The Origin and Evolution of the RAND Corporation's Terrorism Databases

Defining and Building a New Field of Knowledge

by Brian Michael Jenkins, David Ronfeldt

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Two RAND Corporation researchers at the forefront of collection and analysis of data on terrorism recount the experiences, challenges, achievements, and lessons learned during the past nearly 50 years. From the 1970s onward, RAND research on terrorism evolved from its initial concern with terrorists' actions (i.e., incidents), to the types of groups that committed those actions, to the attributes of people who made up those groups, and finally to the nature of the mindsets that motivated and characterized those terrorists. Each phase in that progression required a different kind of database and a more sophisticated analytical ability to use each database individually and to use them together (especially as the databases became computerized). Each step also required a new look at the definition of terrorism. After tracing this evolution, the authors discuss challenges and criticisms that arose along the way. They conclude with lessons learned, responses to criticisms, and thoughts about the future of this area of research for database development.

This research was conducted using internal funding generated from operations of the RAND Homeland Security Research Division (HSRD) and conducted within the Strategy, Policy and Operations Program.

This publication is part of the RAND Corporation Perspective series. RAND Perspectives present expert insights on timely policy issues. All RAND Perspectives undergo peer review to ensure high standards for quality and objectivity.

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