Wednesday, June 29 2016

ISC report shows concern over assessment of Prevent

The Intelligence and Security Committee has today released its annual report (2010-2011) and again, iterates concerns over the lack of defined metrics against which to assess the success of the Prevent aspect of the Contest counter-terrorism strategy.

The report, in its recommendations and conclusions notes:

“The Committee accepts that it is not easily achieved, but it is nevertheless essential that there is some mechanism by which the success of work on the PREVENT strand of CONTEST – and the benefits of RICU in particular – can be evaluated.”

In the main body of the report discussing the Review of the Counter-Terrorism Strategy (CONTEST), the ISC notes:

“In June 2010, the Home Office had already begun separately to review the PREVENT strand of CONTEST. The SDSR described the purpose of this review as:

“Separating [PREVENT] much more clearly than before from general communities policy. The Department for Communities and Local Government will work to encourage a more integrated society, separate from CONTEST, while the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism… will be responsible for a more focused Prevent Strategy.

“In evidence to the Committee about the PREVENT review, the Home Secretary said:

“One of the concerns I have had about… the past is that we have ended up with…work taking place which is sullied in some people’s eyes by the Counter Terrorism message because it is seen to be purely about Counter Terrorism. ‘You are only talking to us, you are [only] trying to do something because you want to stop us blowing you up’ is the sort of message… I think there’s a lot the Government can do in working with Muslim communities and talking to them about issues that matter to them, that are nothing whatsoever to do with Counter Terrorism, that gives a clear message that actually Government perceives them as part of British society and doesn’t see them as a group that has to be treated in some sort of different way, purely because they happen to be from a particular community.

“Whilst this separation is important, it is equally important that any revised PREVENT strategy has clear indicators of success. The ISC in the last Parliament expressed concern regarding the lack of such indicators to measure the impact of PREVENT (into which Agency and police resources have been allocated over the past few years). In its 2008–2009 Annual Report the ISC said that:

“Given the importance of this work, and the considerable funding it is receiving, it is essential that clear and transparent targets are in place against which progress can be measured… [We] recommend that more effective measures are developed against which to assess progress.”

“The difficulty of measuring the success of PREVENT work is most notable in the work of the Research, Information and Communications Unit (RICU), which was established in 2007 with the primary aim of ensuring consistency, across government, on Counter-Terrorism and counter-extremism messages and developing a coherent narrative to challenge extremist ideology. RICU is jointly funded by the Home Office and the Foreign Office. It currently has 22 full-time staff and its budget in 2010/11 was £4.25m (of which £0.3m was spent on research and £2.7m was spent on communication campaigns).

“The two most high-profile campaigns run by RICU in 2010/11 were:

• UK Counter-Narrative Campaign, described as “a project to establish a loose network of credible community groups able to directly challenge terrorist propaganda”; and

• Victims’ Testimonies – International, described as “a project to help a [nongovernmental organisation] representing victims of terrorism to counter terrorist propaganda by amplifying victims’ voices in territories most exposed to terrorist propaganda”.

“RICU also ran a number of research campaigns, of which the most high-profile was research on ‘threat communications’, which aimed “to understand better how the public receives and understands the threat level from international terrorism”.

“RICU has now been in existence for four years. The Committee in the last Parliament was critical of the practical benefits it has been able to demonstrate. In its 2008–2009 Annual Report it said:

“… this is a difficult area of work where progress takes time, and is hard to see and measure. We hope that the results will be visible in the future, but note that RICU itself has said that ‘communications can only take us so far’.

“The Committee discussed this issue with the Home Secretary this year. The Director General of OSCT said:

“How do we measure impact? Using techniques that we have been introduced to by communications experts, reading material that we have supported. What influence does that material have? How credible do they find that material? And ultimately, of course, to what extent does it make an impact on either their behaviours or indeed outlooks, thinking… I think the metrics for communications work are relatively well established. I’m certainly not saying they are perfect, but it’s not a new machine for many people working in the communications industry.

“The Home Secretary agreed, however, that it was a complex issue:

“We are looking at the work that RICU does, and looking more generally at the issues across the PREVENT work and RICU work… I think one of the challenges… is identifying how we can measure the impact the PREVENT work has had. That’s one of the challenges we are grappling with.

“Like the CONTEST review, the review of PREVENT was originally intended to be completed by January 2011. However, it was not published until 7 June 2011. This proved too late to review as part of this Annual Report.”

The ISC report also covers the review of counter-terrorism powers and the transition from control orders to the replacement T-pims.

It is noteworthy that three years since the matter was first raised by the ISC, and millions of pounds in taxpayers money allocated to the programme, measures to evaluate the impact and success of the Prevent strand continues to elude the department responsible for overseeing its implementation.

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