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A Guide For Cities: Preventing Hate, Extremism & Polarisation

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Strong Cities Network A Guide For Cities

Chapter 3: Implementation

This chapter outlines different ways in which cities can operationalise their approach, as well as how they can equip key stakeholders with the tools and capacities to play a role. It provides examples of city-led primary, secondary and tertiary prevention and also discusses how local governments can navigate potentially sensitive issues, including engagement with historically marginalised or minority groups or balancing public safety needs against free speech, for example. 

Primary, Secondary & Tertiary Prevention

The concepts of primary, secondary and tertiary intervention come originally from the field of public health, referring to efforts to prevent disease and prolong life. This is increasingly applied to violence prevention, P/CVE, peacebuilding and related fields in recognition that these require the same three levels of effort (broad population-wide measures, efforts to detect and mitigate risk, and efforts to reduce risk where it already exists). 

There are many resources available on all three levels of prevention and how these are being applied in different fields. For the purposes of this Guide, we will adopt the understandings outlined in the diagram below.

This diagram should not be restricted to community-based or offline prevention only but should incorporate consideration of online risks and interventions too in a way that reflects an integrated, multi-faceted threat landscape. 

At each level, this Guide will refer to “interventions”, which should be understood as actions that a city is taking with the intention of making a difference at any given level, rather than in a technical sense as applying specifically to individual interventions through, for example, one-to-one mentoring programmes.


Programmes and other measures designed to support hate and extremist motivated violent offenders in their efforts to leave their milieus, disengage from violence, deciminalise and reintegrate into society. These programmes can take place within or outside of custodial setting.


Programmes and other measures that target individuals identified as being vulnerable to recruitment or radicalisation to hate or extremist violence and seek to steer these individuals down a non-violent path.


Programmes and other measures designed to build community resilience against hate, extremism and polarisation and enhance social cohesion to resist these threats regardless of their vulnerabilities.

Primary Prevention

Primary prevention will likely have the widest relevance to most cities across different contexts, drawing on their role in delivering basic public services and in some cases areas like health and education. Primary prevention can also be a first step, for example where a city lacks a mandate for, or is otherwise unable to deliver, more targeted interventions. The point of primary prevention is to take action that makes a city more resilient, more socially cohesive and less likely to develop vulnerabilities associated with threats like hate, extremism and polarisation. This includes actions a city might want to take anyway as part of its efforts to support thriving, integrated and peaceful communities, irrespective of any specific threat.

It is important to note that the prevention role played by the city administration may differ not only according to context or capability but also from one area of prevention programming to another. In some cases, a city will be the sole or primary actor instigating or delivering a particular programme. In others, a city may have a coordination or facilitation role to bring other stakeholders to the table. The role and the visibility of a city is something that should be determined in planning stages building on the findings of the landscape mapping and, where necessary, incorporated into a city’s local framework or strategy. 

Examples of primary prevention steps that cities may consider taking:

Community engagement: Trusted, accessible and transparent local institutions are a better foundation for security, inclusion and other potential layers of intervention. Community engagement would be considered a primary intervention if it focuses on fostering these linkages between a city administration and the communities it serves, without narrowing down to a specific type of risk or target group. This includes a focus on engaging different religious, cultural and ethnic groups and other communities that may feel less represented by or connected to the city’s administration, including minorities and those who are historically marginalised. Community engagement could take any form, from organising neighbourhood meetings and intercultural dialogues to setting up an information desk at a local hospital or other service. It can be a standalone action in itself but may also be incorporated, as demonstrated by the interventions below, as a methodological approach. 

Aurora, Colorado, USA has provided residents the opportunity to get directly involved in ensuring the city’s security. Members of the Aurora Key Community Response Team (AKCRT) work alongside city officials during times of civil unrest to engage with communities and partner organisations. The AKCRT gathers once per month in an open, public meeting to discuss community safety and plan for upcoming events.

