What works in CVE?
This is a question that practitioners, academics, and funders ask themselves constantly. However, it seems like there is not a clear answer to this question. I published a post a few weeks ago on what works in crime and violence prevention, and was able to create a table with information on promising and inefficient interventions at the different levels of the socioecological model of human development. Although much has been written on CVE, there does not seem to be consensus on what works, or what interventions should be discarded. This problem might stem from the fact that CVE does not have a clear definition, so it is not clear what types of intervention fall under this field.
When CVE started to be in vogue, NGOs and groups seeking funding for their projects rebranded them to fit under the CVE umbrella. Pretty much everything qualified as CVE work. Fortunately, more thought has been placed into CVE interventions and now the literature categorizes interventions into CVE-related and CVE-specific. For instance, an early-grade reading project can have a significant impact in preventing youth from radicalizing. The impact could actually be greater than a community-based intervention that gathers youth to play soccer; however, if the goal of the project is improving cognitive skills and literacy, then it is not a CVE-specific project. Ultimately, the specificity of a CVE intervention depends on the expected outcomes, the target population, and the context in which the intervention takes place. However, these three factors, and its subcomponents, must be selected through a solid – hopefully proven – process for the intervention to be successful and CVE-specific.
It is becoming more common to see CVE strategies that include the following three pillars: prevention, intervention, and rehabilitation. This grouping goes hand-in-hand with the public health approach to violence prevention, and thus, take me to the following conclusion: violent extremism is a youth violence problem and should be treated as such. Following this conclusion, it is a matter of looking at the effective/ineffective/uncategorized table in one of my previous posts to know what strategies might be effective to prevent violent extremism. However, interventions must be adapted to the local context and population.
Based on the points above, the following are my recommendation for CVE interventions:
Do not reinvent the wheel: There are many successful, evidence-based violence prevention interventions that can be used in CVE. Analyzing the different risk factors between and across the different levels of the socioecological model of human development will provide information on how to focus interventions. Also, just like in crime and violence prevention, make sure you take a multidisciplinary approach to CVE.
Counterterrorism (CT) measures alone will not fix the problem: CT is not the same as CVE. The former focuses on institutional strengthening and processes such as enforcement, legal and regulatory measures, and border and financial controls. These measures can detect individuals and groups engaged in illegal activities, but will not resolve the issues that make people join violent extremist organizations.
CVE as development: interventions should be part of an overarching strategy that focuses on promoting social and economic development. For instance, in Tunisia it is evident that grievances and frustrations associated with lack of opportunities are what has driven most youth to joining VEOs. CVE interventions can prevent youth from engaging in violent behaviors, but if their environment does not change, they will continue being vulnerable to radicalization. Also, interventions should take into consideration all factors in a given context to avoid exacerbating the problem. If an informal economy is the main source of income for youth, a program that prohibits informality without providing opportunities for those engaged in it, could place more youth at risk of joining VEOs.
Do not use a one-size-fits-all approach: The fact that a violence reduction intervention works in one context does not mean that it will work in another one. Interventions must be adapted to different contexts to be successful, taking into consideration available resources, cultural factors, and transferability of the intervention.