Why it's important that we're international

12 Jan 2016

In 2015 we at CSEL travelled outside of the UK quite extensively, so as I hung up my rucksack for a rest over the Christmas period I was prompted to stop and think carefully about the place that international work has in CSEL’s strategic objectives, and our vision for our future. It has to be acknowledged that we do all love travelling, but these trips also make important contributions to our goal of bringing psychological evidence to the service of the most disempowered people across the world.

(Photocredit: Universal Declaration of Human Rights chalked on University's steps

by University of Essex under Creative Commons licence)

Firstly, the Geneva Convention is an international instrument and applies equally to the 146 states that have signed up to it. If you believe in and support the concept of Human Rights then you believe that they apply across the world equally, even if these fundamental rights are not recognised by some states.

Of course the application of the various conventions and instruments in individual countries that receive people seeking protection is open to interpretation and translation into individual countries’ processes and procedures. But our research applies to the process of credibility assessment which sits at the heart of most protection decisions, however the detail of the law is applied. For example, the importance of understanding how people with strong feelings of shame have difficulty disclosing distressing personal experiences is not restricted to one area or another of the law.

The UK’s asylum & protection decision making process is extensive, institutional and longstanding. Other states are just starting to develop refugee-receiving systems. CSEL is getting opportunities to present relevant psychological research in these new contexts at a point where important knowledge could be incorporated into the thinking about emerging decision making processes and procedures by those designing, implementing and auditing new systems.

It is true that there are limits to the generalisations that can be made from psychological research done in one culture to situations in another. The very conceptualisation of the research question, the constructs identified and measured, the participants, the conclusions drawn, are all derived from, and informed by the many different facets of culture and sub-culture. However, whilst not naive to these complexities, we maintain our pragmatic approach of aiming to help decision makers make use of the best research that is currently available.

More generally, the broader exposure that we give our work, the wider the scrutiny that it will attract, which has always been the backbone of our quality assurance. International exposure can only be good for us in this regard. Also – and perhaps because of this, building an international reputation strengthens our credibility both at home and worldwide.

Looking to the future, it also makes us available to collaboration with a wider group of researchers – for example this year I have finally met Prof. Pär Anders Granhag whose work in Sweden on deception continues to inform and complement our work. We also continue longstanding connections with researchers in Sydney and Melbourne, including advising to a replication and extension of our study of assumptions in judicial decision making, which I am looking forward to seeing in print.

Finally, an international presence gives us a larger potential funding base – for example developing collaborations across Europe (e.g. the Credo project with UNHCR and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee in Budapest) or, eventually, US-based funding sources.

(Photocredit: by Simon Law under Creative Commons licence)