The research team of the Canadian Practitioners Network for Prevention of Radicalization and Extremist Violence (CPN-PREV), a project associated with the Chair, is conducting a series of systematic reviews to synthesize the available empirical evidence regarding the study of the prevention of violent radicalization. These systematic reviews will be the basis on which the Canadian and international consensus guidelines development committees (CGCC and ICGC) for the prevention of radicalization and violent extremism will work to produce practical recommendations.
EXTREMIST ONLINE CONTENT AND VIOLENT RADICALIZATION
Goal: synthesize the available empirical evidence on how the Internet and social media may, or may not, constitute spaces for exchange that can be favorable to violent extremist forms of engagement – both online and offline.
The Internet, especially since the emergence of social media in 2005, is increasingly depicted as an active vector for violent radicalization. The production, dissemination, and consumption of multimedia via the open online Internet have been instrumental in the propagation of hateful, discriminatory speech. However, most of the available research on Internet/social media and violent radicalization is descriptive in nature, providing limited insights on the true impact of terrorist groups’ online practices and strategies. In other words, the link between exposure to violent radical material online and violent radical behavior online and/or offline remains unknown, largely due to the lack of integration of available empirical evidence into a meaningful whole for policy, research, and prevention purposes.
CPN-PREV and its partners have reviewed the literature on exposure to violent radical online content and the violent radicalization of attitudes and behaviors. The systematic review achieved the following objectives:
- Synthesize the available empirical evidence on how the Internet and social media may, or may not, constitute spaces for exchange that can be favorable to violent extremist forms of engagement – both online and offline;
- Assess the current state and quality of the available scientific evidence;
- Identify gaps and limitations in the literature and highlight future research needs.
PROGRAMS THAT AIM TO PREVENT VIOLENT RADICALIZATION (Primary and secondary prevention programs)
Goal: synthesize the available empirical evidence on whether CVE prevention and intervention initiatives really work. Are there specific program modalities associated with a higher chance of success or failure? What are the evidence-based recommendations for professionals involved in current and future prevention/intervention efforts?
In the last two decades, terrorist attacks have become more globalized, affecting multiple societies around the world. The public, as well as deciders and policymakers, have become more fearful of potential attacks, justifying an investment in efforts to counter radicalization and violent extremism.
As a response, prevention/intervention programs have been implemented throughout the world. This effort to counter violent radicalization has led to increased involvement of, and costs to, institutions outside national security including mental health and education sectors, as well as legal and prison systems. Simultaneously, the success or failure of most prevention/intervention programs largely remains a matter of opinion rather than of evidence.
For example, in the United States alone, around 1 trillion dollars were invested in programs to counter terrorist activities between 2001 and 2011. Even though most of this sum was directed towards surveillance and security agencies, some were also directed towards programs that aim to prevent the radicalization of vulnerable populations and rehabilitate individuals already on a path towards radicalization.
Although the swiftness with which these programs were developed and implemented is commendable, the limited timeframe also left very few opportunities to empirically assess their positive and negative outcomes. The issue of iatrogenic effects is particularly important to prevention and intervention programs, as they are entrenched in ideological conflicts.
Currently, practitioners are relying on the local expertise and case-by-case results to design prevention/intervention programs. Despite the clear benefits of a rapid response such as this one, the rollout of these programs in the absence of integrated evidence regarding outcomes, transferability, and benefits to communities, may be counterproductive or even result in greater harm for the targeted populations.
In order to inform policymakers and practitioners on WHAT REALLY WORKS, the CPN-PREV team will conduct two systematic reviews that address the following questions:
- Are prevention/intervention programs really able to counter violent radicalization?
- Are there specific program modalities associated with a higher chance of success or failure?
- What are the evidence-based recommendations for professionals involved in current and future prevention/intervention efforts?
Because preliminary evidence suggests that prevention and intervention programs have diverging ranges of outcomes, the CPN-PREV research team decided to treat them in two separate reviews.
PROGRAMS THAT AIM TO DISENGAGE INDIVIDUALS ADHERING TO VIOLENT RADICAL IDEAS/BEHAVIORS
Goal: synthesize the available empirical evidence on whether disengagement and deradicalization initiatives work. Are there specific program modalities associated with a higher chance of success or failure? What are the evidence-based recommendations for professionals involved in current and future intervention efforts?
