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A Guide For Cities: Preventing Hate, Extremism & Polarisation

Last updated:
07/05/2024
Publication Date:
12/09/2023
Content Type:

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Strong Cities Network A Guide For Cities

Chapter 2: Strategy

This chapter looks at how cities can develop or expand their mandate to deliver prevention and then discusses different strategic approaches that can be adopted and institutionalised to promote local ownership and sustainability. Finally, it addresses resource mobilisation, including human, financial and other resources that need to be considered by local governments, recognising existing limitations, other priorities that cities face and the potential efficiency and wider benefits of leveraging existing approaches.


Securing a mandate

For many cities, securing a mandate for prevention – meaning the authority, requirement and/or functional responsibility to engage in this work – is the first hurdle. It may seem obvious, but the strength, extent and potential opaqueness of such a mandate will have real implications for what a city can actually do. 

Securing a local government mandate in the first place will be contingent on an awareness and understanding of the political will to address the hate, extremism and polarisation threats manifesting in the city. 

This can involve a commitment to prioritise prevention alongside (or as part of) more traditional local government priorities, e.g., those related to public safety, violence prevention and social wellbeing. Securing a mandate also requires recognition at both the national and local levels that cities have a role to play in a whole-of-society approach to addressing these threats along with the political and legal space for them to assume such a role. This can typically necessitate a modicum of cooperation between national and local stakeholders National-Local Cooperation (NLC) in a particular context. NLC will be addressed in Chapter 4. 

A city’s mandate can come in different forms depending on existing legal and governance frameworks, the degree of decentralisation and the prioritisation of prevention in relation to the perceived threat, to name just some of the variables.

Below are examples of some of the ways in which a local government prevention-related mandate manifests in different countries: 

  • In Bangladesh cities are mandated by the central government to participate in local governance and engagement of citizens through the formation of a town-level coordination committee (TLCC), Ward-level Coordination Committee (WLCC) and a mandatory formation of a gender committee with a female councillor as the chair. These structures are then tasked to actively engage citizens through the development of a citizens’ report card, regular town meetings and a citizens’ complaint cell and mass communication cell. These structures feed into the development of a city development plan including a gender action- and poverty action plan.
  • In France, local governments do not have a legal mandate to involve themselves in the prevention of hate- or extremist-motivated violence but they do have a mandate in crime prevention and are not prohibited from developing their own policies on hate and extremism prevention
  • In Indonesia, the national action plan on preventing and countering violent extremism encourages local governments to become involved in addressing violent extremism and requires them to report to the national government twice a year on their efforts to implement the national plan. 
  • In Iraq, the central government provided the districts a clear mandate to develop prevention approaches as part of their efforts to facilitate implementation of the national strategy on countering violent extremism; seven districts have so far developed localised plans in coordination with the National Committee for Countering Violent Extremism and with support from the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
  • In Kenya, County Governments are required to develop County Action Plans setting out the approaches and activities taken by local government in accordance with the national strategy to counter violent extremism and in coordination with the National Counter Terrorism Centre. 
  • In Malaysia, although there is no explicit mandate for cities on preventing hate and extremism, there is a public safety function served by cities with an associated budget line and ongoing NLC to explore the potential contribution local governments can make to hate and extremism prevention efforts.
  • North Macedonia’s national P/CVE strategy mentions the role local governments can play in implementation and the central government is directly engaging municipalities on this.
  • In Norway, all cities were tasked with developing local plans to support the implementation of the National Action Plan against radicalisation and violent extremism, but encouraged to leverage existing local crime prevention frameworks and structures for doing so.
  • In Poland, although there is no national prevention framework, the city of Dąbrowa Górnicza, leveraging its public safety mandate, established a local team, in cooperation with civil society, to address radicalisation to violence in the city.
  • In Serbia, following the school shooting, the Ministry of Local Self Government has asked all cities/municipalities to form Local Safety Councils, which would deal specifically with prevention.
  • In the UK, under the national Prevent strategy, some local governments have a legal duty to manage local ‘Channel panels’ focused on individual interventions with “at risk” individuals, as well as wider requirements to develop or support community-wide prevention initiatives.

