1. What is the Strong Cities Network?
The Strong Cities Network is the first ever global network of mayors, policymakers and practitioners united in building social cohesion and resilience to counter violent extremism in all its forms.
We connect cities, towns and regions around the world to share their local best practice on an international scale and collaborate at the subnational level to prevent violent extremism and the conditions in which extremism and radicalisation can take hold in communities.
The Strong Cities Network is made up of member cities in every major global region, each with specific lessons, practice or challenges surrounding violent extremism. We work with mayors and local political leaders and frontline practitioners spanning multiple sectors in each member city. We also work closely with civil society groups and partner organisations in many areas.
We believe that communities themselves are uniquely placed to counter violent extremism and create stronger and safer cities. We serve as a platform for communities, CVE professionals and local political leaders to connect with their counterparts around the world and learn from the breadth one another’s experience. Our programming spans training, research, activities and resources aimed at enriching understanding of – and enabling more effective local responses to – the challenge of violent extremism.
In sourcing and sharing best practice in local CVE, the Strong Cities Network does not aim to create a ‘blueprint’ for local strategies. We are characterised by the diversity of our membership and the various forms of violent extremism present in each city. Our priority is to help cities identify where there is leading local practice, assess what factors can support good practice in a given context, and adapt and improve upon their own strategy design and implementation with a full appreciation of the specificity of one context to another.
2. Who runs the Strong Cities Network?
The Strong Cities Network is run by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD). Based in London and with more than 10 years’ experience leading research, innovation and action to counter violent extremism, ISD works with national and local governments around the world, as well as tech companies, media and communications organisations and civil society groups to develop a ‘full-stack’ approach to CVE.
ISD runs the largest network of former extremists and survivors of extremism (Against Violent Extremism), as well as networks of youth civil activists (YouthCAN) and women (Women and Extremism). At the local and national governmental levels, ISD also runs the Policy Planners’ Network and has worked with the European Forum for Urban Security on the LIAISE project.
As part of ISD’s long-running partnership with Facebook, they also run the innovative One-to-One project, pioneering direct online interventions with those at risk of radicalisation, as well as the Online Civil Courage Initiative, set up to counter online hate speech.
On its Extreme Dialogue programme, ISD also works closely with the education sector and with creatives and filmmakers to design, produce and disseminate powerful counter-narrative films and classroom resources which use the stories of ‘formers’ and ‘survivors’, highlighting the dangers of extremist behaviour and violence.
ISD is proud of its reputation for delivering cutting edge research, but crucially working hard, and working across sectors, to develop practical, tangible tools and resources which are of direct use to communities affected by extremism and working to prevent it.
ISD facilitates the activities of the Strong Cities Network and run the network on a daily basis, connecting members, recruiting new cities, and developing effective resources for cities and local communities around the world.
The short and long-term strategic objectives of the Strong Cities Network are developed in close collaboration with the Strong Cities Network International Steering Committee, made up of 25 global cities. This emphasises the strong member and city-led programme of work which underpins the goals and activities of the Strong Cities Network. The Strong Cities Network International Steering Committee is currently made up of the 25 global cities which joined the network from its inception and launch at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015. The International Steering Committee operates on a rotating basis, involving partners from a number of Strong Cities Network member cities and is currently sitting for an initial 18-month period.
3. What is CVE?
Countering Violent Extremism. Terminology in this field can be understandably problematic, but we use this term to refer to the broad field of work engaged in research, programme design and constructive action to counter the narrative and threat of violent extremism and the conditions which can support the growth of extremist ideas within and between our communities.
We recognise that the terminology of CVE and PVE (Preventing Violent Extremism) can be contentious and has sometimes been seen as representative of the policies and approaches of particular governments. The Strong Cities Network does not use this the term as in any way representative of any one set of policies or approaches, nor do we use the term without a distinct awareness of its contextual sensitivity, potential political or ideological connotations, or lexical semantics.
4. Who can join the Strong Cities Network?
The Strong Cities Network, as the name suggests, is primarily a membership network for cities – their political leaders, their frontline workers and their grassroots communities. We don’t try to specify what makes a city, so towns, communes and regions can in some circumstances be the best-suited units to join the network from a given area. Our objective is to develop networking and learning between subnational entities on an international basis, so we don’t accept countries as members of the network.
The profile of Strong Cities Network stakeholders in any one member city or region may vary from one context to another. Typically, we work closely with mayors and their teams and have a principal contact nominated by the mayor’s office to manage engagement with the Strong Cities Network. With the official sanction of the mayor or relevant political authority, we then seek to engage closely with a range of frontline practitioners who work across multiple local agencies on CVE-relevant issues. The profile of practitioner contacts varies similarly from one member to another, but may include professionals from crime prevention and policing, health and social work, integration and diversity, or educational backgrounds. In some cases, it may be appropriate for municipalities to nominate a civil society group or local NGO as the primary practitioner contact for a member city.
