Stronger Together: Integrative Complexity (IC) Thinking

Everyone is different. Different likes and dislikes, beliefs and perspectives. But these differences don’t have to be divisive; they can, in fact, foster growth, adaptability, and resilience. That’s where the IC Thinking method, and SEED Foundation’s partnership with co-founder and developer Dr. Sara Savage, comes into it.

IC Thinking is an intervention designed to counter and prevent violent extremism, sectarianism, and intergroup conflict by equipping individuals and groups to live well with difference. The method focuses on building our capacity for integrative complexity (IC) – our ability to think and reason while integrating multiple perspectives and possibilities. By helping us to hold and make sense of contradictory or conflicting pieces of information, IC Thinking challenges the idea that we are defined by WHAT we believe and focuses, instead, on strengthening HOW we think.

In addition to living within a region plagued by persistent, long-standing conflicts, numerous children and youth in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq have also been exposed to violent and extremist ideologies while living in ISIS captivity and being exploited as child soldiers. This prolonged exposure to violence at critical developmental stages, alongside complex trauma, can lead children and youth to exhibit violent behavior, aggression, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. In the absence of formal structures to provide support and guidance, many of these children are left to navigate the complex process of social reintegration alone, without strong toolkits at their disposal.

IC Thinking offers a unique, specialized approach to deradicalization and rehabilitation, as it enhances the brain’s natural capacity for complexity by focusing on shifting patterns and habits of thought rather than challenging a particular ideology, which has not proven to be effective. Consistent evidence gathered over 40 years has pointed to the importance and efficacy of high integrative complexity1 in preventing intergroup conflict and violence and increasing social harmony and cohesion. The IC Thinking intervention is highly adaptable. It has been successfully applied in over 80 unique research trials2 conducted in more than 10 countries and across the spectrum of extreme thinking, including among those at risk and those detained, and has demonstrated positive results in decreasing extremist ideology and increasing critical thinking. IC Thinking facilitates recovery and reintegration while mitigating the risks of stigmatization and marginalization.

SEED Foundation is pleased to be launching the expansion of this innovative program in Iraq. After receiving training in the theory, approach, and methodology of IC Thinking, SEED’s technical team collaborated with Dr. Sara Savage to design a new, SEED-owned IC Thinking curriculum, with all materials adapted for the Iraqi context and children held in ISIS captivity to ensure optimal transformative results.

This year, SEED will conduct IC Thinking groups in locations where we are already operating, alongside the provision of other comprehensive services which address the myriad needs and challenges that vulnerable children, youth, and their families have. The IC Thinking groups aim to help transform participants’ thinking patterns and prevent future radicalization by strengthening critical thinking abilities. Group-based sessions will help participants, particularly those who have experienced trauma, reconnect their feelings and bodily sensations with their thought processes to facilitate recovery and integration, and to decrease rigid ideology. Consequently, individuals will develop greater awareness and agency in determining the beliefs which are most in line with their values. This promotes an increase in cognitive complexity and a decrease in black-and-white thinking among those who were directly exposed to violent extremist ideology, as well as across the general population.

This intervention is being offered alongside SEED’s mental health, case management, cash assistance, and legal services, as well as structured psychosocial support modules and recreational activities for greatest impact. SEED’s comprehensive services seek to meet the needs of vulnerable children and youth, support their recovery from trauma, and increase their coping skills, all of which give participants a strong foundation from which to decrease rigid ideology through the IC Thinking groups. A new and innovative addition to SEED’s existing service delivery portfolio, the development of this contextualized curriculum represents a forward-looking investment in fostering social cohesion and resilience, which is critical for the region as a whole and the recovery of the vulnerable communities we serve. It is widely applicable across the Iraqi context and can be rolled out to assist others in the future, with the potential for long-term application in SEED’s programming.