Above: The GCTF National-Local Cooperation Workshop included representation from subnational, national, multilateral and CSOs, and was designed to encourage honest dialogue and the exchange of ideas between the many levels.
Author: Joe Downy
Associate, Strong Cities Network
Building cooperation between national and local authorities to prevent and counter violent extremism (P/CVE) is imperative. If we get it right, it improves information sharing, ensures a fair distribution of responsibilities, while creating synergies in efforts to reduce duplication.
In reality however, there is often a void between the national and local, which hinders policymaking and good P/CVE practice. In this article, we map out the reasons for this divide, why it is imperative that we bridge it, and outline some basic steps towards improving national-local cooperation.
A few years ago, the concept of a global ‘whole of society’ approach to P/CVE emerged as the necessary next step in building effective programmes and strategies. It was widely recognised that, since extremism affects all aspects of our societies, from national governance through to communities and individuals, the solution must be equally total. And indeed, important progress has since been made at these different levels, in government, civil society, research, academia and private sector, and at the international, national and sub-national levels.
However, this progress has not been universal or consistent, and the challenge of achieving collaboration among these sectors has remained unfulfilled. The barriers to collaboration are by no means insignificant, and the largest of these may also be the simplest: the lack of consensus between groups of a shared goal. Before 9/11, prevention efforts were almost exclusively the domain of civil society groups and academics, while national governments led the field in counter-terrorism legislation with an emphasis on security and quick, efficient results.
Local governments and civic stakeholders are closer to, and thus better understand, the needs of their own local communities but they are often absent from the national decision-making process. As communities suffer the consequences of extremism, cities and local governments too often respond with approaches developed in isolation from national P/CVE strategies. Without sharing basic vocabulary, aims, monitoring methodologies, organisation and reporting structures, this approach risks going against the flow of existing national policy and stymieing effective and coordinated prevention efforts. This doesn’t only mean that local approaches can be wildly out of step with, and unsupported by, national strategies and action plans. More fundamentally, it means that national and local governments have failed to develop the mutual trust essential for effective coordination of prevention.
The Importance of Dialogue
Sub-national governments and local civil society groups possess advantages in the field of P/CVE which complement those of national government to ensure a comprehensive approach. For instance, they have the necessary contextual knowledge to understand the often hyper-localised grievances that contribute to radicalisation processes. So too can they proactively build trust between communities and the local police, to engage families, community leaders, social workers and mental health professionals in prevention efforts, and to provide alienated youth with positive alternatives. They are also key to identifying and addressing issues of inter-community tension, hatred and polarisation.
However, many sub-national governments lack the necessary channels of communication, tools and resources to elevate these concerns, which the national level can help with. Steps must be taken to incorporate sub-national governments, as well as civil society, academia and the private sector, as fundamental partners and collaborators in P/CVE enterprises.
Recently, the Strong Cities Network, in partnership with the Global Counter Terrorism Forum (GCTF) and the Prevention Project, delivered a workshop designed to identify barriers to national-local cooperation. Over the course of two days, more than 60 participants from multilateral, national, sub-national levels, civil society and academia representing 19 countries, seven sub-national authorities and 14 organisations discussed the issues and came up with several steps to improve cooperation, some of which are outlined below. The full list of recommendations will be collated and presented as a Good Practices document at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2020.
1. INCLUSION & BUY-IN
The necessary political will and capacity should be in place to develop, implement, and monitor and evaluate a strategy or action plan. Without the inclusion of civil society and other sub-national actors, these strategies risk creating tensions or becoming redundant. Ensuring the necessary buy-in and support from the appropriate levels – from communities to civil society to law enforcement, to front-line practitioners, to municipalities and other subnational authorities, to different national agencies is critical.
2. BE REALISTIC
A strategy or action plan is not a panacea. It can neither address every problem confronting the particular society nor be entirely above scrutiny. It is important to be realistic about what can be achieved with the funds and other resources, as well as capacities, available. These frameworks should be living documents: periodically reviewed and adapted according to evolving threats and needs and the means available. It is better to act than to react or endlessly plan and, ultimately, will never be perfect.
3. ANALYSE & ASSESS
Take time to understand current levels of violent extremism by assessing the key motivators and drivers of recruitment trends; public perceptions nationally and locally and building a clear picture of existing efforts to avoid duplication. It is essential that we analyse the effectiveness of strategies and how they can be improved, as well as what other countries are doing on P/CVE so that we absorb good practice internationally. All this data can help to inform, prioritise and streamline any subsequent action.
4. FUNDING & OTHER RESOURCES
Sustainable funding is essential and government budgets should dedicate funding to support implementation of the strategy or national action plan. Other potential sources of funding can include the private sector and international donors. Beyond funding, national government should look to ensure that the necessary resources, such as training, capacity-building, guidance, tools and research, are made available to all relevant practitioners.
5. COORDINATION AND COLLABORATION
Consulting different stakeholders (both national and sub-national, government and non-governmental, and security and non-security) and facilitating coordination among them is essential to both the design and effective implementation of P/CVE strategies. This can be done through informal gatherings such as relationship-building exercises and workshops. Among other things, this can help build trust, foster collaboration, and encourage the sharing of resources, knowledge, research and experience among practitioners from across different sectors, which in turn can minimise competition and break down silos.