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An Evaluation of a Community-Based Program to Counter Violent Extremism Leads to New Measures of Effectiveness That Could Aid Future Evaluations

Date Published
January 8, 2017

In general, there has been a lack of awareness of what can and should be done when an acquaintance, friend, or loved one appears to be on a path toward violent extremism.

But through a project funded by the National Institute of Justice, researchers have examined an effective Muslim-led program that seeks, among other goals, to counter violent extremism. The program was organized by the World Organization for Resource Development and Education (WORDE). This research represents the first evaluation of a program to counter violent extremism.

WORDE is a community-based, Muslim-led organization that attempts to counter violent extremism by creating and maintaining the very networks of civically engaged individuals, individuals who are sensitized to issues of violent extremism, and who have proactive, cooperative relationships with local social services and law enforcement agencies.

WORDE’s early prevention and engagement approach to countering violent extremism doesn’t consist of a single program. Instead, it’s composed of the following interlocking set of programs — community education to detect the signs of radicalization to violent extremism; volunteering; multicultural programming; Islamic training for law enforcement; and developing cooperation among community, law enforcement, and social service organizations.

WORDE’s programming develops a network of civically engaged, risk-aware, and remedy-aware citizens that is exponentially greater than its program participants. Its reach extends throughout the entire social networks of each program participant.

This research into WORDE’s programming set out to answer three main questions:

  • What were community members’ motivations compelling vs. preventing them from initially participating, and repeatedly participating, in each of WORDE’s programs, and how do these differ along demographic dimensions?
  • What were the practical/logistic factors compelling vs. preventing individuals from initially participating, and repeatedly participating, in WORDE's programs, and how did these differ along demographic dimensions?
  • What theoretical model could be used to predict participants' commitment to participating in voluntary, programs relevant to countering violent extremism?

The main takeaway from this research report is that WORDE's prevention and engagement programming is effective. The study found that WORDE's volunteer-service and multicultural programming generated the intended positive effects on 12 of 14 outcomes relevant to countering violent extremism. There were no discernable unintended effects.

Additionally, "NIJ is working to advance science in this area," said John Picarelli, Program Manager for Transnational Issues. "One of the big sticking points confronting social scientists in this area is how to evaluate the success of early engagement or prevention efforts addressing radicalization to violent extremism."

To that end, a significant advancement that this project contributes are 14 measures of effectiveness for prevention programs and 99 different indicators that should be considered.

"We are really hoping, at NIJ, that other scientists and evaluators will pick up and use these measures and indicators again to see if they're valid because that's the only way we'll continue to advance in this area," Picarelli said. "We know the measures and indicators worked for this one program. What we don't know is will it work for other types of programs. That's really what we want to learn."

Researchers believe this work can provide direction on how to tailor curriculum related to countering violent extremism and protocols in ways that account for the dynamics of help-seeking individuals in countering violent extremism contexts.

WORDE's NIJ-funded training manual, and associated curriculum, offer guidance toward replicating the model described in the report.

About this Article

The research described in this article was supported by NIJ grant number 2013-ZA-BX-0003, awarded to the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

This article is based on the grant report Evaluation of a Multi-Faceted, U.S. Community-Based, Muslim-Led CVE Program (pdf, 167 pages).

Date Published: January 8, 2017