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Providing European cities with tools to prevent radicalisation

Cities and local communities across Europe grapple with addressing the issue of radicalisation and understanding why young people in particular seek out extremist communities. An EU-funded project has developed concrete tools to study and mitigate radicalisation at the local level.

Society

While the number of terrorist attacks on European soil has fallen, radicalisation remains a key challenge that risks jeopardising our security, democratic values and social cohesion. Over 3 years, the EU-funded PRACTICIES project examined the phenomenon of radicalisation to better understand and anticipate its manifestations, and developed concrete mitigation and prevention tools for European cities.

Targeted and tailored tools a key priority

“As a first step, PRACTICIES conducted a survey in 12 countries, targeting young Europeans’ perceptions of radicalisation,” explains Professor Séraphin Alava, project coordinator of the PRACTICIES project. “A scientific study of 1 000 cases then made it possible to define the procedures and indicators of urban radicalisation and develop new prevention tools to help local and regional authorities.” Finally, each tool was evaluated in a Working Group of Cities set up by the European Forum for Urban Security. The tools developed by the project fall into four categories: scientific tools, including an aetiology of radicalisation to enable cities to better identify and prevent radical shifts; educational and psycho-social tools to help prevent young people from succumbing to conspiratorial or extremist discourse; technological and linguistic tools such as algorithms for detecting hate speech; and political tools to evaluate the impact of preventive measures in cities. “The tools put in place by PRACTICIES are aimed at all the groups of young people sensitive to radical ideas in cities,” says Alava. “They have been deployed by municipal services after training and adaptation to respond as much as possible to the context and type of radicalisation targeted.” The Digital Me Teacher Toolkit developed by the project invites students to create a digital story in which they give their point of view and try to inspire empathy. In this way, the tool aims to make students feel empowered in their ability to resolve personal and social problems, thereby reducing their vulnerability to radical and extremist discourse. Another tool, Newscraft, is a serious game that puts players in the role of a journalist working in a newsroom. It teaches students to reflexively question and critique the news they encounter, so they are equipped to navigate fake news, conspiracist narratives and radical propaganda discourse. The project also developed Desistance-Pro, a software that can assess the extent to which an individual is willing to accept non-violent alternatives to the radical paths they have been exposed to. It is designed to help social workers identify individuals who are at risk of being radicalised and to tailor appropriate care and follow up for those who have already been through the radicalisation process.

Policy recommendations for local, national and supranational actors

In addition to studying the mechanisms of radicalisation and developing tools for prevention and mitigation, PRACTICIES produced a comprehensive set of recommendations for policymakers. Based on the project’s research and findings, recommendations are tailored to three different levels of decision making: local, national and supranational. “With these recommendations, along with the concrete and effective tools for the security, culture and education services, PRACTICIES aims to improve the effectiveness of professional actions and the relevance of political choices,” concludes Alava.

Keywords

PRACTICIES, radicalisation, cities, local, security, prevention, students, prevention tools, social cohesion, Digital Me, Newscraft

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