The inspiration behind Virtual Research Associates, Inc. (VRA) dates to 1988, when a group of researchers led by Dr. Doug Bond became involved in an applied research project at the former Program on Nonviolent Sanctions at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs. The original mandate was to assess the global incidence of nonviolent protest to identify the conditions under which it could be successful in effecting change and resisting tyranny. As the research began people power revolutions toppled dictatorships across the world and attention shifted to tracking the protest interactions in an effort to understand how to optimize their chances for nonviolent resolution and avoid instability or escalation into violence.

The project’s limited resources posed an obstacle to conducting conventional large-scale coding of news reports; that is, with squads of human coders generating a mountain of static interaction events data. What the researchers needed were automated tools that would enable them to develop, in real-time, events data customized to their research questions.

Over the next eight years, the researchers developed a protocol to guide and inform the automated coding of events called PANDA (Protocol for the Assessment of Nonviolent Direct Action). Its strength was its ability to illuminate the contours and potential flash points of conflicts as they evolve over time but before they escalated into violence. These early efforts were limited in their effectiveness by the need for more advanced software tools to process the increasing volume of global reports in their natural language form.

To meet that need, Dr. Doug Bond and two others associated with the PANDA development group -- political scientist Dr. Joe Bond and software engineer Dr. Churl Oh – co-founded Virtual Research Associates in March 1996. VRA has operated commercially for almost two decades, supplying various governments, Inter-Governmental Organizations (IGOs), Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and corporations with state of the art tools, quality training, operational support services and customized data.