TRUST: Tracing Risk and Uncertainty in Security Technology

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: Sch of Politics Int Stu and Philosophy


This research maps and analyses how new security technologies are developed in practice.

The research is inter-disciplinary and collaborative between social scientists and engineers. It studies the HANDHOLD project: an integrated portable Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive (CBRNE) detection device intended for application, in the first instance, by security enforcers at national borders. HANDHOLD includes 9 partners (engineering companies, academics, and end-users) from 5 EU countries and addresses different national contexts, different institutional priorities and different cultural conceptions of security and S&T. Our research will assess how this complexity affects scientific practices and outcomes, particularly as it relates to the management of risk and uncertainty, and the potential for failure. It does so in relation to a technology addressing issues in the top tier of national security priorities.

The overall aim of this research is to contribute to cross-disciplinary and applied knowledge about the drivers of S&T development in relation to defence and security needs. This will inform wider concerns about how issues of science and security shape each other and will offer important lessons for technology development, implementation, and policy making, as well as for academic knowledge.

The objectives of this research will be realised in three ways: 1) discourse analysis of key documents, 2) ethnographic observation of scientists and engineers in action, 3) semi-structured interviews with key participants in different agencies.

This project seeks to make a strong input to the social science and political literature on how science and technology is developed from a defence and security perspective, as well as offering a crucial contribution to the understating of how UK defence and security could better harness possible opportunities in the future to counter potential threat as emerging from the development of security devices. There are three distinct communities outside of academia which this project will impact. They are: technology developers (both in public institutions and in the private sector); end-users in border security and regulation; and policy-makers.

In order to ensure this impact the project will hold two major workshops to disseminate and discuss our findings. The first will be held with HANDHOLD project partners, and external academic experts on border security and technology. The second is a final government and stakeholders workshop that will invite and engage participants from government, EU, and the security technology industry. This will disseminate and review the findings of the project and discuss and identify concrete ways forward based on the lessons learned.

These workshops will be supported by and contribute to the production of two key reports, that will also be publically accessible. A Partners' Report will target specifically the HANDHOLD consortium and will specify concrete recommendations regarding best practices for communication and negotiation in collaborative technology development in the defence and security sector. These lessons will also be applicable for future collaborations undertaken by partner institutions and industries. A Government and Stakeholders Report will reflect our research findings, with a specific focus on implications for policy development and the on-going management of government/industry relationships in the security technology sector.

A number of academic articles in leading international journals and briefing papers to partners, government and policy makers will also be produced, with an emphasis on co-authored collaboration and cross-disciplinary impact.

Planned Impact

Audiences: There are three distinct primary communities which this project will impact beyond the academic community.

Technology Development: includes research centres, SMEs and laboratories in both the public (University and Government) and private (Industry) sectors. These individuals are the scientists and engineers tasked with the concrete development and production (including testing and assessment) of technologies.

End-users: who will potentially use the technology developed for the purposes of security (particularly, but not exclusively, border security), i.e. European customs agencies, border guards, FRONTEX, first responders, police, civil security and others who constitute 'front-line' services in security and risk management.

Policy makers: primarily government actors whose responsibility it is to identify (national) defence and security needs, define the parameters of risk management for security and technology development, govern the implementation of security technologies, and fund/invest in the development of the technology itself. Although our primary target policy-making audience is in the UK, the case study we are using is actively transnational and our research will be likewise. Hence, our findings will also be relevant to policy makers at the EU level and other European national policy making communities, including Ireland, Portugal, Estonia and Germany.

How Audiences Will Benefit: This research will impact all three audiences in two distinct, but significant, ways:

1) Collaboration Enhancement Strategies:
Collaboration Enhancement is implicated in the organisational practices in industry and government, but most significantly in the mediations between the two sectors. Concrete recommendations for communications strategies to strengthen and develop stronger collaborations have the potential to lead to change organisational culture in technology development practices. Technology Developers will benefit here from enhanced ability to not only collaborate across different sectors within development, pursuing large scale, multi-platform and multi-application technologies through consortiums (as in HANDHOLD). For active research partners, this will be particularly beneficial as work HANDHOLD continues, but also in their future collaboration with other partners. End-users will benefit here from strategies that enable deeper collaboration in the process of development, enhancing effective feedback and input mechanisms. Policy makers will benefit from enhanced ability to manage complex collaboration across multiple sectors in an environment of high uncertainty, as is the case in defence and security. For all audiences, greater ability to collaborate will enhance research capacity, and their knowledge and skills in collaborative research and development.