Cape Town, South Africa has a Safer and Healthier Places of Worship programme through which the city works to improve relationships among faith communities, and between them and the local government. The city initially brought these groups together to give them a forum to share their concerns and what they perceive as gaps in their ability to address them, as well as to establish a regular channel of communication between the city and its diverse faith communities. After the initial meeting, the city organised a three-day workshop that included security actors and focused on training on emergency scenario planning, including for first responders. Disaster Risk Management and other partners identified the need to be proactive in ensuring that places of worship are prepared and have an appropriate emergency response if an incident should occur. Overall, the programme is helping to build trust and improve relationships between the local government and different faith groups, as well as to equip the latter with the knowledge and information needed to proactively participate in prevention.

Mardan, Pakistan has a local peace committee which serves as a city-led platform for local government and community leaders to come together and address sensitive and complex social issues, including religious and ethnic tensions as well as challenges resulting from the resettlement of 1.5m IDPs fleeing violence in areas close to Afghanistan. Most recently, the city convened a meeting for relevant local stakeholders to discuss opportunities and challenges to strengthening social cohesion and tackling polarisation in the city. One of the proposed measures was to allocate a separate budget for addressing youth marginalisation and enhancing their inclusion in decision-making and other civic matters. 

Education: Many cities have some jurisdiction over schools covering younger age groups and some also have control over secondary education institutions. There is also often a mix of public and private schools as well as, in some cases, more informal or traditional education settings. Religious schools may also exist in a city, with varying degrees of regulation and oversight on the part of the city administration. Whatever the relevant control over education institutions in a city, interventions at this level might incorporate, for example, adding inclusion, tolerance, critical thinking, citizenship or digital literacy to the syllabus, or otherwise ensuring that schools help create awareness around social exclusion, isolation and hate, or even that they make children and families better aware of existing support services in their community. Cities consulted for this Guide felt it important to note that prevention in schools should focus on instilling positive values and attitudes, rather than framing the issues in a negative manner around risks and threats.

Novi Pazar, Serbia, a city which faced significant challenges of youth radicalisation to violent extremism, initiated prevention programmes through education. Namely, it organised a conference on the most impactful ways to include prevention aspects in school curricula and raise students’ awareness of the detrimental impact of hate, extremism and polarisation on livelihoods. This collaborative effort involved extensive consultations with CSOs, the national government and local institutions. The event also inspired a wider dialogue about incorporating prevention in schools and building youth resilience through early warning, dialogue and trust building with the local police and city institutions, including bodies leading prevention and youth engagement initiatives.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil works with schools to protect education environments. Through the Safe School App, the Municipal Secretariat of Education supports teachers and students by identifying cases of violence, self-harm and other threats and crises, including attacks on schools. It aims to provide rapid action support to management and connect schools to the Secretariat and other public bodies, simplifying coordination.

Youth engagement and empowerment: Young people are often considered passive targets or recipients of prevention progammes, rather than active participants. Cities should offer an active role to youth in prevention activities and should give young people a genuine, and not tokenistic, stake in identifying the challenges and proposing ways to address them. Ensuring that young people have the skills and capabilities to raise concerns and advocate for their needs is key. Reducing barriers to accessibility and participation in city decision-making and policy development can positively impact the resilience of future generations and allow a city’s efforts to better serve its community. Such efforts might be achieved by supporting an active and representative youth council, hosting dialogues between city leaders and youth groups, or engaging with youth clubs, societies and grassroots organisations to promote debate and discussion of sensitive issues in a facilitated environment. Particular attention may be given to key issues like trust in police or other institutions and services. Care should be taken to accommodate people from different backgrounds and avoid excluding certain groups or reinforcing stigmatisation. Fundamentally, the issues discussed need to be raised by the youth themselves and not imposed.

