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Prevent Strategy’s psychological techniques not transparent enough, according to new study

• Researchers state that policies based on ‘limited information’ is a cause for concern

• They argue lack of transparency will alienate professionals from working with the government to tackle terrorism

• Call for multi-disciplinary working committee to help identify potential terrorists

Risk assessments used to identify potential terrorists aren’t good enough, according to a new study.

A team led by the University of Warwick has analysed methods including those applied by the British Government as part of its Prevent strategy.

They found that there was a lack of transparency in the many of the techniques used and even found some findings and guidelines have not been published at all. Terrorism, Radicalisation, Extremism, Authoritarianism and Fundamentalism: A Systematic Review of the Quality and Psychometric Properties of Assessments has been published in the journal PLoS ONE. The study examines the methods used to measure the risk of an individual being radicalised.

Mental Health

Associate Clinical Professor, Dr Vivek Furtado, of Warwick Medical School led the research. He said: “Our review highlights, in no uncertain terms, that the methodological quality and reporting, together with the psychometric soundness of the identified instruments, are questionable and disappointing.”

The team decided to conduct the review as questionnaires and other tools used to identify individuals at risk of participating in terrorist and extremism have not been reviewed. The study aimed to critically appraise questionnaires, rating scales, inventories, and other methods of assessing the likelihood of an individual to be radicalised and become a terrorist.

The academics found that only just over half of the tools that they analysed were based on a clear and open methodology. Numerous methodological flaws have been identified in all of the studies included in the review, resulting in a limited interpretation and generalisation of the findings they presented.

This includes Extremism Risk Guidance 22 which identifies 22 ‘risk factors’ for gauging whether individuals are vulnerable to engaging with terrorist groups or posing a security risk. They also found the category presenting the least satisfactory results was that containing the four assessments conducted by professionals half of which are not published in whole.

Dr Furtado said: “Even though professional assessments are generally assumed to be the gold standard, there is, in this case, limited choice between the evaluated instruments, in that they are all relatively narrow and disclose very little information, if any at all. Based on the quality reporting and on the psychometric properties - or the lack of - there is no substantial evidence that would enable us to recommend one instrument over another.”

“It is disconcerting to report that significant policies and instruments have been, and continue to be developed based on limited information. Our review advocates that such studies need to be published in their entirety and critiqued in order to ensure transparency.”

The team also recommend that a multi-disciplinary working committee is established to find a way to help identify individuals at risk of participating in terrorist and extremist acts of violence in a fully comprehensive and evidence-based manner.

22 December 2016

For further details contact Nicola Jones, Media Relations Manager, University of Warwick 07920531221 or