While the number of programs dedicated to countering violent extremism (CVE) has grown in recent years, a fundamental gap remains in the understanding of the effectiveness of such programs. A 2017 RAND Corporation report documented that only a handful of such programs have been subject to rigorous evaluations of impact (Helmus et al., 2017). Such evaluations are critical because they help ensure that programming funds are dedicated to the most-effective efforts. Evaluations also play a critical role in helping individual programs improve the quality of service provision.
The threat of foreign fighter recruitment is greater today than it has ever been. The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is proving lethally effective in drawing extremists from around the world to their ranks, and in the United States, ISIL is targeting the Somali-American community in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota.
There are more than 40,000 Somali-Americans and immigrants in Minnesota. This growing immigrant community is facing substantial challenges, including weak family structures, lack of education, racism and violent crime. In this mix of chronic community challenges, young people can be unsure of their personal identity, leaving them vulnerable to terrorist recruiters.
The concept of creating counter-narratives1 in order to push back against extremist recruitment and propaganda has become well established in recent years. In practice, however, it has proven difficult to curate this content in a systematic way, target it toward at risk audiences, and – most importantly – measure constructive impact on their behaviour.