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A Guide For Cities: Preventing Hate, Extremism & Polarisation

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Last updated: 13/09/2023
Strong Cities Network A Guide For Cities

Chapter 1: Mapping the issues

A comprehensive mapping process marks the starting place for most if not all city-led prevention efforts. This chapter provides an overview of the key elements to prevention, showing how every aspect of planning, strategy, implementation and coordination depends on this critical first step. It then outlines a 10-step guide to the mapping process itself, covering the need to understand the challenges a city faces and the particular ways they affect different parts of the community, emphasising that inclusive and participatory models at the outset will enhance cooperation and trust. This chapter covers methodological aspects and key principles, the need to identify key stakeholders from within the city and other local sectors and the benefits of identifying existing mechanisms that can be leveraged for prevention.

Informed Prevention: A Pathway for Cities

Conducting an inclusive and participatory mapping is the starting place for all aspects of planning, implementation and coordination. Although developing prevention approaches beyond this may not be a strictly linear process – and should involve opportunities for adjustments and other updates (for instance in light of institutional changes, new threats or learnings/results) – it can be helpful to understand which elements are needed to inform subsequent steps through a basic pathway. 

Understand the challenges and existing assets 

Map the challenges and identify the threats affecting a city; identify key stakeholders and partners, both institutional and in the community; be consultative, participatory and representative; and include outreach to and perspectives from historically marginalised groups and minorities. 

Develop/strengthen local mandate and NLC

Align local approaches with national frameworks; strengthen local government mandate for prevention and build awareness; and identify ongoing coordination mechanisms.

Consider strategic framework/approach

Agree on key principles and priorities; identify best overall approach/model based on mapping; consider how to formalise framework and integrate within/connect to existing policies; and be consultative and participatory… again.

Identify, develop and institutionalise local coordination mechanism

Adopt a whole-of-society model, with key stakeholders identified in mapping; build on existing infrastructure and mechanisms; and strengthen sustainability.

Expand partnerships and coordination

Support community involvement and strengthen partnerships with civil society organisations (CSOs); build trust across communities, especially with historically marginalised and other vulnerable groups, including women and young people, and minorities; and strengthen information-sharing where relevant and possible.

Implement prevention interventions

Identify level of intervention and beneficiaries/target groups; identify methodological approach,
roles and responsibilities; identify resources; and deliver interventions. 

Incorporate Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL)

Build theory of change and identify indicators and data collection methods; triangulate the data; analyse the data and evaluate
impact; and develop institutional learning to inform strategic framework, coordination mechanisms and implementation, and identify any gaps that may require further mapping and planning to be addressed.

Share learnings

Be transparent and share successes, shortcomings and learnings with communities and all partners involved; promote good practices and support other cities; and contribute to an evidence base.

A 10 step guide to mapping

To take any action at all, cities first need to map their local landscape. This should include understanding the nature of the challenges/threats the city faces, its prevention-relevant needs and the vulnerabilities and protective factors in its communities. Throughout, cities should ask what existing infrastructure, approaches or initiatives are in place and what resources and expertise are available that can potentially be leveraged for prevention. Such a mapping, which should be informed by input and participation from local communities, including historically marginalised and minority groups, should direct what issues a city will address and indeed every subsequent action
a city takes. 

There are cities already developing and updating complex and multi-faceted local risk assessments, some of which receive significant support and input from central government and police3

Equally, there are many cities either approaching this for the first time or who are working without any external support to develop a comprehensive picture of their own landscape. 

The steps below represent the key recommendations and good practices relating to mapping that were highlighted by cities consulted for this Guide:

1. Think about who is contributing and developing participatory models,
ensuring that local communities have regular opportunities to provide input. 

Capture input from across different agencies/departments in the city and from any other relevant services and community stakeholders.

Disaggregate threats at a neighbourhood level where possible and consider the diversity of communities within the city, understanding how different challenges affect particular parts of the community uniquely. Ensure outreach includes historically marginalised groups and minorities where trust and understanding may already be low but whose perspectives and inputs can be critical.

