Measuring radicalisation: risk assessment conceptualisations and practice in England and Wales


Individual ‘radicalisation’- extremism- and terrorism-related risk assessment tools have become increasingly central instruments of counter-terrorism. The scholarship on such tools, however, is still its infancy, and remains concentrated on methodological issues and on identifying the ‘best’ indicator list for carrying out assessments. This article takes a different approach, and examines England and Wales’ main counter-terrorism relevant risk and vulnerability assessment tools: the Extremism Risk Guidance (ERG22+) and the Vulnerability Assessment Framework (VAF), concentrating on their shared 22 risk indicators and their uses in counter-terrorism. The article explores the ideas of ‘radicalisation’ emerging from these indicators and from their use at two different ‘ends’ of England and Wales’ counter-terrorism; to assess sentenced terrorism offenders in prison, and to assess non- criminal individuals referred over concerns over their possible ‘radicalisation’. The article hence clarifies the ideas of ‘radicalisation’ underpinning counter- terrorism policies in England and Wales, and considers the operational utility of the tools' present uses. The article finds that the tools' shared indicators suggest a conceptualisation of radicalisation associated with individual psychology and ways of thinking, and do not in and of themselves open for sufficient incorporation of relevant context. While not rejecting the possible value of specialised terrorism-related individual risk assessment tools, the article finds that the ideas underpinning the tools’ uses make their present counter-terrorism roles questionable. It concludes by stressing that any benefit associated with risk and vulnerability assessment tools in the counter-terrorism space would seem conditioned on them being reserved for the uses, target groups and assessors they were originally created for, and on them being used as only one component of a broad, contextual assessment of individuals about whom there is an evidence-based terrorism-related concern.