Evident and Effective? The Challenges, Potentials and Limitations of Evaluation Research on Preventing Violent Extremism
Keywords:radicalization, extremism, prevention, evaluation, evidence-based
Radicalization and its prevention have increasingly become the subject of public debate in academia and in the political arena. The impact of prevention efforts is subject to public scrutiny – not only because these efforts, if successful, contribute to the common good, but also because many countries have increased public spending on prevention based on this justification. Evaluations can analyze impact and effectiveness and thereby advance knowledge about how prevention operates within different social contexts and what kind of outcomes it produces. However, there are significant challenges to developing a robust basis of evidence in the field of Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE). On the one hand, practitioners and scholars debate the notion of “evidence-based approaches”, e.g. with regard to methods of data collection or appropriate evaluation designs, while some fundamentally question the concept itself. On the other hand, expectations regarding the capability and feasibility of outcome evaluations are often inflated and incompatible with real-world conditions in PVE practice. This article addresses some of the challenges that researchers face when conducting outcome evaluations in the field of PVE and it suggests pragmatic solutions. It sheds light on the state of evaluation in PVE, focusing on the German context, and gives recommendations pertaining to the commissioning, planning, implementation and utilization of (outcome) evaluations.