Maputo, Mozambique has a dedicated Councillor for Youth and Citizenship, who is responsible for developing and overseeing city-led youth empowerment programmes. At a regional workshop Strong Cities hosted in Johannesburg for East and Southern African cities, the Councillor shared that through his role, the city has pioneered a number of youth-focused initiatives, which include involving youth in urban design to ensure there are adequate, safe public spaces where young people can socialise and engage in healthy recreational activities. The city also runs a youth innovation programme where young people are supported financially and with training to deploy projects to promote social cohesion, youth entrepreneurship and more, which are broadcast on local TV and social media channels to then encourage more youth to get involved.

Toronto, Canada: Recognising that youth have often been missed in the city’s planning and strategy development processes in the past, Toronto set up a Youth Research Team of ten young people aged 18-29 who were tasked to connect with other youth to understand the issues they feel need to be prioritised by the local government over the coming years. This effort resulted in the development of a Youth Engagement Strategy, which was “made for youth by youth” and provides a list of issue areas that young people consider as priorities (e.g., youth violence, safety and relations with law enforcement; employment; affordable housing). The Strategy also provides actions for the city to follow to address these areas while continuing to meaningfully engage with youth. are supported financially and with training to deploy projects to promote social cohesion, youth entrepreneurship and more, which are broadcast on local TV and social media channels to then encourage more youth to get involved.

Čair, North Macedonia: To address youth radicalisation in its communities, the city built and is operating a Youth and Community Centre. It provides a space for youth to access resources and networks, build their skills and knowledge on civic engagement and active citizenship and work on local social impact initiatives. The city runs the Centre in cooperation with various local civil society and community-based organisations which organise different types of events.

Public health, including mental health and social services: Many cities will routinely engage with public health services even if they do not have direct control over them, for example on disease prevention or infection control. For many, the COVID-19 pandemic opened up new avenues for such cooperation and communication. Working to raise awareness among health practitioners on the city’s approach to prevention as well as how to address concerns about the vulnerability of an individual or group might be a first step. In this event, the involvement and needs of the wider health sector should be considered as part of a city’s mapping process with the inclusion of health professionals in a multi-stakeholder framework. Continuing to support a healthier population should extend beyond physiological health to mental health provision and social services. While such services can also be involved in more targeted interventions, their role in primary interventions should be recognised as supporting healthy, active, connected and enabled communities. At the primary prevention level, their involvement is not prompted by any particular challenge around extremism, polarisation or hate, but because it fosters a more resilient, cohesive city in general which is in turn less vulnerable to division and hate.

Greater Manchester, United Kingdom: Through the Greater Manchester Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise Accord, Greater Manchester Combined Authority formalised a three-way collaboration between itself, the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership and the city’s voluntary and civil society sector to embed the role of voluntary organisations and community groups in the implementation of the Greater Manchester Strategy.

Through this Accord, Greater Manchester commits to ensuring voluntary organisations and community groups inform both the development and are included in the delivery of programmes to address issues ranging from mental ill-health (in partnership with the National Health Service and city-specific healthcare providers) to food poverty, addiction and homelessness, etc.

The Accord also commits to ensuring civil society is represented in relevant municipal-led groups, such as the Gender-Based Violence Board and Employment and Skills Advisory Board. While the Accord is not specific to preventing hate and extremism, it offers an important example of how local governments can facilitate partnerships between key actors (in this case, health and social care and the voluntary and civil society sector) in a joint effort to address root causes of instability across the city.

Family support: Families can be among the most influential actors in prevention and many cities already offer general support to parents on a range of issues. There are also a number of risk factors around families where domestic abuse, coercive control, addiction issues, substance abuse, or exposure to criminal networks and activities, among many other things, can make an individual more vulnerable. A city can initiate discussion groups, peer support networks, or offer courses and guidance on specific needs for parents, as well as generally raise awareness around risks, how to flag concerns and seek further support in a safe environment. As far as possible, all interventions should be based on existing and established family support activities and infrastructures, not only limiting costs but helping simplify how families access support and treat prevention challenges as relevant to other aspects of their lives.