Key questions and considerations

  • Does the city have an explicit mandate to contribute to a whole-of-society approach to addressing hate, extremism and polarisation? From where does this mandate derive, e.g., national framework or legislation, city council resolution or decision?
  • Does the city have the authority to do so as part of a broader, existing mandate related to, for example, public safety, violence or crime prevention or social well-being? 
  • Is there an option for the city to adopt its own mandate, for example, based on a municipal council decision? This could also be done to further strengthen or provide a degree of local ownership alongside an existing mandate granted by the national government. 
  • Does the mandate only apply to specific threats, e.g., a single form of hate or extremism, or is it broader to include all forms or even a wider set of social harms?

Awareness

There are a number of other considerations beyond the formal ‘granting’ of the mandate itself. One frequently cited, if seemingly straightforward, challenge is making sure that relevant city departments and local services are aware of the mandate. Many local government officials consulted for this Guide expressed frustrations in cases where there is a national strategy that acknowledges or outlines a role for local government, but it has not been shared with cities, let alone benefitted from their input. 

For instance, Uganda developed a National P/CVE Strategy, but cities emphasised in an April 2023 Strong Cities workshop that they are unaware of its existence because it has neither been publicly released nor shared with them, nor were they asked to contribute their local perspectives and needs when it was being developed. This has led to confusion around their mandate and a lack of structures, capacities, skills and resources to be able to implement the strategy at the local level. 

Sharing relevant national frameworks with cities is thus a prerequisite to meaningful and sustainable involvement of local governments in a whole-of-society approach to the prevention of hate and extremism in their country. For their part, local governments need to ensure that awareness of these frameworks is not restricted to one or two city officials but is well socialised across different departments and with the political leadership of the city. 

Is it sufficient?

Next, cities need to consider if the mandate they do have is sufficient. Is it focused only on alerting security agencies in the event of an immediate concern or incident or does it also include a mandate to intervene earlier and develop community-level prevention programmes and activities? Equally, if the city has a public safety role, how expansive is this? Is it limited to practical security considerations, such as safeguarding public gathering places and other “soft” targets, road safety and/or CCTV installation? If so, then more work is needed to demonstrate that public safety extends beyond physical security infrastructure to broader questions of social cohesion and resilience. If the city does have a mandate that recognises this, does it cover the three commonly accepted levels of prevention (see below under Primary, Secondary & Tertiary Prevention in Chapter 2)? Does it address all forms of hate and extremism or is it limited to a specific threat or ideology? Does it allow for multi-agency cooperation and collaboration with civil society, communities and the private sector?


Developing a strategic framework

Any city needs to make a number of strategic considerations before implementing prevention programmes or initiatives in its communities. Whether these result in a formal strategy document explicitly associated with preventing and responding to hate, extremism and polarisation, another formalised framework (e.g., related to public safety, violence prevention or social wellbeing), or have no published strategy tied to them at all, will vary from city to city. 

Some cities may be developing a new strategy for the first time while others could be looking to update, improve or otherwise change an existing strategy or approach. Whichever it is, a strategic framework should not just be an outline of what a city commits to doing; it should ultimately speak to the conceptual framing of how a city chooses to act on prevention. Cities should consider what works best for their particular challenges and circumstances, recognising that the proposed framework will need to be practical and achievable with their existing resources and local services. 

Local officials and stakeholders will also need to be cognisant of the need in many cases to get approval from a mayor, council or other political body for their prevention strategy. Thus, the political message that could be signalled by adopting a particular approach should also be borne in mind. While prevention efforts and the strategies that frame them need to be depoliticised as far as possible, they do not exist in a political vacuum and in most if not all cases, they address issues that are at least contentious if not also inherently political. What is important is that there is awareness of the political and policy context during their development and an appreciation of how the involvement of local politicians or other policies is likely to be received differently across the community. Needless to say, it is critical that while such frameworks inevitably have a political context, they should not be used as political tools to attack or undermine political opponents. Many cities take their cue not only from what other cities are doing but from approaches endorsed by the United Nations or other international organisations. 

