Disarmament Insight


Wednesday 5 September 2007

Analyzing armed violence: the Taback - Coupland model

Promoting human security will benefit from meaningful data. I recently attended a meeting organized by the Small Arms Survey (SAS) in Geneva, Switzerland, on the potential of using the Taback-Coupland model for human security mapping.

Nathan Taback, a Canadian statistician, and Robin Coupland, an advisor on armed violence at the International Committee of the Red Cross and former field surgeon, have developed a model that converts media reports into data in order to document and analyze the effects of armed violence.

The model is constructed around four parameters, which the researchers assume to be the “risk factors” for the effects of armed violence. It includes the nature of the weapon, the number of weapons used, the way the weapon is used, and the victim’s vulnerability. Coupland and Taback describe their model in a chapter of our third volume of research (“Thinking Outside the Box in Multilateral Disarmament and Arms Control Negotiations”).

The idea is that, by extracting significant information from media reports – like the number of people killed, the number of people wounded, the type of weapon used, the number of weapons and the vulnerability of the victim (for instance, was there a wall to take shelter behind?) – then it’s possible to draw conclusions about the intent of the perpetrator.

This is pertinent to international criminal law. By providing a context, the Taback-Coupland model permits an “evidence-based” dialogue about the perpetrators and their intents and about the victims and their vulnerabilities.

A second way to use the model is to conduct probabilistic risk assessment of a country or a region and draw conclusions on which scenario is particularly risky for a specific vulnerable group.

Taback and Coupland tested their model using news reports on attacks on journalists, as these events tend to be well reported. Further applications – some already putting the model into practice, others at a preliminary stage – include a registry of explosive violence (Landmine Action UK), a registry of sexual violence in Democratic Republic of the Congo, and test-cases for country assessments carried out by the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey (in Uganda, Nigeria, Mauritania and Nepal).

Many participants at the meeting pointed out the poor quality of media reports and their lack of reliability. However, although not comprehensive, media reports are the only day-to-day public source of information about human insecurity. While one should be be careful when using media reports, it’s sometimes the only information available and it’s nevertheless possible to glean useful information from it.

Moreover, a long-term perspective could be to develop the model as a tool for journalists, who could directly enter the relevant data of the events linked to armed violence they observe.

While there are international surveillance systems for monitoring infectious disease outbreaks, no such system exists (yet) to evaluate on a regular basis the effects of armed violence on peoples’ lives. With that in mind, the method developed by Taback and Coupland is a useful contribution to international efforts to enhance human security, including in disarmament.

Aurélia Merçay


Cost Working group meeting on Using the Taback-Coupland Method for Human Security Mapping in SAS Country Assessments, Small Arms Survey, Geneva, Switzerland, 3 September 2007.

Picture inspired by a scheme presented by Robin Coupland at the meeting.

For more information, see N. Taback & R. Coupland, “Security of journalists: making the case for modelling armed violence as a means to promote human security”, published in Thinking Outside the Box in Multilateral Disarmament and Arms Control Negotiations.

For a further introduction to the thinking behind the Taback-Coupland model see Robin’s chapter in our first volume of research, entitled “Modelling armed violence: a tool for humanitarian dialogue in disarmament and arms control”.