Engaging Stakeholders in Understanding and Reforming Counter-Terrorism Review

public-participation-in-decision-making_247So far in the project we have undertaken four major phases of research: we have mapped counter-terrorism in the UK (as discussed here), generated a sense of the scale of counter-terrorism review building from that mapping exercise (discussed here), attempted to identify gaps in counter-terrorism review (discussed here), and undertaken a large number of interviews with persons involved in counter-terrorism review, ranging from senior politicians to cvil servants and members of civil society.

At the moment we are engaged in the analysis of these interviews and in bringing together the insights from these different stages of the project. The purpose is ultimately to prepare a comprehensive, critical account of counter-terrorism review in the United Kingdom which we will use to make proposals for reform all oriented towards, ultimately, enhancing accountability in counter-terrorism review.

Importantly, however, we are committed to ensuring that these proposals are practicable and capable of implementation. This, of course, poses some interesting but real challenges. Two are of immediate relevance here.

The first is that, even with the scale of research that we have done (which we do not believe has been matched in any previous studies of counter-terrorism review in the United Kingdom), the nature of counter-terrorism and counter-terrorism review is such that some of the mechanisms and realities of review may remain beyond our reach simply because of the limitations on knowledge sharing that flow from secrecy requirements in this field. These requirements, of course, relate primarily to substantive issues of which a reviewer gains knowledge through, for example, security cleared access to agencies, participation in closed proceedings, or information disclosed to them under secrecy laws. However, there may well be times that substantive secrecy requirements create challenges in explaining the realities of how review takes place. If this were to happen, a knowledge gap would arise for us as researchers.

The second is that, as researchers, we are (rightly) outsiders to the system so that even while we gain and develop a good knowledge of how the system works in an external sense, the realities of undertaking review, engaging with other review mechanisms, securing participation from a wide range of actors including communities, completing reviews, communicating review outcomes, and then trying to secure change as a result of review will be known to us in only a second-hand way. It is the reviewers themselves — of all kinds — who will understand best the challenges, blocks, facilitators, and practicalities of making review work.

These challenges mean that for us, as researchers who wish to see the work have an effect on the practice of counter-terrorism review, stakeholder engagement is vital not only at the earlier stages of enhancing our understanding of counter-terrorism review by speaking to those who work in it, but also as we move into the later stages of developing and proposing reforms to enhance accountability. Such engagement will help us to see unintended consequences of reforms we may propose, predict with more accuracy the challenges that may arise within reformed systems, and comprehend the practical implications of what we might propose. As a result, our proposals can be further honed and polished, if necessary, in order to make it more likely that they may be picked up in practice.

The challenge for us, as researchers, is of course to ensure that we take on board stakeholder perspectives but do not allow them to lead the research. In other words, if our research suggests it, then it would be important that we maintain a commitment to reforms that may challenge orthodox thinking within the counter-terrorism review community/communities, even if that would pose serious practical challenges.

The next stage in our stakeholder engagement on the project will be a (closed) workshop to be held in Wolfson College Oxford on September 28th where we will present our work and proposals so far to invited experts and counter-terrorism review professionals in order to test them against their ‘real world’ experience and expertise. The details of the workshop are on the events page, and we have a very small amount of space left. Should you be a counter-terrorism review practitioner (civil society, government, politician or political advisor, security and intelligence, NHS, higher education, local authority etc involved in any way with counter-terrorism review) and wish to participate please get in touch with us by emailing Jessie Blackbourn at jessie.blackbourn@csls.ox.ac.uk

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