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A Ten-Step Roadmap for Enhancing City-Led Support for Community-Based Programmes to Address Hate and Extremism

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— 2 minutes reading time

In Europe and North America, hate, extremism and polarisation have emerged from the margins and entered the political mainstream. Rising levels of mis/disinformation and conspiracy theories have contributed to an increase in anti-establishment sentiment, intensified local tensions and divides, and undermined democratic values and institutions. 

Seized by the security dimensions of these threats, numerous central governments are following the traditional “top-down” model that has characterised their response to extremist- and terrorist-related threats for the past two decades. However, effectively and sustainably addressing the threats of today requires a “bottom-up” approach more than ever, with an enhanced focus on building resilience to radicalisation at the local level. 

The Strong Cities Network supports local authorities, practitioners and civil society organisations1 (CSOs) to share good practice and leverage the critical and often underutilised role local actors play in preventing and responding to an increasingly hybridised and hyper-local threat.

While these challenges manifest differently in different cities, local governments and communities are the first to feel and deal with tensions on the ground. Cities cannot always influence the emergence of these trends, but they can work to build strong, resilient communities, making it harder for hate and extremism to take root. To maximise impact, this needs to be done in cooperation with, and often be led by, community-based CSOs. For their part, cities need to ensure these groups have the space, resources and capacities to leverage their comparative advantages in prevention.  When cities play an active role in facilitating the involvement of and coordinating with grassroots organisations, these stakeholders can not only help ensure local governments are aware of and responsive to the needs of their residents but can promote durable connections and trust between local governments and communities.

Support for local CSOs should not be limited to well-established organisations and those that have existing relationships with the government.  Rather, it should also be directed to smaller grassroots groups 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. Fundamentally, support should reach CSOs at all levels that have the relevant prevention-related capacities to make a positive difference, and no such potential partner should be excluded on political grounds, for example where they have been critical on government. Partnerships should uphold values of democracy, transparency and integrity, not contravene them.

Among the takeaways from the ongoing Strong Cities Transatlantic Dialogue Initiative is that cities should not only view community-based organisations as partners in prevention but must also invest both in building long-term relationships with them and help them build their technical and institutional capacities. Strong Cities recognises that the ability of local governments to support community-based organisations, including by providing small grants, training and networking opportunities will vary from city to city depending on the country. But despite this, there are plenty of organisations with deep reach into and credibility with communities whose prevention potential could be expanded with the access to funding and partnerships that improved institutional and organisational processes, governance and systems can bring. Whether it is better understanding funding mechanisms, receiving basic training on governance or accounting practice, or just having the institutional ties with cities in place to demonstrate a collaborative approach, there are practical steps that can be taken to better position such critical partners.