When it Comes to Terrorism Analysis we Need the Best People Available, Gender Notwithstanding

Expertise is expertise: we don’t have to specify where we get it from.

OTTAWA, CANADA — The Trudeau government came into office like a breath of fresh air, at least according to some. He was young, suave, ‘sexy’, and everything that the previous Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, was perceived as not.

JT, as he is fondly known, also promised the moon. Better relations with First Nations. Less income inequality. A gender parity cabinet. Kittens for all. The reality has been slightly different.

Konrad Yakabuski wrote in last weekend’s Globe and Mail:

One of the great ironies of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is that it has proved so ineffective in the one area where it so emphatically promised to outdo its predecessors.

Konrad Yakabuski

That area? “Results and measurement” or, as some call it, “deliverology”. The Liberals even brought in UK consultant Sir Michael Barber, the “deliverology” guru to cabinet retreats at resorts in New Brunswick, Alberta and Ontario, and paid him $200,000 for his efforts.

And now? Crickets. As Mr. Yakabuski describes it, the “deliverology” unit has been quietly disbanded and the head of it, Matthew Mendelsohn, has gone back to academe. The reaction: nary a whimper.

Is the same fate inevitable for this government’s GBA+ program?

For the uninitiated, GBA+ stands for  “Gender-Based Analysis Plus,” a program drafted by Status of Women Canada to analyse the “gendered” implications of government policy.  In other words, all Government of Canada initiatives have to be measured against this rubric. In his 2018 budget speech, finance minister Bill Morneau proudly noted that every single budget decision was vetted through GBA+.

The bottom line is that governments throughout the Western world have been dominated since time began by old white male dudes like me. So, any effort to expand inputs to other groups of people (female, etc.) has to be a good thing. I am uncertain what GBA+ analysis entails but I am willing to give proponents the benefit of the doubt – for now. If data and evidence support the advantages of doing government this way, then great, let’s keep doing what works. If not, it may join ‘deliverology’ on the ash-heap of failed government ideas.

Image result for gba+ framework
So what about terrorism?

Last week I attended (very briefly: I had another event to go to) a mini-conference organised by Public Safety Canada and TSAS – the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society – on why national security analysis needs GBA+. The seminar was entitled Addressing Unconscious Bias, Diversity, and Inclusion in National Security. Again, I did not stick around so I cannot comment on what was said and whether it was of interest or use.

For me the bottom line is simple: if we want to have the best understanding of terrorism and other national security issues we need a combination of the best data and the best analysts. With regards to the former, the best repository of data has long been security intelligence and law enforcement agencies, although academe is rapidly getting better (yay!). With regards to the latter, good analysts are good analysts. Good analysis stems from multiple sources, corroboration, determination of bias, elimination of self-fulfilling prophecies, etc.

A good terrorism analyst is someone who does all of the above. Is a GBA+ approach necessary to ensure that the best product is available for decision makers? Not to my mind it is not. If agencies have the best people drawn from all walks of society in the first place and ensure that all views are considered – but crucially those views NOT based on solid data are rejected – then GBA+ is irrelevant.

A good terrorism analyst is someone who does all of the above. Is a GBA+ approach necessary to ensure that the best product is available for decision makers? Not to my mind it is not.

Call me an old white guy, but I cannot help but think that GBA+ is a ‘fad’ that is not required. Just collect good data and do good analysts. That is sufficient.

PS Before I get the inevitable hate mail allow me to state that I am a fan of TSAS. I am particularly keen to see and get to know all the young scholars and practitioners as I for one will at some point down tools in this sphere and new blood is always required. Everyone who has a solid contribution to make in our collective understanding of terrorism should be at the table. Alas, not every contribution is solid and we cannot accord them primacy of place just because they happen to come from certain ‘groups’ of society.

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2 thoughts on “When it Comes to Terrorism Analysis we Need the Best People Available, Gender Notwithstanding

  1. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I noted that I could not stay (rather than ‘did not stay’) in order not to be inaccurate. Do you think that GBA+ is the only way to ensure that the best people are drawn to S&I? That was not my experience. In 32+ years I worked among the best that Canada has to offer, and they were drawn from across the board. If you had a different experience in the Canadian S&I community, I’d love to hear from you!

    I thought my comments were fair: I do not dismiss GBA+. I merely expressed healthy skepticism. I saw enough fads in three decades to know that not all good ideas pan out.

    Thanks again!

  2. “Is a GBA+ approach necessary to ensure that the best product is available for decision makers? Not to my mind it is not. If agencies have the best people drawn from all walks of society in the first place and ensure that all views are considered – but crucially those views NOT based on solid data are rejected – then GBA+ is irrelevant.” Among other things, the very purpose of GBA+ is to *ensure* that the best people drawn from all walks of life wind up not only working but thriving in places like the S&I agencies. The numerous complaints about inclusion (or lack thereof) at the various S&I and law enforcement agencies suggests that there’s definitely a need for GBA+. For practical, tangible examples of how GBA+ can have measurably positive effects on policies and programs intended for the public, I highly suggest you actually complete the free online training from Status of Women. It’s not just fluffy “do the right thing” cheerleading; it actually illustrates how GBA+ can help a program more successfully reach a broader range of Canadians. Finally, not to be rude but “I didn’t stay for the whole presentation and I don’t really know what GBA+ is but it’s probably a needless flavour of the month” is a very disappointing approach to the topic.

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