision-makers and policy developers;
  7. Enhance our growing network on civilian protection across multiple universities that incorporates learning from communities and from authorities, with a plan to apply for a larger ESRC grant in 2023.
 Queen’s Award for Enterprise Logo
University of the year shortlisted
QS Five Star Rating 2023