MotherSchools: Developed and launched by Women Without Borders, this programme supports mothers as the first line of defence in historically marginalised or otherwise vulnerable communities by strengthening their individual capacity, capability, emotional literacy and awareness of radical influences. It is run in close coordination with local governments in 15+ countries across the world. Cities in Central Asia and the Western Balkans and other regions are provided training to upgrade their social services to better understand and create prevention strategies for extremism, while at the same time providing in-kind support for programme activities.

Masaka, Uganda: In Uganda, poverty, unemployment and lack of economic opportunities are amongst the most pressing vulnerabilities exploited by extremist groups to recruit and otherwise mobilise young people.

To address this challenge, Masaka has used its constituency development funds to support youth economic empowerment programmes, and has favoured youth-led enterprises for municipal contracts and tenders (such as for public markets, commuter taxi parks, street parking, loading and off-loading services, public toilets, public abattoirs, etc.).

In terms of tertiary prevention, the city also supports young people that have been released from prison through partnering with local organisations that hire these young people to clean the city (amongst other activities), ensuring they have wages and helping them become more productive members of society. These young people are additionally offered vocational training and counselling through dedicated rehabilitation hubs.

Business engagement, vocational training and employment support: Many cities consulted for this Guide noted that unemployment and a lack of opportunities were key vulnerabilities for hate, extremism and polarisation in their city. A city may decide to engage with the private sector on anything from basic awareness raising and employee support mechanisms, but equally to develop or expand vocational training support, career development schemes and other forms of support. At a primary level, this would all be pursued with the general goal of reducing vulnerabilities and increasing resilience at the general population level, rather than responding to any specific threat or challenge in a targeted way or with specific groups.

Sports: Many cities leverage sports clubs and sporting activities in support of primary prevention efforts. In many cases, sports have the potential to unite people from across different parts of the community while also demonstrating values of respect and a ‘zero tolerance’ stance towards issues like bullying, racism and other forms of discrimination. Sports campaigns and associations with particular clubs and athletes can help project key messages and expand the audience reached. Some cities have also found that sports can help create common ground and a shared sense of belonging across otherwise divided or siloed parts of the community. 

Gostivar, North Macedonia, with support from Strong Cities and in line with its local prevention strategy, a train-the-trainer programme for “youth development through sports”. The purpose was to equip physical education teachers from all schools and local coaches from the city to design and implement classroom and extracurricular activities that would help youth improve leadership and communication skills and empathy. Additionally, this allowed teachers and coaches a mechanism to promote social cohesion among young people in this multi-cultural city.

As a good practice, and again with support from Strong Cities, the same model was used in three counties in Kenya (Isiolo, Kwale and Nakuru) where local coaches and teachers were trained on youth engagement and inclusion, and then supported to develop and implement programmes that bring together young people from different backgrounds and communities to connect, interact and work together through sports. 

Culture: Similarly to sports, cultural activities and engagements are often seen as helpful vehicles for reaching across communities, widening audiences, pushing key messages and fostering a sense of belonging. A city may also develop cultural dialogues designed to help different parts of its community interact, better understand the ‘other’, air tensions, discuss sensitive topics, and shed light on challenges that may otherwise be difficult to raise. 

Cultural interventions at the primary level might also encompass, for example, efforts to open new libraries that prioritise deprived or isolated groups. Again, such interventions would fall under the primary level if they were designed to open or level access across different communities because of the multiple benefits they could bring, rather than because these are communities that necessarily show specific vulnerabilities related to hate, extremism and polarisation.

Monrovia, Liberia: To prevent a repeat of violence between the city’s different religious communities, Monrovia helped establish a local Interfaith Council to connect religious groups with one another to jointly contribute to making Monrovia a safe space for all its faith groups. Since its launch, the council has brought religious groups and their leaders together to break bread, celebrate their respective faiths together (e.g., through interfaith Easter and Ramadan celebrations), discuss emerging concerns and jointly brainstorm solutions that can then be implemented with support from the local government.

