Working Across Boundaries to Prevent Violent Extremism

Author: William Stephens
PhD Candidate, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

This is a guest article written by an SCN affiliate. If you have a topic you would like to feature in the Strong Cities Network website or newsletter, please email [email protected].

Summary of Research presented in the Journal for Deradicalization.

When we consider all the potential influences on radicalisation it is clear that this is a challenge that can never realistically be addressed by any one group or organisation. Preventing violent extremism calls for communities, organisations, and practitioners to work across their boundaries in a joint endeavour. But this can be far from easy, particularly when one group has more power than another, or when different groups have different perspectives on what is needed.

At the Resilient Identities Expertise Lab we have been closely examining what it looks like for different groups and organisations to work together at a local level. What forms of collaboration will help us reach our goals? What does it take for collaboration to be more than warm words? How do we navigate the questions of trust and power between the different groups who are meant to collaborate?

These are important questions because when collaboration goes wrong it can have severe implications for relationships of trust between individuals, communities, and institutions.  One step we have taken is to map-out the different kinds of collaboration called for in PVE policies. By making explicit the different kinds of collaboration, their possibilities and their pitfalls, policy-makers and practitioners are better equipped to discuss what kind of collaborative arrangement they are trying to create.

Different Types of Collaborative Arrangement

We found six different kinds of collaboration, each of which is aimed at a different purpose:

  1. Coalitions for countering’ refers to collaborations aimed at uniting different groups, whole communities or cities around a set of values or a narrative which is anti-extremism.
  2. Dialogue and Bridging Networks’ are collaborations which have the purpose of building bonds of trust and understanding between different groups and communities. This can, for example, include spaces for interfaith discussion or community networking forums.
  3. Engagement to Build Trust and Legitimise’ refers to efforts to build links between local governments and local communities. Often they involve calling on one or two ‘community leaders’ to represent their community in discussions on policy or plans.
  4. Intelligence Links’ are forms of collaboration that have the purpose of sharing specific information about individuals who are deemed to pose a risk. This tends to be a one-way flow of information from citizens or practitioners to police or local government.
  5. Arrangements for Informing and Intervening’ are a common collaborative arrangement in cities which brings together different professionals and practitioners with police and local government officials to share information on risks or concerns and plan for a multiagency response to the perceived risk.
  6. Knowledge Exchange Networks’ refers to collaboration aimed at sharing knowledge, experience, and best practice between practitioners, researchers and policymakers. The Strong Cities Network is one example of this.

Challenges to Collaboration

In the context of preventing violent extremism, collaboration is made particularly challenging because there is often a large difference in power and access to information between the groups involved. There are also different levels of responsibility and accountability: the police will be held more accountable for failing to prevent a threat than will a local youth organisation.  Youth organisations may feel they have no real say in what goes on, and watch in frustration as their careful work with a young person seems to be unravelled when other organisations intervene and search their home. At the same time, police or local government may feel frustrated at the apparent lack of openness on the part of the youth organisation.

Clearly there are few simple solutions, yet at the same time the challenge of polarisation and violent extremism doesn’t allow us to give up on efforts to collaborate.  The question becomes how to do this best.  Luckily there are also many powerful examples of effective efforts in which practitioners, communities and local governments have learned to navigate many of the challenges that arise.

Crossing Boundaries to Build Resilience

In order to learn from the experiences of practitioners and policymakers alike and to explore their questions, we have organised a conference on 16-17 April 2020 in Amsterdam titled Crossing Boundaries to Build Resilience.

In a spirit of open discussion and honest engagement, the conference will provide an opportunity to:

  • Collectively consider the insights from recent research into diverse practices and identify implications for further developments in policy and practice
  • Examine and discuss common questions and challenges
  • Showcase diverse practices and learn from one another’s experience
  • Find the meeting points between the perspectives of practitioners, policy-makers and researchers.

If you would like to participate in the discussions, learn from the experience of others, or showcase your practice, please email [email protected]

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