‘MINDb4ACT’ collectively reassess individual, local, national, and multi-national approaches towards the comprehension, identification, and prevention of violent extremism in all its dimensions. This collaborative effort, supported by the European Commission and led by Elcano Royal Institute, comprises 18 partners from 10 European countries and 33 participating institutions. As a consortium partner in this EU ‘Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation’ project, Women without Borders (WwB) works with participating other organisations and institutions to shape an international community of security experts and first line practitioners who are equipped with the necessary skills and understanding to implement innovative, ethical, and effective Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) strategies. To reach its goals and close the gap in current research methods in the field, ‘MINDb4ACT’ applies the Living Lab approach that developed out of examinations of cognitive and decision-making processes in the 1990s.
The issue of radicalisation leading to terrorism has become a crucial part of European political and academic agendas. While Europe increasingly has been confronted by this issue over recent decades in the context of Islamist extremism, other forms of Rightist and Leftist violent extremism also have been on the rise. Radicalisation is not an entirely new phenomenon. Yet the complexity of its contemporary iterations, manifestations, and various strands demand more comprehensive and holistic approaches that consider social and psychological factors.
Sharing the concerns of institutions and organisations represented in ten fellow Member States in the EU with respect to the issue of radicalisation in Europe, Women without Borders (WwB) joined the collaborative project ‘MINDb4ACT’. Funded by the EU’s ‘Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement No 740543’. WwB in 2017 became one of the participating organisations among the project’s 18 partners from 10 EU countries and 33 participating institutions. The diverse range of stakeholders from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, and the United Kingdom include partners from academia, Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs), thinktanks, the private sector, governments, municipalities, and others.
The collaborative project set out to arrive at a better understanding of recruitment tactics and the process of radicalisation in a range of divergent contexts, and at the levels of the individual, family, school, community, prison, internet, social media, among others. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, ‘MINDb4ACT’ draws on psychological, socioeconomic, and ideological dimensions. To identify risk factors and draft informed methodological proposals, the project harnesses technological solutions based on big data and virtual reality. One of the overarching objectives is to build a community that facilitates knowledge transfer, advances shared capabilities based on empirical evidence, and offers concrete recommendations that promise to aid social, political, and law enforcement actors in their work.
To analyse the design, impact and constraints of current Countering Violent Extremism policies, the project focuses on the following four MIND-dimensions: ‘MIND the Problem’ explores how decision-making, operating level, and first practitioners are framing the problem; ‘MIND the Strategy’ looks at the rationale of regulation and forecasting with respect to concrete policy measures and ethical concerns, and it considers related ethical concerns; ‘MIND the Practices’ investigates how the skills and demands of stakeholders that can be advances and addressed through training and support from the academic and technological spheres; and ‘MIND the Capacities’ evaluates output via-à-vis initial goals, including aims relating to formation of identity, mitigation of violence, and transformation of attitudes.
To reach its goals and close the gap in current research methods relating to violent extremism, ‘MINDb4ACT’ has applied the Living Lab approach that developed out of examinations of cognitive and decision-making processes in the 1990s. A Living Lab presents an innovative environment for testing new, potential solutions through collaborative efforts. While this model more frequently is adopted by technology innovators, its successful application to the security arena also can been observed. The project uses this framework to develop 21 pilot projects centring on tackling violent extremism. The resulting practices and interventions are based on empirical evidence that are rooted in the following five areas.
First, ‘Prisons and Judiciary System’. Although chiefly the preserve of Member States, the European Commission has increased its efforts to prevent and counter radicalisation in prisons. MINDb4ACT facilitates knowledge and information for Member States with respect to the prevention and countering of radicalisation in prisons, doing so by providing empirical data, risk and evaluation assessment tools, and appropriate training for professionals in prisons. A special focus on youth probation and women is taken into account.
Second, ‘Schools and Learning Centres’. Regular and constructive contact with Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs), civil society representatives, and role models has the potential to motivate young people, and to prevent them from drifting to the margins of society. MINDb4ACT focuses on empirical data, risk and evaluation assessment tools, and the training of professionals for early detection in schools and related professional centres.
Third, ‘Immigration Hotspots and Asylum Centres’. Displaced persons and vulnerable refugees are often the targets of recruitment in Europe. Many specifically are targeted by Islamist extremist recruiters. The recent influx of migrants and related social and media discourses have been fuelling right-wing extremism that exploits the asylum crisis in a polarising manner for its own purposes. The project tackles these issues by providing empirical data, risk and evaluation assessment tools, and training for professionals in migration hotspots and asylum centres. Participants work to facilitate knowledge and information for LEAs in Member States represented in the consortium through both the MINDb4ACT Platform (a community of practice) and associated partners in each country and EU level.
Fourth, ‘Cities’. Europe is more resilient when it combats social exclusion and discrimination, when it promotes justice, pluralism, tolerance, and solidarity. Collaborating with communities through liaison officers, community leaders, and civil society is central to countering discrimination that may lead to radicalisation. Reaching vulnerable people and promoting activities that foster social inclusion may mitigate the effects of poverty and a lack of opportunities. MINDb4ACT promotes engagement as part of a broader collaboration with all relevant actors, including social institutions, community organisations, employers, social workers, and those closest to the youth: their families and friends. The project produces empirical data (practical knowledge) and advances evaluation tools to foster social resilience in peri-urban contexts, and to determine the impact of Rightist and Leftist forms of extremism.
Fifth, ‘Internet and Media’. The internet affords recruiters more opportunities to interact with people who would not otherwise be reachable by conventional means. Online interactions among likeminded individuals can substitute an individual’s physical community and create an online social environment in which deviant behaviour and violence become perceived to be acceptable. MINDb4ACT builds on EU initiatives addressing the internet and audio-visual media by identifying existing technological solutions (big data and other intelligence tools) to combat online propaganda and hate speech, and by providing empirical data, risk and evaluation assessment tools, and training of professionals for early detection.
In convening LEAs, international nonprofit organisation, thinktanks, research centres, universities, and industry associations from ten EU Member States, ‘MINDb4ACT’ ultimately seeks to overcome limitations in conventional research methodologies through the Living Labs framework and co-design new practices to prevent violent extremism in all its dimensions.
‘MINDb4ACT’ is coordinated by the Elcano Royal Institute, and the following organisations partake in the collaborative project: Women without Borders (Austria); Synyo GmbH (Austria); Free University of Brussels (Belgium); Agenfor International (Italy); University of Applied Sciences for Administration and Legal Affairs (Germany); Municipal Police (Spain); Danish Institute for International Studies (Denmark); European Organisation for Security (Belgium); Free University of Berlin (Germany); Foundation for Strategic Research (France); Civil Guard (Spain); Polish Platform for Homeland Security (Poland); Police University College (Finland); Regional Police of Wielkopolska (Poland); Police Service of Northern Ireland, Centre of Excellence in Terrorism, Resilience, Intelligence, and Organized Crime Research of Sheffield Hallam University (UK); and the Ministry of Justice (Italy). Women without Borders is one of two Austrian consortium partners.