Public space and urban planning: For many cities, planning decisions related to public, commercial, and private land and property is a key area of responsibility. Urban planning, therefore, offers a critical means by which primary prevention can be integrated and ‘mainstreamed’ within existing mechanisms and tools at cities’ disposal. By including considerations related to public safety and specifically to prevention, local governments can often make a real difference to the safety and well-being of communities, as well as to their perceptions or feelings of safety, which are equally important. 

This does not stop with public safety alone; a city could also incorporate values such as openness, accessibility, transparency, interaction and equality of opportunity into urban design and planning.

A city may intervene in this field in different ways. For example, this could be about planning initiatives developed by cities themselves, but it could equally be about adapting bylaws, enforcing regulations or reaching decisions to make such considerations a requirement of new applications and developments.

Helsinki, Finland has asserted its identity as an inclusive city through its inclusive housing policy, Home Town Helsinki. This approach both helps people in need get housing and aims to prevent segregation and isolation by adopting mixed ownership and tenure models, making the most of public land ownership to provide a basic service and encourage a mixed housing market that promotes inclusion and breaks down barriers. More on Helsinki’s approach can also be found on the Housing 2030 website.

Rabat, Morocco has partnered with local organisations to address gender inequality and increase the safety of public spaces for women. For example, the city has partnered with a local feminist organisation, Jossour Forum des Femmes Marocaines (Joussour Forum for Moroccan Women), as well as architects, other grassroots organisations and community-based volunteers in a multi-actor effort to build a more gender-inclusive Rabat.

As part of this project, the city and Jossour Forum arranged and took part in capacity-building workshops on gender responsive urban planning, and organised hackathons for architecture and engineering students in the city, thus including youth in its approach to building more inclusive and safe public spaces.

Through these partnerships, it has also launched targeted communications campaigns to address the intersecting nature of sexual harassment and other forms of violence, including those motivated by extremism and hate.

This initiative ultimately offers a model for participatory governance and local government-led multi-actor collaboration, where the city convenes diverse community-based actors, leveraging their comparative advantages and different types of expertise (e.g., gender, urban planning) to create a safer and more secure Rabat for all its citizens.

Victoria State, Australia, has a dedicated local government platform for urban design and crime prevention, featuring numerous local case studies, reference materials and information for city planners, crime prevention practitioners and the wider community.

Communications and messaging: Many cities will have key public information platforms, from noticeboards, town magazines, newsletters to social media, which can be leveraged for positive messaging as well as awareness raising aimed at the general population. From developing ‘alternative messaging’ campaigns, which offer a positive alternative to the negative narratives of extremist, hateful or otherwise polarising content, to responding to mis/disinformation, or simply letting people know what the city is prioritising and why, there is much that a city can do in this respect. Cities need to consider how best to communicate such messaging, both in terms of format as well as who the ‘messenger’ or face of the campaign is. In some cases, it is best for the local government, or key city leaders, to be that face themselves. In other cases, it may be trusted members of the community, a civil society organisation, or another entity that holds credibility and can resonate with the intended audience. Cities should also:

  • Consult their communities in a representative way in the development and planning of a campaign. This could be part of wider cooperation with a CSO and/or local business with particular expertise, experience or insights to offer; 
  • Translate key messages (where possible) to widely-spoken languages in the city to help ensure they reach all relevant communities; 
  • Be considerate in the vocabulary and imagery that is used to avoid fear-mongering and/or implicitly isolating certain community groups;
  • Make use of different platforms – for example, social media channels may allow for more informal engagement with the public and could be a good platform to gather inputs/insights from local communities. Be mindful of who you want to reach and what platforms those demographics (e.g., youth) use; and
  • Consider communication a means for not only prevention but also response. Public communications, from reassurance and community outreach to safety announcements and sharing vital information, are, are considered an essential part of planning for crisis response.

For more on crisis communications, see our Response Toolkit, where this topic is discussed in detail. For a particular focus on the role of mayors and local leaders in strategic communications, see our
Mayoral Guide.

