Protagonist Successfully Demonstrates Predictive Analytics Capability for the Air Force

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November 17, 2021

San Francisco, CA – Protagonist is proud to announce that it has successfully completed a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and AFWERX to develop capabilities to support the rapid processing of publicly available information to improve prediction and response to emergent crises. This project fell under a US Air Force focus area related to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) dual use technologies.

Protagonist’s project, dubbed Narrative-based Emergent Crisis Detection (NECD), developed and applied ML and natural language processing (NLP) capabilities to predict the likelihood that a major crisis might emerge in a country of interest based on changes in the dominant narratives (enduring and widely-expressed stories and themes) in that country’s online media environment.

Working under the sponsorship of the Headquarters, Air Force (HAF), Studies, Analyses and Assessments Directorate (A9) and supported by end-users from the 612th Air Operations Center (AOC), this effort focused on historical data from a test country in South America that has experienced prolonged periods of political crisis.

Over the course of this effort, Protagonist developed an end-to-end process for rapidly analyzing online conversations in the country of interest to identify the narratives related to crisis situations in the test country, measure the strength of those narratives, and find correlations between those narratives and crisis-related events (e.g., violent protests). Ultimately the team built predictive models that could estimate both the magnitude of protests and the overall level of protests (high, medium, and low) over the next 24 hours with over 70% reliability.

“I am thrilled with the results of this effort. We’ve long believed that there is a connection between narratives expressed online and real-world behaviors, but those connections have been hard to identify and quantify,” said Protagonist COO Bryan Pelley. “With NECD we’ve made significant progress in making data-driven connections between online conversations and offline behaviors and using those connections to predict future outcomes. This work is relevant to a number of use cases, including Information Operations and force protection for our service members.”

“I could not be prouder of what our team has been able to accomplish,” Protagonist Vice President of Analytics, Becky Owens, added, “working with over 5 million rows of foreign language data, navigating over 350 dependent and independent variables, and developing and testing over 1,000 ML models to ultimately achieve performance that met or exceeded the contract’s performance metrics.”

“I’m also proud to be a part of a group of women technologists advancing the data science of predictive analysis and want to congratulate the rising leaders who spearheaded this effort, including Lead Analyst Sydney Apple and Associate Data Scientist Caitlin Moroney,” she continued.

AFRL and AFWERX have partnered to streamline the Small Business Innovation Research process in an attempt to speed up the experience, broaden the pool of potential applicants and decrease bureaucratic overhead. Beginning in SBIR 18.2, and now in 19.3, the Air Force has begun offering “The Open Topic” SBIR/STTR program that is faster, leaner and open to a broader range of innovations.

Protagonist is a women-owned, women-led small business and pioneer in narrative research, analysis, and strategy. We help our clients harness the power of narratives by illuminating the stories that matter to their mission, analyzing the influences and influencers that are driving those narratives, and developing strategies for navigating and shaping those narrative landscapes. Over the past decade, we have developed a line of state-of-the-art narrative products that focus on the deep, enduring stories that define a population’s identity, shape their perspectives, and describe their beliefs. Our Narrative Analytics® technology platform is relied on by dozens of the world’s leading corporations, government agencies, and nonprofits to identify, quantify, and track narratives in online conversations. We have team members in Washington, DC, San Francisco, Chicago, and many points in between.

To learn more about this announcement, please contact:

Bryan Pelley, COO


One Thomas Circle NW, Suite 700, Washington DC 20005
Office: (415) 967-5520

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