Common examples of often inter-related frameworks include:

Public health: an interdisciplinary field that involves the organised efforts and informed choices of society, organisations, both public and private, communities and individuals. Such an approach seeks to address the causes of hate, extremism and polarisation by treating them at a societal level, as we would treat them pathologically in a medical setting. For more on how public health models can be applied to preventing hate and extremism, see here

Violence prevention: specific to targeting manifestations of violence and preventing crime through education, mediation and other social means. There are many examples of violence prevention models adopted around the world. One of the best known is the Cardiff Model, developed in the UK as a public health approach and since tailored to applications in many other cities.  

Community safeguarding and public safety: protection of the right to live in safety, free from abuse and neglect. This may encompass a broad variety of different approaches, including those developed for safeguarding children and adults as well as wider public safety approaches. For an overarching approach, see UN Habitat’s Safer Cities programme and the New Urban Agenda.

P/CVE: a dedicated framework for addressing the drivers which radicalise individuals to extremist- and terrorist-motivated violence and strengthen community resilience. These are often linked to or under the umbrella of national counterterrorism strategies. For instance, Brčko District, Bosnia and Herzegovina, adopted a dedicated Action Plan for the implementation of the National Prevention and Fight Against Terrorism Strategy. 

These frameworks need not be mutually exclusive and may be used in combination. Whichever approach(es) a city adopts, the frameworks should emphasise the following principles. The following principals should be incorporated in all cases: 

  • ‘Do no harm’: coming from the humanitarian and development fields, this notion indicates that an intervention should be mindful of unintended consequences and always improve, never deteriorate, a situation or pose harm to individuals or communities.
  • Gender-sensitivity: awareness and consideration of gender power dynamics and gender (in)equalities and the differential needs, experiences and status of men, women, girls and boys, sexual and gender minorities based on socio-cultural context while developing policy, planning or action. (Definition drawn from OSCE and UN Women sources)
  • Human rights: Prevention and response should protect and promote human rights and individuals enshrined in international human rights instruments. This should not just be a statement; it must be considered at each stage of implementation and engagement.
  • Whole-of-society: effective prevention requires the participation of a diversity of government and non-government stakeholders, including government departments and public services spanning all relevant sectors and disciplines, as well as civil society, the private sector and community members. It should also not be limited to one specific agency alone without cooperation from others.

Additional Considerations

The following apply throughout the planning and strategic development of a city’s approach to prevention. Many, if not all, will be relevant to initial mappings as much as to subsequent implementation steps. In turn, initial mapping stages – and especially community and stakeholder consultations – will help equip cities to navigate these risks according to the specific needs and sensitivities of their community.

Avoid Securitisation

Cities should be mindful of avoiding the ‘trap’ of securitisation that is often associated with efforts to address hate and extremism, and even more so with policies that are explicitly framed using the concept of “P/CVE”. The concepts are frequently associated with counterterrorism and thus often, however correctly or otherwise, with ‘hard’ security. Especially at the local level, too close an association with these frequently contested concepts, which have at times been misapplied against political opponents or historically marginalised communities, leading to human rights abuses, is unlikely to engender support from the very parts of a city where prevention efforts are most likely needed. Overall, such an approach risks increasing rather than mitigating any social tensions that might exist in a city. 

Definitional Challenges 

Whatever the chosen approach, it is crucial that each city reach consensus among different stakeholders on key definitions and conceptual issues. One example of a contested notion is the term ‘radicalisation’, as it poses ideological, cognitive and/or behavioural understandings that risk treating the individual in a social vacuum and thus potentially addressing only effects rather than causality. It may also be politically contested, aimed at identifying ‘radicals’ and thus inspire distrust, suspicion and fear among communities, and potentially open the framework to political misuse or abuse. 

Participation & Trust-Building

Consultation and input from communities, who might be considered ‘end users’ or ‘beneficiaries’ of the framework, should be sought throughout the development of the framework, including on the conceptual approach adopted and the key terminology included. More widely, a city’s strategy will likely be more effective and better supported if it offers a true reflection of the concerns, values and priorities of communities. For this, and many other reasons, building trust between cities and local communities, as well as with key agencies like the police that might fall outside the purview of the city but are a necessary partner, is a critical ingredient throughout every step of strategic planning and implementation. 