2) Integration of Risk Management in Policy:
The second impact is also implicated in the organisational practices with a greater focus on policy development and on managing the policy progress as affected by integration with S&T. Strategies for more deeply integrating a complex understanding of risk, and also of de-risking strategies, that account for the uncertainties inherent not only in the defence and security sector, but also in the process of technology development itself, will enhance the ability of policy makers to effectively account for failure, to capitalize on opportunities arising from the creative process, and to ensure that public investment is capitalised. Technology Developers will benefit here from greater understanding at the policy level of the processes and practices of technology development, and deeper integration of these dynamics into the policy process. End-users will benefit from enhanced partnerships between policy makers and technology developers and from more effective development processes.
Description The grant objectives were fully met. We conducted in depth multi-sited ethnographic research on the case study of the development of the Handhold CBRNE detector including undertaking around 50 interviews with the scientists and engineers of the project, end users, and wider government and industry; and 20 ethnographic observations of laboratories, meetings and key events in the Handhold process. On this basis we followed the patterns of communication, interaction and negotiation between engineers, end-users and others. This enabled the development of a deep understanding of how security technologies are developed. We produced new cross-disciplinary knowledge through engagement between social scientists and engineers, and developed new insights in the intersections of politics, sociology, and Science and Technology Studies.
We developed significant new knowledge that indicates that far from being a linear application of scientific knowledge to security problems, engineering and security practices are co-constitutive within the daily practices, materials and imaginations of scientists and engineers. We found that security is translated into specific device development through the interactions of engineers and end-users, but also through the operation of forms of imagination and anticipation. Security device development is shaped by wider institutional forces and logics of pragmatism, profit, risk-mitigation, publication, knowledge development and others that combine with - and sometimes outweigh -logics of security (designations of threat, anticipated bordering practices and environments).
Our unique study of a multi-country security device development process enabled us to show that the pathway of development, and patterns of interaction, were shaped more by the highly contingent combination of these forces and practices than by differences in culture, language, institutional (academic, SME etc) or even scientific discipline (e.g. biology or physics). Thereby we showed that the laboratories of security device development are key sites within which security practices are constituted such that sovereign decisions at the border are distributed into the laboratories of engineers.
Our focus on risk, uncertainty and failure opened new research questions and methods for tracing the co-constitution of science and security in daily practices. Risk, for instance, is understood and practiced not through exceptional security logics, nor through formalised quantification, but rather is ever-present and dispersed in the daily practices of engineers. Here, experience and tacit knowledge shape risk assessment and also form the central activity of risk management. Likewise, while technology development is inherently uncertain, uncertainty was reduced both by experience and by imaginations (of border guards, of sniffer dogs, of criminals and terrorists). In this process the failure is reconceived as the means of success.
This research yielded numerous findings and recommendations for enhancing communication and understanding between government, engineers and end-users involved in the development of security technologies; and for enhancing common understandings of risk, uncertainty and failure in security technology development. (See Government and Stakeholders Report).
The research findings and recommendations were disseminated through two workshops, two reports, and several conference papers and journal articles. The research process also generated new research networks, productive engagements with DSTL, and yielded methodological innovations in the practice of cooperative team-based multi-sited ethnography.
Exploitation Route Our findings have been disseminated through two interactive workshops (one with participant scientists and engineers; one with wider government and industry stakeholders) in which the findings of the project were used to stimulate interactive working groups that explored and formed recommendations on risk, competing understandings of success and failure, and collaboration and communication strategies. Detailed practical recommendations derived from our findings and the workshops are available in reports that have been disseminated widely and made available on the internet.
Further means of taking forward our findings include:
1) Cross-Disciplinary Impact through further publication, including academic journals. This may include publication in an engineering rather than a social science journal in order to reach a scientific audience. Further development of collaborative research and education with engineers, specifically the Handhold summer school 2015.
2) Disseminating methodological innovations in a journal article.
3) Building upon positive relationships with DSTL produced through the project to conduct further activities with DSTL and partners.
4) The Integrator Project will be central to widening impact activities, including integrator workshops and the conference in September 2015. This has so far enabled productive discussions of common themes (risk, uncertainty, etc.) with other projects in the Science and Security programme.
Sectors Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy

Description In addition to significant and extensive academic impact, the TRUST project organised two impact oriented events in 2014 to disseminate findings to scientists and engineers (September 2014) and wider government and stakeholders (October 2014) including participants from government, end-users, industry, and research organisations. Further, the PI was invited to participate in a European workshop in Toulouse in July 2015 in which TRUST findings were presented to a range of scientists, engineers, and European officials and experts (JRC). TRUST findings were utilised to stimulate reflection and discussion on risk management, competing understandings of success and failure, and collaboration and communication challenges. Participants indicated that they found the findings and discussions very interesting and potentially useful for their future work. TRUST findings have also been presented in keynotes and a PaCCS policy briefing arising from events organised through PaCCS in 2015 and 2016. Throughout all impact related activities participants including engineers, customs officials, industry, and wider government have expressed interest in the findings, particularly around the issues of tacit knowledge and risk, and around utilising the findings to rethink engagements with failure. At these events and beyond (including a response to the Warwick impact survey) stakeholders indicated that the TRUST research and impact activities shaped attitudes and values, improved knowledge, and contributed to improvements in risk management and enhance best practice or inform stakeholder relations. In particular several stakeholders have indicated that the findings enhance understanding and engagement with the composition and behaviour of research project groups. Thus the project has contributed practically useful lessons on the dynamics of science and engineering in complex projects related to security; and provided opportunities for reflection on possible changes in practice, improvements in understanding, and more nuanced understandings of risk. The project also enabled the development of collaborative networks between the TRUST project social scientists and a range of engineers that have since yielded collaborative research funding applications and wider engagements with government. In addition, the findings and networks generated through the TRUST project have been integral to the development of a groundbreaking new MA course at QUB on Global Security and Borders. This includes in depth engagement with bordering challenges and a pioneering internship programme. Academic publication has been extensive and is continuing, with two further articles about to submitted (one to a leading International Relations journal and another to a leading Criminology journal).
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy,Other
Impact Types Societal

Description New MA in Global Security and Borders
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Description Treating People as Objects? Ethics, Security and the Governance of Mobility
Amount £191,544 (GBP)
Funding ID ES/L013274/1 
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2014 
End 12/2016
Title TRUST Interview transcripts 
Description Dataset consisting of interview transcripts has been submitted to UKDS ReShare (21/01/15) within 3 months of the end of the Grant (end date 31 October 2014). 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The data set was core material for all TRUST project outputs and research findings 
Description Collaborations with border/customs organisations 
Organisation Government of Ireland
Department Office of the Revenue Commissioners
Country Ireland 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Building on the networks developed through the TRUST project, relationships have been built with a customs organisation to provide internships for our new MA in Global Security and Borders.
Collaborator Contribution Hosting interns
Impact Internships are in their first year in 16/17. We expect to expand these next year when the full MA in Global Security and Borders begins.
Start Year 2016
Description DSTL/RCUK Conference on Science and Security 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited speaker on risk and uncertainty in the development of security technologies.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
Description PaCCS Policy Briefing 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Collaborate with PaCCS champion in the production of PaCCS Policy Briefing 'Transforming Research into Technology: Innovation for Defence and Security'.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Presentation to group of scientists, engineers, customs officials, and European Commission personnel 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact An invited presentation was given at a workshop on developing CBRNE technologies in Europe. It facilitated numerous discussions with scientists and engineers from FP7 funded security related science and technology projects; customs officials; and European Commission officials ensured that the findings of the TRUST project were disseminated to wide user groups. A range of questions and discussions were sparked and developed through numerous conversations with

In conversations after my presentation several engineers and government actors requested further elaboration of TRUST findings and when these were given they claimed they were useful. In particular, some lead engineers claimed that TRUST findings had stimulated their thinking on the nature and challenges of scientific collaboration and their understandings of risk and uncertainty in complex collaborative science projects.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
Description Responsive Research and Development 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited Keynote and workshop participation in RCUK PaCCS workshop on science and security research and development involving UK government (MoD, Home Office, DSTL), industry and academia. May 2016.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description TRUST - Handhold Project Partners Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact Workshop on themes of collaboration, risk and success/failure prompted in depth reflections and learning from Scientists and Engineers that had been studied in the TRUST project.

Participants at the workshop claimed it was a valuable and interesting workshop that disseminated TRUST project findings and linked them into their future work.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description TRUST Government and Stakeholders Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The Government and Stakeholders workshop sought to disseminate TRUST findings to participants from government, industry, and research organisations. It included end-users (e.g. UK Border Force), government (e.g. DSTL), Industry and others. We used the TRUST Government and Stakeholders Report to organise working group discussions on Risk, Success/Failure, and Collaboration Enhancement Strategies. Participants identified key challenges, shared experiences of how they were or could be tackled. A supplementary report was produced and disseminated.

Participants expressed the view that the workshop had been stimulating and interesting. A wide range of views were exchanged and there was good creative engagement with a view to practical recommendations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014