The Next Step Towards Preventing Radicalisation – Our Meeting With Practitioners

Preventing radicalisation has been a lively discussed topic in Poland for a long time, but the need to expand the knowledge and competencies of practitioners in this area is still significant. There is a demand for training and education about designing and evaluating preventive activities. Luckily, among other things, the results of proposed European projects come in handy. The recent meeting in Warsaw was devoted to this topic.

The “Developing Competencies of Practitioners Working in the Field of Preventing Radicalisation” meeting was organised by the Polish Platform for Homeland Security (PPHS) in cooperation with Collegium Civitas. It took place on November 17, 2023, in Warsaw and gathered a wide group of people professionally involved in preventing radicalisation. Representatives of various sectors, including the police, the Prison Service, probation officers and representatives of public and non-governmental institutions, as well as the education and academia were invited to participate.

Our goal was to create a platform for presenting practical tools, collecting participants’ needs and recommendations regarding future activities, and exchanging knowledge, information and establishing contacts. The meeting was divided into three thematic blocks:

  • disinformation leading to radicalisation,
  • training needs in the field of preventing radicalisation – how to identify them in order to design tailor-made training,
  • effective response through proper design of preventive initiatives and evidence-based evaluation.

Each part was led by an expert in a given field. The moderators were dr Marzena Kordaczuk-Wąs, PPHS expert, prof. Karina Stasiuk-Krajewska from SWPS University and the Central European Digital Media Observatory, as well as major Cezary Mecwaldowski representing the Central Training Centre of the Prison Service.

“Due to such meetings, it is possible to exchange knowledge and information among national organisations that are interested in preventing radicalisation – sharing different information, networking and building national capacity in this area.” – says the meeting organiser Natalia Jarmużek-Troczyńska (PPHS).

The report from the meeting can be downloaded here: Developing Competencies of Practitioners Working in the Field of Preventing Radicalisation – Report summarising the meeting.

Disinformation

Manipulation of facts is one of the key issues through which we can improve our understanding of the processes of radicalisation. The panel on this topic was led by professor Karina Stasiuk-Krajewska. This is how she described the relationship between media messages and reasoning with extremism:

“Why is it important to fight disinformation and how does it relate to radicalisation? Both of these phenomena refer to fears and stereotypes. Paradoxically, they give those who become radicalised and those who believe in conspiracy narratives and disinformation a certain, obviously false, sense of security.

A broader category is cognitive biases. Our brains are generally lazy and like to go back to the way of thinking about the world that we already have in our heads. Instead of analysing information, we readily accept and judge the world according to the prejudices we already have in our heads.

Yet another important category is conspiracy theories. They are based on basic assumptions that I think I have understood something and I feel safe with this understanding. And suddenly someone says it’s not true and I start to suspect that this person is trying to deceive me.”

This is a topic closely related to the EU-HYBNET project, which focuses on the development of a European network of practitioners aimed at preparing for, detecting and combating hybrid threats in advance. One of the solutions being developed to these problems is media education and fact-checking. We wrote more about hybrid threats in the article: Hybrid Threats – Contemporary Forms of Exerting Political Pressure.

Training needs

The next thematic panel concerned the need for training to increase the competencies of practitioners dealing with preventing radicalisation on a daily basis. It was led by mjr Cezary Mecwaldowski, an experienced trainer and participant of many European projects supporting the creation of courses and workshops for prison staff.

“We are observing an increasing need for systemic approach to training needs in the Prison Service. These topics are a key element and need of prison staff representatives who deal with preventing and countering radicalisation.”

A professional analysis of training and educational needs at the local level in the field of counteracting radicalisation was carried out as part of the PARTICIPATION project and presented at the meeting by dr Marzena Kordaczuk-Wąs. This study involved first-line practitioners from Italy, Greece, Poland, the Netherlands, Romania and Belgium.

However, as an example of tailor-made training addressed to practitioners, the training organised in the MIRAD project was presented: “Integrated Approach to Radicalisation for Prison, Probation and Community”. As part of this project, over 160 practitioners from Poland completed e-learning and onsite training using VR (virtual reality) technology.

