Strengthening Local Partnerships, Programmes and Policies on Prevention London | Workshop Summary

London | 9 - 10 March 2022

OVERVIEW

As part of its ongoing efforts to promote more locally-led approaches to the prevention of extremism, hate and polarisation that leverage the comparative advantages of cities and other local authorities in particular, the Strong Cities Network (SCN), in collaboration with the Mayor of London and with support from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), hosted a two-day workshop in London on “Strengthening Local Partnerships, Programs and Policies on Prevention”. The workshop gathered 50 representatives from local and central governments and civil society in France, Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom to share experiences and exchange good practices and challenges with developing and operationalising a “bottom-up” approach to prevention. Among the issues addressed included the need for clear roles for municipalities, civil society and central government in order to optimise locally-led prevention efforts; the obstacles to effective coordination and collaboration between the different levels of actors and the ways to overcome them; different approaches to developing and implementing city-led, multi-actor prevention frameworks; key ingredients for building and sustaining locally-led prevention programs; and the benefits of monitoring and evaluating (M&E) and sharing learnings on local prevention efforts.

Below are key takeaways from the discussions, which were conducted under the Chatham House Rule, as well as a series of proposed next steps for workshop participants, the SCN and the broader field of hate- and extremist-motivated violence prevention. The views expressed in this document are based on discussions from the workshop only, and do not necessarily represent the SCN, FCDO, Mayor of London, nor SCN members.

This summary can be downloaded here.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

1. Local prevention policy and programming need to reflect the increasingly hybridised threat landscape that cities are facing.

Participants noted how recent years have seen a transformation of the extremist ecosystem. Violent extremist movements and hate groups have permutated from disparate, centralised groups to large, unstructured and interconnected networks that cross national borders. It was noted how this has been facilitated by social media, especially fringe platforms, which provide an opportunity for violent extremist and other mal-intended actors to create entirely alternative ecosystems that are difficult to monitor, and to seize upon crisis moments like the COVID-19 pandemic to spread their messages and radicalise new individuals to violence. Participants highlighted how the lines between disparate movements have also blurred, creating greater potential for individuals to move across movements and geographical contexts. This hybridised, post-organisational threat was described as presenting policymakers and practitioners with new challenges, necessitating a reassessment of whether existing, typically siloed prevention frameworks are adequate for addressing the inter-related threats.

Importantly, the threats remain locally rooted, with violent extremists and other harmful actors exploiting political, social and economic grievances to recruit and sow division at the local level. It was stressed that the impact of the hybrid issues of hate, extremism, disinformation and conspiracy is most palpable at the local level: whether it is the spike in anti-Asian hate crime that followed the spread of COVID-related disinformation, or anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown mobilisation, it is cities and other local authorities that face the brunt of response. With locally-led efforts more relevant than ever, participants stressed that locally-led policy and programs need to reflect both the transnational and hybridised nature of the threat landscape, as well as how that it manifests locally. Cities therefore need to understand the global, transnational and national trends and have mapped the threat locally, including the context-specific risk factors that fuel hate- and extremist-motivated violence and polarisation in their communities. At the same time, participants underscored how local programs should employ a “whole of society” approach that acknowledges that factors that drive individuals towards extremist- and hate-motivated violence may be similar to the ones that lead to other types of harm, and that locally-led efforts to address this type of violence should form part of a broader local safeguarding or violence prevention strategy.


2. Grassroots organisations are well-placed and should be supported to contribute to, and even lead, local prevention work in partnership with local government

Cities are not the only local actors that play a vital role in building resilience and preventing hate- and extremist-motivated violence. Participants agreed that grassroots civil society organisations (CSOs) are an essential partner in local prevention, given they have direct access to and credibility with local communities, especially those that feel marginalised or otherwise excluded from the rest of the local populace. CSOs can thus support cities and other local authorities with gaining access to those communities, and can serve as important trust-builders between those communities and local government.