Harnessing Existing Approaches 

A further challenge for approaches that focus heavily on ‘radicalisation’ and counterterrorism is the assumption that these threats are often perceived to be ‘exceptional’ or inherently specific and thus requiring a distinct approach for addressing. In fact, cities tend to report better results where strategies for tackling these issues form part of broader, existing mechanisms and approaches and are better positioned to adopt an integrated, ‘mainstreamed’ approach to prevention. This also encourages cities to avoid siloed working and develop better multi-stakeholder collaboration. This does not mean that terrorism and extremism cases/challenges will not require specific interventions, but rather, that they should be considered and deployed in an integrated way. This is a key area in which many cities have expressed a need for increased support, including training and capacity-building (see Chapter 3).


Institutionalising the approach

Even if city-led prevention is based on multi-stakeholder cooperation, the first task is to identify a lead entity, office, individual or group of individuals (e.g., a task force or coordination unit) to oversee the implementation of the framework. Having an office or individual(s) that champions prevention – as an approach and a philosophy – across a city is important. In putting together this Guide, local government officials shared that key individuals had been particularly critical in developing prevention in their city, influencing the approach of other agencies and winning the backing of their mayor or local political leaders. 

As with much of prevention, there is no one-size-fits-all approach for how a city should organise itself to engage on these issues. Below are some options and considerations for each.

Individual lead agency/department

+ Pros: Provides a clear, unambiguous line of responsibility and accountability.

– Cons: Other agencies may feel less involved, and responsibility may fall unequally on a specific lead.

Considerations:

  • A further consideration here is whether a city appoints an existing agency/department as lead or creates a new unit, either as a standalone office or integrated within an existing agency/department. Resource constraints will also play some role in determining the course of action here. 
  • The choice of which agency/department should lead may also signal a particular policy emphasis and cities need to be mindful of how such choices will be perceived in their communities and affect trust and cooperation from potential target groups due to perceived prejudices and/or past experiences.

Shared responsibility across multiple agencies/departments

+ Pros: Greater collective ownership and a clear expectation that prevention needs to be considered and contributed to by multiple agencies reflecting different functions and services that a city delivers.

– Cons: Risk of overlapping responsibilities, inconsistencies or competition between different agencies. Having multiple agencies per se is likely not the problem, but cities consulted on this felt challenges came when there were breakdowns in communication and cooperation (including around information sharing), for whatever reason, between different agencies.

Another option is to charge responsibility to a city-wide network that brings together relevant agencies/departments as well as CSOs and key community stakeholders. If a city’s mapping process at the outset has been comprehensive and involved participation from across the community as well as different departments and services, this network may already largely be in place. There are also some further considerations with the network option:

Leverage an existing network: many cities have already established thematic networks to address challenges facing local communities (e.g., to address ethnic/religious discrimination, integration issues or gender equality). A local peace commission, law and order committee, or public safety council are all examples from cities consulted for this Guide.

Create a new network: The framing of the issue will be crucial and must fully reflect
the aspirations of external partners, including community stakeholders. Also, this type of network may lack long-term sustainability if the subject is considered
too specific or too narrow. 

Form an expert group: Particularly on complex subjects where external expertise adds value, a city may want to consider including individuals with specific technical, professional or academic expertise alongside local services and community stakeholders. This could be done by including them in a prevention network together with other stakeholders, or by setting up a separate expert group or advisory committee. 

For more on local prevention networks and other multi-stakeholder coordination models that can support or lead city-level prevention efforts, see Chapter 4.

Whatever the model, directing a network to lead prevention should not absolve the city – at either a political or administrative level – of all responsibility or involvement. Not only is there a general need to build awareness of prevention priorities and approaches across the different parts of the local government, but the city should also have a direct relationship with a prevention network, even if just to facilitate meetings, coordinate different agencies or adopt recommendations. The wider city administration should also support a prevention network by offering infrastructure, human resources and funding, and by identifying existing mechanisms that might be leveraged to support prevention.

Sustainability

A couple of points on institutional sustainability need to be kept in mind:

Navigating political change: Achieving results from a city’s prevention approach requires long-term effort and investment, likely longer than a single mayoral or council term. Insulating the strategic approach from political changes, whether spurred by elections, new appointments, or changes in ministerial responsibilities, requires working to achieve consensus and buy-in from key administrative staff.