The social reintegration programs or the so-called tertiary prevention approaches are among the programs most widely used. They seek to rehabilitate people who have actually been part of an extremist group or who have been considered as radicalized. There are at least two types of these such programs:
- The disengagement programs that generally aim to rehabilitate radicalized individuals or groups presumed or convicted and reintegrate them into society, or at least deter them from resorting to political violence again.
- The deradicalization programs. Deradicalization is the process of trying to change an individual’s belief system in order to reject an extremist ideology and adopt the values of the majority (Rabasa, Pettyjohn, Ghez, & Boucek, 2010).
When these measures target individuals who have already committed terrorist acts, they are considered as measures to prevent recidivism, as they aim to reduce the likelihood that these individuals will commit a terrorist act again.
In order to inform policymakers and practitioners on WHAT REALLY WORKS, the CPN-PREV team will conduct a systematic review that address the following questions:
- Are the tertiary prevention programs able to counter violent radicalization?
- Are there specific program modalities associated with a higher chance of success or failure?
- What are the evidence-based recommendations for professionals involved in current and future intervention efforts?
ASSESSMENT TOOLS/PROCEDURES OF VIOLENT RADICALIZATION
Risk assessment of crime and violence has positioned itself as a cornerstone of modern correctional practices, as it enables reliable and valid estimates of the risk that individuals pose for society, based on their personal characteristics and social environment. Since the 1980s, risk assessment tools have been widely used by North American and European social science professionals in order to structure the important case-management decisions that they are routinely required to make. Unsurprisingly, such tools/procedures have been developed to screen the risk of becoming involved in a trajectory towards violent radicalization, or towards committing terrorist acts.
However, there have been few efforts to integrate findings of their reliability, validity, and benefits/harms for society and the assessee. Thus, the fifth CPN-PREV systematic review will look into the following questions:
- Reliability: Do these tools/procedures produce similar results when different professionals assess the same case (inter-rater agreement)? Do they produce similar results when the same case is assessed at different times (test-retest reliability)? Are they internally consistent?
- Validity: Do these tools/procedures measure the phenomenon that they are supposed to measure? Do they predict the expected outcomes (predictive validity)? Do they fit with other similar measures from the same field (convergent validity)?
- What are the benefits/harms of these tools/procedures for public safety and for the assessee? Do the benefits outweigh the potential harms (e.g., stigmatization)?
The review will integrate evidence on tools and procedures designed to assess the risk of violent radicalization. It will also reflect on their transferability and applicability to the Canadian context by taking into consideration community-related implementation issues and costs.
METHODS AND TOOLS FOR EVALUATING PROGRAMS TO PREVENT AND INTERVENE IN RADICALIZATION LEADING TO VIOLENCE
Goal: synthesize the available empirical evidence on how the CVE/PVE prevention and intervention initiatives have been evaluated
As a result of the rise in terrorist acts in different parts of the world, prevention and intervention programmes have increased. Unfortunately, this increase has not been accompanied by the development of a well-defined conceptual, organizational, and empirical framework as a field of practice. Heydemann explains, for example, that ” This blurring of boundaries reinforces perceptions of CVE as a catch-all category ” (2014, p. 10). Both stakeholders and decision-makers have little evidence to guide their actions based on promising or effective practices in this area, making evaluations one of the key issues.
Despite this deficit, there is some consensus among researchers, stakeholders and decision-makers on the need to develop evaluation models adapted to this type of program. For practitioners, evaluations help to improve their practice. For researchers, they provide a better understanding of the mechanisms and processes that explain the success or failure of interventions. Finally, for decision-makers, they help to guide public policy and make limited sources of funding more effective.
In order to inform decision-makers, practitioners and researchers on the most appropriate methods to evaluate such programmes, the UNESCO-PREV Chair in partnership with CPN-PREV will conduct a systematic review that will address the following questions:
- What are the most appropriate methods, indicators and types of evaluation to measure the effectiveness of this type of program?
- What are the evidence-based recommendations for professionals working in the field of prevention and intervention?