Christchurch, New Zealand: In 2022, Christchurch launched its new Te Haumako Te Whitingia Strengthening Communities Together Strategy, which outlines the city’s strategy for “working with others to build a healthy, happy and resilient Christchurch and Banks Peninsula” across four pillars: People, Place, Participation and Preparedness. To ensure the Strategy is both accessible to and reflects the city’s multicultural population, it is available in thirteen languages outside of English. The English version also incorporates Maori throughout, in recognition of New Zealand’s rich Maori heritage. The Strategy is also available in video format, where a sign interpreter runs through the document, thus ensuring the city’s hard-of-hearing residents are equally informed. Overall, this provides a model of accessible communications.

Civil society partnerships: As with community engagement efforts and communications, working with civil society should be considered a means to approaching all of the above areas of intervention as well as an effort in its own right. On the latter, recognising where there are challenges around trust, access, marginalisation or siloed communities is a key step in understanding how a city can do more to reach everybody and develop connections and understanding between communities and local services/institutions. But it may also demonstrate that a city is sometimes not best placed to build such linkages alone and that intervening as the city may even harm rather than improve the situation. In such cases, developing outreach and partnerships with CSOs on a whole range of local issues is a good means to establishing better connections and having in place the partnerships when more specific needs arise with a particular group. 

Developing funding schemes to support civil society engagement and partnerships in a particular priority area is one way to foster these relationships.

For key learnings around such schemes, see our 10-Step Roadmap for Enhancing City-Led Support for Community-Based Programmes to Address Hate and Extremism. Cities can also support CSOs by putting other resources at their disposal, for example by offering technical support, expertise, training, access to information, or by sharing contacts and good practices. 

New York City Supports its Communities

New York City’s Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes (OPHC) is engaging with communities across the city by supporting a range of community-based actors. It coordinates 25 city agencies involved in service delivery across the city (e.g., housing, police, education, parks, health and sanitation) to better understand threats, identify gaps in response and scale existing community safety and well-being initiatives. 

OPHC also provides capacity building for its community partners, upskilling the organisations it works with to “meet communities where they are at” and help professionalise and sustain grassroots responses to hate and polarisation.

South Africa’s Community Safety Forums (CSFs): First piloted in the Western Cape, CSFs are local multi-stakeholder collaborations that bring together municipal services, NGOs, and other partners “to provide a means for sharing information and encouraging and coordinating interdisciplinary, multi-sectoral approaches to violence and crime prevention.” Amongst their functions is the development of local social crime prevention capacities, to conduct community safety needs assessments to then inform programmes and such capacity building and to facilitate coordination amongst relevant municipal and civil-society led services.

Secondary prevention

Secondary prevention focuses on ways in which a city can take action that responds to a more specific risk or challenge identified either from and/or to a particular group or individual(s) in its community. Unlike primary prevention, it is not aimed at the general population and is developed and delivered to tackle a particular issue relevant specifically to hate, extremism and polarisation. For this reason, secondary prevention is even more reliant on comprehensive local mapping and should closely correlate to the key vulnerabilities and needs identified (see Chapter One).

Vulnerable Groups

For key vulnerabilities identified for specific groups in a community (e.g., a lack of critical thinking skills coupled with particular exposure to hateful dissemination; a concern about racial or ethnic discrimination; or a challenge around marginalisation and feelings of distrust, isolation and disenfranchisement), all of the areas of intervention used for primary prevention still apply and are relevant. However, the specific methodologies followed, objectives identified and messages relayed will be more targeted. Interventions may also be over a longer period and follow a particular programme or other sequencing. It should be noted that a city’s training needs will likely be more significant and/or specialised, depending on the context, the particular vulnerability it is addressing and the professional backgrounds and competencies of the relevant local government offices or practitioners.