We also recommend the article Training Poland’s Prison Staff: Status Quo, Obstacles, and the MIRAD Project.

Training Poland’s Prison Staff: Status Quo, Obstacles, and the MIRAD Project

As is the case in prison services across the world, the Polish Prison Service is having to adapt to constant change. Not only are the behaviours and demographics of inmates shifting, but there is also significant turnover of prison personnel. Officers need more access to more training than is currently provided just to meet their everyday duties, and must also adapt to abnormal and potentially dangerous trends like radicalisation.

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Effective evaluation

The third issue discussed at the meeting was evidence-based evaluation, which, when designed at the right time and in a systemic way, can have a real impact on the effectiveness of preventive actions taken.

This panel was led by dr Marzena Kordaczuk-Wąs:

“One of the most important topics discussed today is a systemic approach to the design and evaluation of preventive initiatives. It is crucial to understand the importance and need for evaluation and to include it at the design stage of prevention actions, programmes, but also in strategic documents that build the ground for prevention and ad-hoc interventions that are undertaken, for example, by LEAs.”

The INDEED project deals with this topic. During the meeting, a set of evaluation tools (still in the development phase) was presented, as well as other products that can be used by practitioners working in this area, such as two INDEED e-guidebooks devoted to the design of initiatives and evidence-based evaluation, which are available in 10 languages.

Issues related to evaluation are not easy to cover in two paragraphs, so if you are interested in expanding your knowledge on this topic, please read the article: Effective Evaluation – How to Plan and Conduct it.

Effective Evaluation – How to Plan and Conduct it

Well-designed and successfully conducted evaluation helps to enhance the effectiveness of the initiative. It allows measuring the current effects of the work and establishing a solid foundation for further activities. The INDEED consortium is currently working on the tool that will facilitate this process.

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Recommendations

The meeting ended with a workshop element, during which participants, divided into groups, collected lists of needs and recommendations regarding the meeting topics. This was important not only for summarising the entire event but also for determining the directions of current and future activities.

Here is a list of the most important recommendations:

  1. Need for a simplified evaluation tool;
  2. Involvement of non-governmental organisations representatives in trainings for LEAs practitioners;
  3. Engaging policy makers in the topics discussed at the meeting;
  4. Supervisors participating in counter-radicalisation trainings;
  5. “Radicalisation” as a vocational training for practitioners;
  6. It is necessary to teach and show how to talk about evaluation in simple language of benefits (awareness-raising activities);
  7. Developing evaluation standards for prison staff;
  8. Multisectoral and interdisciplinarity cooperation in preventing radicalisation including trainings;
  9. Trainings and workshops aimed at improving critical thinking skills.

 

Feedback

The perspective of the meeting participants themselves must be emphasised. Our efforts were aimed primarily at supporting them in their daily work.

“Such meetings are much needed for us as prison officers. The issue of radicalisation is beginning to be noticed in prisons. If officers are aware of the topic of radicalisation and we are able to notice essential signs, this will certainly promote safety in prisons. It is as much about the safety of the inmates, the officers, as it is about the safety of the public, because we will be able to undertake various initiatives to help these people exit radicalisation process.” – Anna Kruk, Prison Service

“This training provides us with tools for effective diagnosis and carrying out the rehabilitation process in conversations with convicts and in their communities. During the workshops, we expand our knowledge and competencies, thanks to which we will implement the rehabilitation process more effectively.” – Cezary Słupczyński, Probation Officer, District Court Lublin-Zachód

“We need to develop in terms of recognising and preventing radicalisation, to broaden our competences, because these phenomena will not pass us by and we will have to face them. It is important that we are not passive, not helpless, because being helpless is the worst.” – Joanna Piotrowska-Dyrka, Probation Officer, District Court Lublin-Zachód

We are pleased with the interest in the event and its very positive reception. We see great possibilities to further support practitioners in their work, creating opportunities to exchange information, needs and experiences, and building a network that works together on this topic at national and European level.

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