Preventing violent extremism and terrorism relies on successfully identifying and proactively intervening with people who are vulnerable to being targeted for recruitment before they engage in violent extremism. The early identification of vulnerability should afford opportunities to provide constructive intervention and referral pathways to support ‘at risk’ individuals. Such activities are considered routine in both public health and education with numerous examples of successful programmes. Reactive strategies to the identification of maladaptive behaviour evolve into a system where resources are poured into a small number of individuals, only once they have been identified, often after the maladaptive or destructive patterns have already become established. Therefore, the prognosis for any intervention is poor while their capacity for harm to the wider community is high. Therefore it is necessary to develop methods of identifying vulnerable individuals before those maladaptive behaviours are present. The IVP guidance was developed specifically for this purpose for the UK Office for Security and Counter Terrorism in 2009. The IVP was designed from the outset as an ideologically neutral structured professional judgment guidance for practitioners from primary schools through to prisons.
In its current form the IVP guidance consists of 16 criteria, which can be classified into three levels of increasing and cumulative concern (yellow, orange, and red) determined by the extent to which the criteria move from beliefs to observable (criminal) behaviours. The IVP guidance criteria indicate vulnerability to future involvement with violent extremism and acts of terror. It is important to recognise that vulnerability does not imply certainty and the point of identifying vulnerability is to afford the opportunity for practitioners to intervene before the individual engages with violent extremism. In addition, violent extremists will not necessarily display all of these factors, and the presence of even a single risk factor should prompt the practitioner to seek advice from their line manager. Practitioners must feel confident raising such issues even when there are gaps in their own knowledge about particular issues and/or events that give cause for concern. They must feel able to ask difficult questions and identify key information that emerges from the participant’s responses that should indicate what action (if any) to take.
By their very nature prevention interventions will generate a large number of ‘false positives’, i.e. individuals who do not go on to display the target behaviour will be treated as if they will. This raises legitimate ethical concerns about unfairly ‘labelling’ individuals who may not pose a genuine risk. Actions that label or target individuals as negative, criminal, or dysfunctional serve to alienate and ostracise them from the rest of society and may actually strengthen an anti-social identity. In order to circumvent this problem we have been using the IVP guidance with individuals who are publicly associating with banned terrorist organisations, such as ISIS, on social media. From the 1000’s of individuals that we have identified so far there have been numerous examples of criminality that have provided actionable intelligence for law enforcement and intelligence agencies from multiple countries, including the USA, Australia, and Canada. We believe that this indicates that the IVP guidance is a useful method for screening the large numbers of potentially vulnerable people and identifying those who require further investigation by the appropriate agencies. Several law enforcement agencies are already using the IVP guidance for this purpose.