This study evaluated the Muslim Public Affairs Council’s (MPAC) Safe Spaces Program, which uses a community-led public health approach to prevent violent extremism.
The original intention of this project was to evaluate the impact of Safe Spaces in each of nine sites with quantitative surveys and statistical analysis. The Safe Spaces Program aimed to strengthen community resilience and promote a healthy environment by empowering communities with practical and effective tools. MPAC advocates a bottom-up approach based on the Prevention and Intervention (PI) model. The model incorporated both prevention and intervention components. Of the nine sites that received MPAC training and technical assistance, however, only four sites attempted to implement any prevention program activities. Of those four sites, three did not continue prevention programming related to what was taught in the Safe Spaces training; and only one site continued prevention programming and formed a community response team (CRT) to implement intervention activities. Five sites did not implement any prevention activities or intervention activities; therefore, the current study was modified to focus on implementation barriers, facilitators, and recommendations based on follow-up qualitative interviews. Researchers conducted three focus groups at a mosque, a school, and a community center. These groups obtained community feedback that was used to modify the Safe Spaces model. The findings focus on community buy-in, site training, and technical assistance issues. Specific issues addressed are site recruitment and opposition from leadership, conducting Safe Spaces training, and providing technical assistance. The overall conclusion is that the Safe Spaces program as implemented was not successful, but some aspects showed potential. Particularly, there was insufficient focus on each site’s needs, engagement with leadership, or preparing the site for the training.