In relation to secondary prevention with individuals, this Guide will focus predominantly on referral mechanisms of various kinds, in line with the priorities expressed by cities consulted for this Guide. Referral mechanisms have emerged in a number of fields, including human-trafficking, drug abuse, gender-based violence, violence reduction and P/CVE. They typically involve a formal or informal process whereby front-line practitioners, community members, family members or peers can refer individuals demonstrating certain concerning behaviours or vulnerabilities to a group of practitioners and professionals from different disciplines and/or agencies and organisations to identify, assess, assist, and treat those individuals. 

There has been growing recognition of the added-value of locally-led referral mechanisms in the hate and extremism prevention space, as policymakers, front-line workers and even security professionals have increasingly prioritised the need to identify those most vulnerable to or already on the path to violence and to steer them down a non-violent path. In recent years, they have emerged in different local contexts, in some cases city-led and managed. In some contexts they aim to prevent a variety of social harms (including extremist violence), in others they are narrowly focused on P/CVE. Different labels have been used for these mechanisms, such as “situation tables” (Canada), “info-houses” (Denmark), “safety houses” (the Netherlands), “partner tables” (Belgium), Anchor teams (Finland) and “Channel panels” (the United Kingdom).

As reflected in the OSCE guide on the topic, although there is no one-size-fits-all approach to the design and operationalisation of a referral mechanism, it is typically a multiagency and/or multidisciplinary programme, platform, or initiative that has a number of common features.

  • It includes representatives from a range of city or other government agencies and CSOs from across different disciplines, for example, including education, health, social welfare, housing, youth, sports, and, if appropriate, police; 
  • It receives referrals from community or family members, front-line workers and government officials, of individuals identified as most vulnerable to, or on the path to engaging with hate- or extremist- motivated (or other forms of) violence but who have not committed to violence;
  • It assesses the risks, needs, vulnerabilities and protective factors of the referred individual to determine the appropriate course of action; and It designs, delivers, monitors, and evaluates individually tailored interventions or support plans that address the needs and vulnerabilities of those deemed most at risk of or vulnerable to becoming violent and helps steer them down a peaceful path. 

In the hate and extremism prevention space, these processes can offer concerned family members or peers an alternative to calling the police and potentially risking immediate and heavy-handed security action. They can facilitate the early involvement of a range of professionals who might be well-placed “to deliver an effective and preventive intervention because they have particular competence, expertise, perceived credibility or legitimacy that the police … do not possess”. 

Their effectiveness relies on the commitment, skill and experience of the practitioners involved with the referred individual. It also depends on the level of trust among the different professionals and agencies involved in the mechanism, and between those professionals and agencies and the relevant local communities. Since such mechanisms need to rely heavily on front-line workers, service providers and community-based organisations, while enabling cooperation among them, local governments can play central roles in supporting and managing them. 

Considerations for Cities 

Types of Referral Mechanism 

Referral mechanisms can be operated by city employees, social/youth workers, local police, CSOs or almost any of the stakeholders and services discussed throughout this Guide, provided that training is offered and there is a robust ethical framework. They can ‘target’ a certain audience (for example families) or be open to the general public, including friends, neighbours, or colleagues. Self-referral is another possibility, especially where an individual actively seeks support to mitigate risks they have become exposed to, but lacks the resources, motivation, or confidence to do so entirely independently.

Examples of ways to make a referral

  • Telephone helpline
  • Website reporting mechanisms
  • Mobile applications
  • Institutional ‘signposting’ (where a local institution or service provider raises a concern or directs individuals to an appropriate service)

Risks/challenges associated with different methods of referral

  • Stigmatisation
  • Data security and personal information See Information-sharing systems: 5 top tips in Chapter 3
  • Fear of criminalisation
  • Improper use or abuse to serve political or other ends
  • Requires 24/7 staffing
  • Tech-based platforms require maintenance, updates and added security for data protection. They also will not suit everybody, where familiarity, access, language and other issues pose barriers.

