A French translation of WhoWasInCommand, an overhauled Research Handbook, and other updates

(Groovy photo by Paola Galimberti on Unsplash)

WhoWasInCommand.com is the platform we built to publish our research on security and defence forces so everyone can use it. Over the last few months we have made a few improvements to the platform and the resources we have created to support our research. We hope the improvements are helpful to you.

French language version

Thanks to the great work of our colleague Houyem Mchirgui, WhoWasInCommand.com can now be used in French.

There are two ways to access the new French version:

The site translation covers the interface but not the data. So all the buttons, filters, input boxes and other navigation elements are translated but the substance – like names of units, locations and persons – is published in the language in which we originally created it.

Please tell us if you find any mistakes, glitches or things that could be improved.  Let us know on Twitter or email us (technical@securityforcemonitor.org).

The next steps in our plan to localize WhoWasInCommand.com include updating our existing Spanish translation and implementing a new Arabic translation. We also plan to translate selected parts of our Research Handbook into Spanish, French and Arabic.

During the course of creating the French translation we decided to remove two pieces of top-level content from WhoWasInCommand.com. We moved the “Countries” page to the Research Handbook, here – this page describes the coverage of data WhoWasInCommand.com. We have completely removed the “Help” page from WhoWasInCommand.com – it has a direct equivalent on the Research Handbook, here.  Finally, we have re-written the “About” page.

We made these content changes for a mix of reasons. We collect some basic, anonymised usage data on WhoWasInCommand.com and it shows that neither the “Help” nor “Country” pages were greatly used by site visitors. We also felt the two pages had not been updated adequately to reflect what we know about how people are using the platform and what they are interested in learning. It is also a great deal easier for us to improve on these texts on the Research Handbook, which we can edit, update and translate directly. Removing these lengthy texts also makes it considerably simpler and less resource-intensive to develop new translations for WhoWasInCommand.com. Finally, we felt that there should be one clear source of help and guidance about our work, and that should be the Research Handbook.

Overhauled Research Handbook and fully standardized fields

During 2019 we made some deep improvements to the way we structure and capture data. These boil down to standardizing what we call things and ensuring that these are the same across all our work.

Like many projects we have grown our toolset, method and approach to our work over time, with documentation of these changes lagging behind. As a reseach team we were familiar with differences between how things were referred to in our internal sheets versus inside the codebase for WhoWasInCommand.com, but we felt this represented a considerable barrier to other people using our tools and methods.

To overcome this problem we reconciled all 277 fields we use and gave them a canonical fieldname, shortcode, label and definition.  You can see the results of this most clearly in the Research Handbook – for example, here’s the documentation for “Unit: Related Unit” – which now contains descriptions of the fieldname, type of data, how it is used, whether or not it has sources, and so on. These changes are implemented on WhoWasInCommand.com, and throughout our other tools.

We also made some changes to how we capture information about sources, and introduced a new data capture called Persons Extra in which we can store extended biographical information about persons, including their online and social media footprint.

The last big content change we made is a new section in the Research Handbook called Data Integrity Measures. In this section we look at how we work with sources, how we appraise datapoints for quality, and how make our data timebound.

Finally, we also moved the Research Handbook to a system called Read The Docs, which we think is a stronger tool for writing the sort of rich, user-friendly, multi-lingual documentation we aspire to.


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