Further, participants underscored how support for local CSOs should go beyond well-established organisations and be directed to smaller grassroots organisations that may not have the public presence of their larger counterparts but have the dynamic local networks, capacities and credibility needed to design and deliver impactful hyper-local programming and that more established organisations may lack. Finally, beyond providing funding to support and sustain CSO-led prevention efforts, central and local governments should invest in the institutional development of these CSOs, which can include providing or sourcing technical skills training, including on M&E (see Key Takeaway 5), project management and other core capacities that will professionalise their programs. This needs to be done carefully, however, to mitigate against too close an association with local authorities, which could inadvertently undermine the credibility grassroots CSOs have with local communities, particularly historically marginalised ones and others where there is already a lack of trust in government and the police.

3. The private sector, including technology and media sectors, remains an untapped resource in local prevention

Initiatives like the Mayor of London’s IREPORTIT App demonstrates the tangible outcomes of public-private partnerships for prevention. The mobile and web application was built in partnership between London’s tech sector and the Mayor of London, leveraging the former’s digital engineering expertise and the latter’s understanding of local prevention needs to build a user-friendly platform through which Londoners can report harmful content directly to the appropriate authorities.

Participants also pointed to the importance and benefit of CSOs and local authorities partnering with local and national media companies. It was emphasized how these local stakeholders can serve as important advisors on responsible representation and inclusivity in local and national media, leveraging their access to marginalised and otherwise under-represented communities to inform local and national media companies of a) the harm that comes with misrepresentation, and b) how to accurately and inclusively represent different communities.

Despite examples like these pointing to the merits of private sector investment in local prevention, the sector remains largely uninvolved. Indeed, participants remarked on how difficult it is to meaningfully engage the private sector on prevention, let alone secure their support for related efforts. Some noted that this may derive from the historically overly-securitised nature of efforts to prevent and counter violent extremism, and that the private sector may feel hesitant to be associated with an issue set that has traditionally been framed in the context of national security. This points to a broader issue around framing, which participants raised throughout the workshop. They underscored the importance of being sensitive to how the issues are framed and the labels that are used so as to mitigate the risks of alienating, isolating or stigmatising the very local stakeholders whose involvement in their program is critical to its success. This must be done in a manner, however, that remains true to the ultimate objectives and remit of the program.

4. The prevention field would benefit from greater national-local and local-local collaboration and coordination

To foster a truly “whole-of-society” approach that is driven by the needs and priorities of local authorities and CSOs, workshop participants remarked on the importance of improving coordination, communication and collaboration on prevention programming and policy among all relevant actors in a country. Some voiced concern, however, that existing information sharing and channels of communication between and among institutions and organisations (national - local governments; local authorities - civil society) are either non-existent or ineffective. It was stressed that a comprehensive national prevention framework alone is insufficient. Translating it into local action requires the involvement of local authorities, who should be invited to contribute to the development of a such a framework to ensure it is relevant to the needs and priorities of different parts of the country.

Participants highlighted that this lingering disconnect between national frameworks for prevention and local implementation is due in part to the lack of opportunities for local authorities and CSOs to contribute to the development of such frameworks. This is the case at the global level as well, with the voices of local authorities too often still absent in global fora and agenda-setting on prevention. Central governments can play a vital role in bringing those voices to the table, and in collaborating with local actors to ensure national frameworks are both applied locally and informed by those with direct access to the communities most impacted by hate, extremism, disinformation and other related issues.

In addition to the need to strengthen “vertical cooperation” on prevention within a country, participants highlighted the importance of enhancing “horizontal cooperation” on prevention, whether within a country (e.g., to facilitate more city-to-city sharing and learning within a country) or, with this London workshop serving as a useful example, among stakeholders in different countries (e.g., to allow for more exchanges of experience and partnership-building opportunities).

With regard to horizontal cooperation at the local level, participants pointed to the siloes that can exist and that local authorities can play an important coordination role to connect service providers with one another, and mitigate against risks of redundant rather than complimentary service provision.

