How to Measure Countering Violent Extremism Programs?

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Third-graders in Chicago who had to attend summer school so they could enter the next grade in the fall (Photo: Tim Boyle/Getty Images)
Third-graders in Chicago who had to attend summer school so they could enter the next grade in the fall. (Photo: Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

Renowned extremism expert, Jessica Stern, has been commissioned by NATO and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to review an international portfolio of countering violent extremism (CVE) programs to evaluate their successes and pitfalls.

CVE programs are still considered fairly new on the playing field, so being able to give a definitive answer as to whether they are effective or not will be a difficult task. As such, her main goal will be to teach the administrators how to appropriately evaluate their own programs.

Stern says CVE programs should focus on vulnerable individuals who are at risk of being pulled into an extremist movement, as studies have shown that programs which address mental, emotional and behavioral disorders before they manifest in criminality are more efficient, successful and less costly.

The word deradicalization is often bandied around in the media and various academic spaces. This word creates a perception that there is some sort of cure for this “ailment.” A newer word being used is disengagement, meaning the individual may still hold extremist view but is disengaged from committing violent acts.

In either of these measures, understanding the underlying factors that leave someone susceptible to extremism is crucial and can greatly assist in deterring these individuals from engaging in extreme ideological views.

The difficulty in measuring preventative programs lies in defining concrete numbers of those that may have been deterred from joining an extremist movement or engaging in ideologically-motivated violent acts. We don’t have a crystal ball to see into the future how someone’s life may have turned out without such intervention.

It would be interesting if this study could address any correlations with programs that work with youth drawn to gangs or cults. These individuals, who are drawn to strong community identities, may have similar vulnerabilities as those drawn to extremist ideologies.

Even though the successes of preventative programs are difficult to measure, these efforts should be recognized. We should celebrate when even one individual is diverted away from these violent ideologies and moves towards a more positive path.

Every step we take to help a young person grow to be a well-adjusted and productive member of society can help to create a ripple effect as they reach out to help their peers or, as they grow older, mentor younger individuals to find their own positive identity.

We look forward to seeing the results of Stern’s research. We all stand to learn something that will help our world advance in the right direction.

To find out what you can do to prevent violent extremism or take one of Clarion’s workshops on the subject, click here.



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Christianne Boudreau

Christianne Boudreau is a contributor to Clarion Project.

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