If the city is not responsible for policing, can they coordinate with police in the relevant jurisdiction and request a briefing? Developing information sharing channels between a city and the police will benefit delivery, not just planning. Requesting input and insights on key challenges, backed up by any non-sensitive data they are able to share, can be a valuable first step. 

Mapping should go beyond the information and data that police can share. See step 2 for a number of different sectors from which relevant data can potentially be leveraged.

What can the city do to facilitate input from the public, keeping in mind that the data that informs the mapping should not only capture what the issues/existing mechanisms are but also how they are perceived? 

This is critical for effective, community-based prevention against often complex, contested or otherwise sensitive issues.

London’s comprehensive listening exercise

When the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) in London, UK was developing its local action plan to prevent violent extremism, it undertook a “comprehensive listening exercise” with thousands of community members, stakeholders and experts across the city. The exercise, championed by the mayor, sought to “hear the voices of those who, in the past, have not been heard but who are the most important to listen to” and prioritised input from “minority and marginalised communities, women and young people.” 

MOPAC worked closely with local grassroots organisations and organised stakeholder meetings, round tables and workshops with law enforcement, local authorities, civil society groups, charities, think tanks, regulatory bodies and members of different communities. The results of this mapping led to a series of recommendations, which are captured in a public report available on MOPAC’s website.

Edmonton, Canada carried out extensive community consultations to map the needs and concerns of people of colour, resulting in a dedicated anti-racism strategy. The strategy provides funding streams for civil society-led efforts to tackle systemic, institutional and wider racism and hate, as well as a dedicated office within the city administration and advisory committee to share community perspectives and perceptions with the City Council.    

2. Contextualise the challenge

Hate, extremism and polarisation do not develop in a vacuum and local grievances and (mis)perceptions often feed into and provide gateways to wider narratives and ideological influences. It is not sufficient to name a specific ‘outside’ threat or group that poses a threat to a community without examining why it is gaining traction in a particular city or even in a specific neighbourhood, and what local issues are playing into this dynamic.

It is also important not to be prejudiced or unduly influenced by central government threat analyses, which in some contexts can focus disproportionately on external influences and overlook ‘homegrown’ threats. 

Without expecting to be able to pin-point causality, ensure that wider societal conditions are factored into the assessment, with the aim of better understanding the interplay between the particular issue/threat that the city wants to address and the wider environment that could have presented longer-term enabling factors. 

For these reasons, cities should not just pay attention to ‘hard’ data such as arrest/incident numbers, particular offences or criminal activities and obvious intercommunal and social tensions. They also need to look more broadly at factors like demographic data, income, poverty, and employment data, and the availability of education, training, welfare and business support, as well as housing, health and sports and cultural services.

To ensure its prevention activities are evidence-based and respond to actual as opposed to perceived drivers of extremist-motivated violence, Kumanovo, North Macedonia carried out a mapping to better understand local dynamics of resilience by surveying an unbiased and representative sample of residents. It measured awareness of and attitudes towards violent extremism and local government prevention; and community resilience to radicalisation based on five core pillars. Not only was this used to identify vulnerabilities across age, gender, ethnicity and neighbourhoods, but it also offered the city a baseline of community resilience against which the impact of preventative measures in the city can be evaluated. 

3. Consider online influences 

A city may not have access to data around quantity/seriousness of hate, incitement to violence or mis/disinformation online that is targeting or otherwise affecting their community. However, it may be possible for a city to gain a basic understanding of the types of content, the key platforms used and the conspiracy narratives that are being spread.. Whether through consulting communities directly or seeking advice from civil society organisations, researchers and/or the private sector, it should be possible to include a basic assessment of how online activities are influencing offline challenges in the community.

