From Lab to Field: Challenges and Opportunities for Operationalising Border Security Research
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Despite the investment in EU border security research each year, challenges remain in translating research into operational practice. RAND Europe researchers examined how countries within and beyond Europe set up, manage, and operationalise their border security research. The project team identified a number of good practices, challenges and functional roles played by other organisations to offer overarching recommendations for Frontex—the European Border and Coast Guard Agency—with a number of associated interventions detailed in the final report.
The European Union (EU) faces a range of pressures on its borders, including illegal border crossings, people-smuggling activities, weapons smuggling and terrorism. Research and innovation (R&I) can help border guards (‘end users’) understand and respond to these threats. A number of R&I funding mechanisms (such as the Horizon 2020 programme) support border security policy priorities at the EU level , while an important part of Frontex’s mandate involves monitoring and contributing to research developments.
Despite the investment in EU border security research each year, challenges remain in translating research into operational practice. There is already evidence to suggest that the ‘pull-through’ of research can be difficult, given that research providers often lack understanding of the operational context, and also because long-term research can lose its relevance over time.
RAND Europe was commissioned by Frontex to examine how border security research is set up, managed and operationalised within and beyond Europe, with a view to exploring how these processes could be improved in the EU.
In particular, the study addressed the following research questions:
- How is R&I in the area of border security set up, conducted and operationalised by EU organisations and member states?
- What approaches are used in the United States, Canada and Australia to fund and apply research in this area?
- What ‘good practices’ from these different approaches could be incorporated into the EU approach?
The project team used two main methods to deliver this study: case studies (drawing on literature reviews, research interviews, and surveys) and workshops.
A first set of case studies focused on good practices and challenges in relation to border security research in the EU, the US, Canada and Australia. Based on this preliminary investigation, we conducted a more in-depth investigation of six organisations operating in border security and other domains—namely defence and space—in order to understand different functional roles for R&I.
Complementing the case study analysis, the project team held an external stakeholder workshop to analyse the different types of functional role that Frontex could play to support the operationalisation of border security research. Three internal analysis workshops were also held with a RAND Experts Group to develop and refine a ‘research and innovation pathway’ designed to map the processes that link border security research and its implementation by border guards.
The project team identified areas of good practice in relation to R&I, with a focus on:
- Involving end users in research planning and delivery;
- Engaging leadership in research processes;
- Adopting flexible models to ensure that research is responsive to emerging issues;
- Convening networks of industry and research experts;
- Coordinating research processes to avoid duplication of effort; and
- Evaluating research processes to ensure that they remain fit for purpose over time.
The case studies also identified a number of challenges for R&I, including poorly defined ‘impact’ assessment criteria, an enduring disconnect between research and operational practice, Intellectual Property constraints, and a lack of funding and personnel for operationalising research activities. Despite improvements in engaging end users in research, this still remains an area for improvement.
Following the scoping of good practices and challenges, the project team conducted a more detailed analysis of functional roles played by other R&I organisations. These roles include:
- Coordinating requirement identification and setting (e.g. horizon scanning);
- Providing thought leadership (e.g. in-house research);
- Facilitating information provision and knowledge transfer (e.g. end user training);
- Providing an ‘honest broker’ function (e.g. facilitating cross-sector cooperation);
- Hosting innovation (e.g. prize competitions, technology demonstrations); and
- Facilitating access to funding (e.g. providing R&I funding).
The study leverages findings on good practices, challenges and the functional roles played by other organisations to offer overarching recommendations for Frontex, with a number of associated interventions detailed in the final report.
For more information about this study or to request access to the final report, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.