This might include prioritising any departmental/agency leads who (a) may continue in post despite changes at the political or executive level and (b) are well positioned to embed prevention into existing/updated guidance, approaches and mechanisms for delivering wider services in the city. Incoming political leaders and administrations should be briefed if details on the city’s framework are not already part of the transition/handover discussions.

Securing a legal basis for a city’s framework: Not only can this further insulate a city’s approach from short-term political changes, but also puts the framework on a statutory footing that will likely also improve its potential to be embedded within the wider legal responsibilities of a city and potentially support efforts to raise financial and other resources, for example by requiring its inclusion in annual budgets. Passing a city council motion or amending existing legislation to make provisions for a prevention framework is discussed earlier in this chapter in relation to strengthening a city’s mandate, but it is also an important component of a city’s sustainability strategy. 


Identifying resources

It is not uncommon for a well-crafted prevention strategy to fail to deliver on its promise due to a lack of adequate resources. Considering that resources will always be limited and cities are often financially stretched to deliver existing public services, the question is often how to leverage existing resources to show results. If additional ones are required, then the challenge becomes how to mobilise new ones without adding a significant financial burden. 

There are several types of resources, all of which are necessary for the success of prevention efforts – from human and financial resources to materials such as infrastructure and facilities as well as less tangible resources like particular skills, training and expertise. 

The most basic aspects of resources should not go overlooked, as working conditions sometimes depend on these. All types of resources ultimately have financial implications (for example expertise requires training, which in turn requires a budget), but the impact can be limited by sharing the burden among different agencies. Given that cities already have policies and infrastructures in place, some resources can be (at least in part) mobilised by connecting with what already exists. 

The following are examples from different global contexts of city departments that may be called upon to contribute to prevention efforts: 

  • Crime prevention/public safety
  • Local democracy/citizen participation
  • Urban development and planning
  • Youth and education
  • Health and social care
  • Sports
  • Culture 
  • Gender equality
  • Integration/migrant resettlement
  • Religious/ethnic harmony
  • Welfare
  • Housing

It follows that prevention of hate, extremism and polarisation will not necessarily need its own infrastructure, office, or staffing budget (see institutionalising the approach, above), but at a basic level it requires the same types of resources that other departments have access to. 

If new resources are needed, a city might explore the following options (separately or in combination): 

  • National government grants, budget allocation or other funding mechanisms: This might pose particular opportunities for cities whose national governments have adopted a national strategy on prevention. Several countries do have regular calls for proposals for prevention initiatives, but keep in mind that having an entire prevention infrastructure dependent on competitive grant funding, particularly if tied exclusively to the national government and its priorities, can pose sustainability challenges in the longer-term. 
  • Dedicated line in city budget: This creates an expectation and a precedent for annual allocation, but it is also a demonstration of wider commitment and an important part of institutionalisation (see Institutionalising the approach above). 
  • International donors: Such opportunities vary considerably from country to country and from city to city. Funding procedures and application processes may be inaccessible to small cities that do not have the necessary staff or skills to formalise their projects. In many cases, an implementing partner which is not a government agency or other public body. It may be important to consider both whether there is alignment between international donors’ priorities and those of a local community and whether receiving support from a particular donor might affect community perceptions of a city’s prevention efforts. Except for Strong Cities, there are few examples of funding for training or capacity building on extremism and hate targeting local governments specifically. Most of this support is focused on central governments and/or CSOs.
  • Private sector partnerships: Some cities have successfully managed to secure resources from the private sector, whether from local business owners and chambers of commerce, or from multinationals with a presence in their city. Often designed as public-private partnerships, resources can often be skills, expertise and facilities in addition to financial contributions. This is covered in more detail under Involving the Private Sector in Chapter 4.

London, UK: In 2019, the Mayor of London and MOPAC launched the first iteration of the Mayor’s Shared Endeavour Fund, a grassroots funding initiative dedicated to supporting hyper-local responses to hate crimes, violent extremism and related threats in London. To scale the support available, MOPAC sought out a private sector partner that could match the funds provided by City Hall. After outreach and engagement with multiple potential private sector partners, MOPAC partnered with Google.org, resulting in an £800,000 joint investment that supported more than 30 grassroots organisations across the city to build resilience within their communities.

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Strong Cities Network A Guide For Cities

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