Increasing Weapons Transparency Through User Interface Design

Sponsor: School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)/SCRAP
Sponsor Liaison:

Dan Plesch, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
Henrietta Wilson, Strategic Concept for the Removal of Arms and Proliferation (SCRAP)

Student Team: Reese Haly
Jack Hoover
Natasha Ussrey
Hayley Wigren
Abstract: The Strategic Concept for the Removal of Arms and Proliferation (SCRAP Weapons) created the Global Weapons Tracking Portal (GWTP), a website that enables users to find open source information on weapons tracking and humanitarian crises. We increased the accessibility and comprehensibility of the GWTP by assessing design elements and implementing a user interface redesign. We created a technical manual for SCRAP Weapons to assist with website administration. We recommend that SCRAP Weapons include more open source organisations, update website content, and implement outreach strategies.
Link: Increasing Weapons Transparency Through User Interface Design

Executive Summary

In the last 25 years, global military spending has nearly doubled (Lopes da Silva et al., 2021). While conventional arms play an important role in national security, the current magnitude of global stockpiles is excessive, causing a strain on international relations. Nations can establish trust with one another by increasing transparency on the number of arms they possess, potentially mitigating conflict and encouraging global disarmament. Nations have implemented several disarmament treaties and verification tools to commit themselves to peace via cooperation rather than fear. Although these treaties set a baseline for disarmament policy, nations seeking to reduce global arms struggle to agree on specific disarmament legislation. Accessible information on weaponry is important in allowing the general public to hold nations accountable (Surry, 2006). A lack of accountability from the general public enables nations to neglect their promises regarding disarmament. Modern disarmament efforts rely on the transparency of global weapons data to build trust and facilitate cooperation between nations.

Transparency can further the goal of disarmament as parties become more amenable to disarming together. The Strategic Concept for the Removal of Arms and Proliferation (SCRAP Weapons) uses transparency as a tool to shed light on international arms transfers, allowing users to hold governments accountable for disarmament efforts. SCRAP Weapons has undertaken several projects to increase global disarmament efforts, including their Global Weapons Tracking Portal (GWTP) website. Established in 2021 in collaboration with Llewellyn et al. (2021) and Tames et al. (2021), the GWTP aims to increase global weapons transparency by improving access to open source research tools.

Methods and Findings
Our team’s project goal was to increase the accessibility and comprehensibility of weapons tracking data to promote weapons transparency. To accomplish this goal, we focused on three research objectives:
1. Determine the current and potential uses of the GWTP.
2. Organise and clarify the content on the GWTP.
3. Create a technical manual to assist with website maintenance.

Objective 1: Determine the current and potential uses of the GWTP.
To address the first objective, our team conducted semi-structured interviews with seven SCRAP Weapons affiliates. The interviews revealed the GWTP’s niche as a starting point for weapons transparency research that leads users to relevant open source information. The website’s simplicity benefits its usability, but limits the utility of the website. The GWTP is useful for academics and journalists who are researching open source information.

Objective 2: Organise and clarify the content within the GWTP website.
Our team implemented four different methods to clarify and organise the content on the website: a systematic comparison of advocacy websites, a visual design survey, a user-interface (UI) redesign, and usability testing. We compared the UI elements of 20 advocacy websites and documented exemplary UI elements, unsatisfactory design ideas, and unique aspects. We created mock-ups for the visual design survey based on our notes from the systematic comparison. The visual design survey asked participants to rank each UI element presented to them from least to most comprehensible. The survey revealed the target audience’s preferences on key UI elements, guiding our UI redesign.

We redesigned the UI of the GWTP by changing the website theme, page layouts, and colours. We implemented a filter system to improve the navigability of the portal and moved the interactive maps onto their own pages to decrease loading speed. We placed the mission statement at the top of the homepage to clarify the purpose of the GWTP. We made the standout features of the website easier for the user to navigate and understand by adding descriptions and using simple icons. Through usability testing with the SCRAP Weapons team and other IQP students, we evaluated the success of the redesign and tweaked the GWTP in response to participant feedback. We found that the filter system, toolbar, and visual design of the website were appreciated by users, but some titles such as “Open Source Verification” are confusing to inexperienced users. We found that the added descriptions frequently went unread but were helpful in providing context to those who read them.

Objective 3: Create a technical manual to assist with website maintenance.
To sustain long-term operations of the GWTP, we made a technical manual for SCRAP Weapons. In our initial meetings with SCRAP Weapons, their team identified their limited technical experience as a roadblock to website administration. Providing the SCRAP Weapons team with a technical manual allows them to pursue further updates and administrative tasks without having to reach out to prior IQP teams for help. We compiled all written procedures into a uniform document including a table of contents to increase comprehensibility. We found that organising material in the technical manual into clear sections with multiple related procedures and definitions improved its comprehensibility.

We recommend that the SCRAP Weapons team:
• Include more open source investigator organisations and tracking tools to broaden the scope of available resources and help users find relevant information.
• Update organisation descriptions to eliminate errors and improve accuracy.
• Optimise the website’s UI by streamlining the map code and assessing mobile and tablet accessibility.
• Update keyphrases and the technical manual periodically.