Bringing Together the Best and the Brightest to Tackle Transnational Organised Crime

Bringing Together the Best and the Brightest to Tackle Transnational Organised Crime

By Jamie Ward

On the 9thand 10thof April, I was fortunate enough to sit in on a two-day workshop at the University of Cambridge, organised by the Partnership for Crime, Conflict and Security (PaCCS), listening to the five funded research projects on transnational organised crime (TNOC).

The goal of the workshop, run by Dr Tristram Riley-Smith in his capacity as PaCCS’s Research Integrator, was to introduce the projects to each other, encourage collaboration and discuss how the overall project will move forward. Being a natural scientist by training, I didn’t know what to expect, but I found I was fascinated by the individual projects each with their own unique challenge, scale and strategy.

As this was the first time the different project leaders have met each other, a brief presentation was given by each of them outlining the aims, motivations and importance of the work. Projects ranged in scale with the first presentation describing how criminal groups in Tripoli (Lebanon) would join terrorist networks to intimidate other groups and not for ideological motives. The next project was on a much larger scale and focused on TNOC at sea. Being such a widespread problem, there is a lot of experience of dealing with a specific issue in one region, but this experience is isolated and could be of use elsewhere. Part of the project, and what I thought was unique, is trying to spread this knowledge between regions to aid with similar issues.

Moving from the physical world to the digital world, the next project describes how TNOC is adapting as the world moves to become more interconnected through technology. On the flipside of this, as the problem becomes more digital, new data becomes available and new tools can be used. All the previous talks have been addressing TNOC in a more general sense, the next project focusses on human trafficking and what can be learned by analysing the spatial distribution of human trafficking, how it changes with time and the social networks involved. Finally, the last project focussed on TNOC in West Africa. Slightly different from the other projects with a lot of discussion around the perception of organised crime in West Africa and if it is representative.

I felt the projects generated a lot of interest from everyone in the room regardless of expertise or career. Many presentations led to discussions about how their organisation or expertise can help to get data or they offered advice about aspects of the project. These conversations show how effective these workshops can be and hopefully will develop into effective research collaborations. What struck me about each of the projects was a clear intention to have an immediate impact, which was the intention of the fund by requiring cross field collaboration. The discussion and enthusiasm continued to the evening where everyone (including me) was invited to dinner. The after-dinner presentation was given by Professor Jason Shaman on corruption, money laundering and tax havens and holding those supporting such activities responsible. The speech and discussion were fascinating to listen to, but eventually the group dispersed ready for the next day of productive work. 

At the start of the second day, several recommendations to improve the understanding of TNOC were discussed. The attendees separated into small groups, each with a different recommendation to discuss. To me, the most interesting points were: projects need to be flexible as the circumstances they were formed in may change; it is very useful to simply have data and research accessible to the right people; communicating research findings is vital for effective action and it is essential the media is well informed on the topic they are reporting.

The event moved away from theoretical to some more pragmatic discussions such as those about the PaCCS Fellowship Scheme and Brains Trust. This aims to bring together non-academic stake holders and TNOC experts to inform them on what the current research says on issues they are concerned with. The event ended with discussions about student placements into relevant organisations and how to make this effective for the projects, universities, students and the stakeholders.

Like I mentioned at the start of the blog, I am a mere natural scientist. Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this group of experts, academic and working world alike. This is in no small part because of the obvious passion they all have for the topic and making a real impact on what I’m sure everyone agrees is a critical and concerning issue.

Jamie Ward is a doctoral researcher at University of Leeds investigating structures within the Earth using novel array seismology techniques. He has spent the last three months as a NERC-funded Policy Intern at the Centre for Science and Policy at the University of Cambridge. Jamie’s website