5. While there has been some progress in M&E of prevention work, this remains inconsistent and too often inaccessible, with opportunities for cross-learning few and far between

The field of prevention-related M&E is a nascent and complex one, with funders wanting to ensure the prevention efforts they support are informed by an understanding of what works and what doesn’t. While there has been some progress in this area through, for example, the Royal United Service Institute’s Prevention Project, which dispelled many of the “assumptions” that have been relied on in the field of prevention, much more work remains to be done.

Participants emphasised that the challenge comes partly from the small number of locally-led prevention programs that have been properly evaluated and the even smaller number of evaluations that are accessible to the wider community of prevention researchers, program designers and practitioners. In addition, participants cited a lack of resource and in-house technical M&E capacity. This is particularly the case amongst CSOs, especially hyper-local organisations, which receive short-term, restricted project funding that typically fails to include budget to improve organisational capacities to monitor and evaluate the project effectively. This can leave CSOs in a difficult cycle where there are increased expectations on them (e.g., from the donor community and/or potential partners) to provide impact data, but no resources to support them with doing so. Participants stressed, however, that local and central governments, as well as the private sector, can help break this cycle either through including funds for M&E capacity-building activities as part of the wider project budget, connecting CSOs and other local actors with M&E experts or directly funding M&E training for program designers and implementers. Further, while improving M&E across the field is an important first step, participants remarked that it is equally important to ensure learnings from M&E are made accessible to others.

Participants agreed that, at minimum, funders should insist that program implementers publish their evaluations in order to foster a culture of accountability and to facilitate learning about what works versus what may be counterproductive in preventing and countering hate and extremism. Participants also observed that, despite increased demand for M&E and recognition of its importance, there is still no “go-to” hub of relevant resources for those interested in getting smarter about this field.

NEXT STEPS

During and on the margins of the workshop, participants discussed possible next steps to build on the workshop’s momentum. A number of such steps are elaborated below:

1. Building on the collaboration with the Mayor of London and in order to sustain the sharing of local practice and experience, the SCN should partner with another city from one of the represented countries to convene a follow-up discussion on some of the key themes identified at the London workshop. This would also be an opportunity to include in the discussions additional local authorities and relevant city-focused associations in each country. Further, workshop participants reported finding the London event a helpful forum to meaningfully re-engage with counterparts in other countries, following two years of remote communications as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Convening in person to discuss pressing issues and share experiences with response allows for a) better networking, b) opportunities to organically discuss issues of shared concern and potential areas for collaboration, and c) more interactive and informal discussion than virtual forums allow.

2. Central and local governments should leverage existing good practice guidance to improve national-local coordination. There are several comprehensive resources to support cities and central governments with enhancing their cooperation, coordination and communication. This includes, for example, the Radicalisation Awareness Network’s (RAN) guidance for National Hubs Supporting Local Actors, which outlines the clear and tangible benefits of national-local coordination, and the Global Counter Terrorism Forum’s (GCTF) Good Practices on Strengthening National-Local Cooperation. The SCN, which supported the development of the GCTF Good Practices, will also launch a “national-local cooperation” working group to support city-led, tailored implementation of these good practices in different countries and regions. Further, enhanced national-local cooperation could form a core feature of the follow-on workshop mentioned in Point 1 above.

3. Governments and civil society should scale up efforts to engage the private sector on prevention. While it proves challenging, efforts to get the private sector to invest in public-private partnerships on prevention should persist. To support governments and other actors, the SCN could engage its global membership to identify case studies of, identify lessons learned, and formulate good practices for public-private partnerships for locally-led prevention. This can be done in partnership with e.g., the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF), relevant RAN working groups, and/or the GCTF.

4. Starting with contributions from workshop participants, the SCN should build a repository of resources for M&E that includes practical training and existing evaluations of locally-led prevention work. This is an important and actionable first step in addressing the dearth in M&E resources available to local and national prevention actors, and would allow cities to showcase their prevention efforts and share good practices and learnings in a sustained and accessible manner.

RESOURCES

The following resources were recommended by workshop participants as useful follow-up to the discussions held throughout the two-day workshop.

General:

National-local cooperation:

Tools, templates and guides:

Other:

Specific Initiatives:




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