4. Examine trust levels

Developing trust between cities and communities is a critical component of effectively addressing these issues. Trust in local institutions and the city administration will have a significant bearing on how successfully a city can implement its framework. Local governments should consider holding public consultations, focus group discussions or conducting basic surveys designed to understand how well communities trust local government on particular issues and why. Also, cities should solicit community input on what can be done to build better trust.

Safe Digital Cities

Pioneered under the umbrella of Nordic Safe Cities, Safe Digital Cities aims to give municipal practitioners a deeper understanding of the online threat environment as well as tools to strengthen their digital work locally. Malmö, Sweden, used this initiative to map online hate relevant to the city to better understand the scale and scope of the problem using natural language processing algorithms. Findings showed that hate conversations online are reflected in offline activities, and spiral whenever there are tensions or an incident taking place in the city. Findings are used by the local government to improve coordination with law enforcement and civil society and inform its broader safety promotion work. Aalborg, Denmark, has similarly investigated online democratic conversations, with a particular focus on understanding what creates either positive or polarised online communities. The research informs the city’s existing prevention work including the launch of a digital volunteer network and digital prevention team. 

5. Work with representative, unbiased data

The city should aim to collect data and views that offer a true representation of a particular community. To this end, it should work with evaluation and surveying experts to ensure data collection methods are statistically representative of a given city. Equally, questioning potential biases in the data or how it is being interpreted – unconscious or otherwise – is essential. If data biases cannot be removed, they should be acknowledged in how the data is presented and the potential they may have in influencing how a city acts.

6. Leverage existing data

Many cities’ first instincts may be to assume that since tackling these issues is not their primary function as local government, doing so requires gathering new data. There is a risk in assuming that the wealth of data – both quantitative and qualitative – that cities already generate or have access to is not relevant. While in many cases it is, whether it is statistics about school drop-out rates, planning disputes, licensing challenges or employment support on the one hand, cities have the opportunity to take views and feedback from existing community engagement fora and council meetings, which will likely provide rich insights into how hate, extremism and polarisation is affecting the community. Not all forms of data will be relevant from one city to the next, but the point is to consider what the city already has at its disposal, and how interpreting it anew might shed light on these challenges.

7. Be proactive and keep the mapping updated

Local governments should proactively conduct mapping to mitigate concerns as they arise in order to lessen both the impact of such concerns on communities and their potential to escalate to violence. Cities cannot expect to conduct a landscape mapping once and continue to work on the basis of the same assessment year after year. This is because circumstances will change, risks and vulnerabilities will evolve, new challenges will appear and the city will be differently positioned to address them. Therefore, if feasible, cities should aim to review and update their mapping on an annual basis.

8. Standardise the methodology

Cities will need to identify and define the methodological approach they will adopt for their mapping. If the city wants to observe how the landscape is changing in relation to the previous year, especially whether threats, needs and vulnerabilities identified have increased or lessened, they will need to be consistent in the methods used and repeat the same exercises to see how data is changing, if at all. Deviating from this significantly will mean that an assessment is not comparable, in data terms, to what came before. This does not mean that the methodology should not be periodically updated to improve data collection, filtering and assessment based on each city’s changing risk profile and broader social context. Whenever changes are made, they need to be intentional and incorporate lessons learned from the prior implementation and any monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL). 

9. Identify existing mechanisms

The mapping should identify the infrastructure, mechanisms and existing initiatives that could be leveraged for addressing one/multiple of the threats identified. For example, if a city identifies a specific challenge around ethnic tensions that are most visible between young people in certain communities, what are the educational, sports or cultural activities, societies or informal fora which are already in place through which the city may be able to facilitate improved understanding and cooperation? These can be both formal mechanisms, like a local peace committee or a residents’ welfare association, or informal ones such as a sporting event or a parenting network, for example.

10. Map the key stakeholders and potential implementation partners

Consider not only which city agencies/departments or other relevant local services need to be involved to address particular challenges, but also the key community stakeholders or other partners whose cooperation and support will be beneficial. 

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Strong Cities Network A Guide For Cities


Last updated: 13/09/2023

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