Panel Paper: Will “Strong Cities” Yield Best Practices in CVE? a Program Evaluation-Based Approach of Emerging ‘Countering Violent Extremism’ Initiatives

Friday, November 9, 2018
8228 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Matthew Weiss and George Atisa, University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley

In combatting transnational extremism, policies of prosecution and detention have been indiscriminately applied, with little demonstrable success, whereas a more nuanced approach needs to be taken to determine whether extremists or supporters of extremist groups can be successfully re-integrated into society. In this vein, as jihadist battlefields proliferate and repercussions for homeland security multiply, cities and affected communities have taken an alternative approach and embarked on a range of trans-national initiatives to share experiences and coordinate strategies in “countering violent extremism” (‘CVE’). The focus of CVE is to prevent at-risk youth from adopting extremist mindsets in the first place. One of the most promising and innovative of such initiatives is the Strong Cities Network.

However, much work remains to be done in establishing uniform criteria and metrics for assessing the promise and effectiveness of CVE programs. To this end, this paper applies program evaluation methodologies to rigorously assess the design of the Strong Cities Network and other CVE and de-radicalization initiatives with similar objectives. Given the paucity of primary data in this emerging field, textual data, as used in organizational documents, literature and news organizations, is analyzed to generate storylines and summaries in order to provide a better understanding of de-radicalization challenges, and to develop benchmarks or criteria for evaluating the success of current de-radicalization or CVE initiatives. Employing process evaluation design, thematic and triangulation analysis is conducted to measure program changes and expected resulting behaviors. The conclusions reached will have profound implications for policymakers’ efforts to fashion programs designed to fortify their communities against extremism.