Individuals and organisations cannot join the Strong Cities Network as members per se, but we always seek to build relationships with all stakeholders working in CVE and local and municipal issues. We work with a number of partner organisations and build collaborative working relationships with researchers, practitioners and intervention providers, which can expand the reach and quality of Strong Cities Network research and resources while developing understandings of municipal and subnational action to counter violent extremism and benefit wider research and programming. If you want to be involved with the work of the Strong Cities Network but do not represent a city, town or region in an official capacity, please feel free to contact the team here.
5. How can I join the Strong Cities Network?
If you work for your municipality in an official capacity, either as a practitioner in a frontline agency or as a member of the governing political or policy team, we welcome your application to join the Strong Cities Network. You can submit our online membership enquiry form here.
We aim to respond to all membership enquiries within 2-3 working days. If your application is valid, we will send you a short application form, requesting the details of 2-3 key points of contact and a bit of background to the CVE issues or approaches in your city. Ideally, one of these points of contact will be somebody either in the mayor’s office or in the relevant policy team or department, who can act as a relationship manager with the official mandate of the mayor, governor, or relevant authority. We also prefer if another of the nominated points of contact is a practitioner working on CVE or in a CVE-relevant field. If this is not appropriate, please nominate your preferred alternative points of contact.
On receipt of your completed application form, we aim to respond to you within a further 2-3 working days and confirm your membership, providing you with full details of upcoming activities, collaborative research, new members’ resources, and access to the Strong Cities Network Online Hub, our specialist web portal developed exclusively for members.
6. Do member cities sign up to any governing principles?
When we confirm a new member of the Strong Cities Network, we share our full Strong Cities Network Terms of Reference document with the nominated points of contact. As well as setting out the background, aims and strategic objectives of the Strong Cities Network, the Terms of Reference outlines the key principles which guide our work and engagement around the world.
Members of the Strong Cities Network must be committed to the following principles:
- Protection of human rights in efforts to address violent extremism in all of its forms and manifestations;
- Recognition that violent extremism and prevention efforts should not be associated with any particular religion, nationality, civilization or ethnic group;
- Commitment to stand against any manifestation of religious-based or other related kinds of discrimination;
- Commitment to policies and programs that address guilt-by-association, backlash, bigotry or hate crimes that may co-occur with incidents of violent extremism;
- Partnership with local communities, including youth, women and religious leaders, on an inclusive, collaborative, non-discriminatory and rights-respecting basis;
- Monitoring and evaluation of activities and initiatives aimed at building social cohesion and resilience against violent extremism, and sharing non-sensitive information across the Strong Cities Network;
- Commitment to complete transparency of funding sources for the Strong Cities Network operation and activities.
These principles were defined and agreed upon at the inaugural meeting of the Strong Cities Network International Steering Committee. The Strong Cities Network governing principles – as with the entire Terms of Reference – are consistently reviewed at all meetings of the International Steering Committee.
7. Who funds the Strong Cities Network?
We are absolutely committed to transparency of our sources of funding for the Strong Cities Network.
The Strong Cities Network has been launched and developed with seed funding provided by the U.S. Department of State, designed to support the growth and expansion of the network, encourage meaningful engagement with cities and subnational entities around the world, and deliver on a programme of activities and resources for members.
The Strong Cities Network seeks to diversify its funding sources wherever possible, broadening the scope of our activities and engagement and demonstrating that responsibility for countering violent extremism does not rest solely with governments, but with multiple sectors and with all communities.
To this end, we have developed and implemented a unique intensive learning and practice exchange partnership between municipalities in Denmark and those in Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia, supported by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
We consistently argue for the merits of diverse stakeholders and funding in CVE programming, whether on a large or small scale. We are currently running a Working Group for members looking at joint public-private community initiatives, highlighting good practice where municipalities have collaborated effectively with the private sector and aiming to position interested cities to establish similar relationships for programming.
8. Are there some sources of funding that are off-limits?
We refuse to receive funds from governments or other organisations who we feel advocate or implement approaches that are contrary to the principles of the Strong Cities Network.
9. I am sceptical of the intentions of the Strong Cities Network. How can I be assured that it doesn’t have other motivations or covert operations?
We recognise that the recent history of counterterrorism and CVE work can be – and has been – extremely contentious in some contexts.
Unfortunately there has been some negative and misleading reporting around the Strong Cities Network and its aims, activities and supporters. Thankfully, these remain relatively isolated and the majority of mainstream press around the network has been very positive. Nonetheless, if you have read or heard something about us which causes you to doubt our intentions, please do read our ‘Myth-busting’ document, which we hope provides important clarifications in a clear and transparent way.
The Strong Cities Network is committed to working with communities and for communities to make stronger, safer, more united cities, towns and regions. We do so in good faith, with complete openness and in the firm belief that countering violent extremism and the issues and conditions which drive it are the responsibility of all of us, in every community and of both political leaders and the people they serve.