Overall, any referral mechanism should: 

  • Rely on context-specific local research and include factors linked to the targeted population;
  • Consult with local professionals and practitioners, including for the purposes of relying on multiple sources of information;
  • Take into account the wider political and social contexts;
  • Account for protective and resilience factors, as well as for extremism-related risks;
  • Be informed by and linked to available interventions and
    support services.

    Source: OSCE, Understanding Referral Mechanisms (2019)

Avoiding Stigmatisation

The basic goal of any referral system is to collect information about individual cases and the nature of the concerns that have been raised. This requires the identification of some basic indicators (for example, what should be considered a sign of potential vulnerability to extremist-motivated violence?). Identifying and answering these questions (a) requires consultation with and input from a multi-stakeholder team and may require additional professional input and (b) will determine the key areas in which the referral mechanism may risk causing or exacerbating stigmatisation. One way to reduce stigmatisation is to focus on objective behavioural signs, rather than personality characteristics. Any referral mechanism should avoid targeting specific religious or political groups or ideologies. Referred individuals should not be portrayed as potential criminals or security threats but should, at the very least at the first stage of assessment, be regarded as vulnerable individuals in need of help and support to avoid causing themselves and others harm. 

Screening and Assessment

Once an individual has been referred, the first step will generally be a screening ahead of a full assessment. An initial screening enables basic verification of the details included in the referral and an assessment of suitability and relevance for a referral. This enables signposting to other services in cases where an individual’s needs may be better addressed outside of the mechanism and triggers potential community engagement or other forms of intervention if needed. Individual cases that meet the eligibility indicators identified are then put forward for a full assessment, which should be conducted by a multi-stakeholder board or panel with different services/departments and professional expertise represented.

The assessment will determine to what degree the person is exposed to a particular risk, based on clear methodology and shared and objective indicators. The assessment should also serve to identify risk/vulnerability and protective factors, which will open avenues for potential intervention. Assessment tools come in all forms. Some of them are merely indicative, whereas others incorporate checklists or are more formalised and involve structured professional judgement. There is also significant variation in how easily transferrable these tools are to new contexts. 

Keeping in mind that no such tool can ever be perfect, it is crucial to select or develop assessment tools that practitioners and professionals feel comfortable with. The assessment should inform the type of intervention as well as the best-placed intervention provider, either a particular service or profession and/or a specific individual. It is also critically important to mitigate possible harms during assessments (to individuals and communities but also, by association, to the integrity of and trust in a city’s approach) and to understand the risks, needs and strengths of different approaches

Types of Intervention

Hate, extremism and polarisation are complex, social phenomena that cannot be reduced to one area of risk or set of causes alone. The interplay between different risk factors and potential causes, or drivers, is as important as the context in which they develop. Interventions must therefore be multidisciplinary and based on strong cooperation between different services, agencies, departments, or stakeholders,
and involve a cooperative approach. 

Cities with individual intervention models that contributed to this Guide felt it important to emphasise that, in most cases, addressing hate, extremism and polarisation is not intrinsically different from dealing with other social issue. The intervention provider will address these issues in line with their professional practice and while there may be specialised training or background needed to approach a particular case (for example, trauma-informed care or how to recognise extremist symbols), the basic approach and activities will often remain consistent. 

In this respect, it was felt that most cases benefitted from cities incorporating the challenges of hate, extremism and polarisation into existing professional approaches, rather than creating a new profession or model entirely. 

Intervention programmes can take different forms, based on particular and recurring needs and priorities, but also based on available resources at the local level. The following options, or a combination thereof, were highlighted by cities as common areas
of intervention.

  • Social/youth work: the intervention will focus on living conditions, education, social integration, access to training and employment, etc; 
  • Mentorship: the intervention will be based on a personal and fully agreed relationship between a mentor and a mentee;
  • Psychology and psycho-social support: the intervention will focus on psychological wellbeing and state of mind, but only rarely psychiatric disorders; it will simultaneously address the influence that different social environments can have on the individual’s physical and mental health; and 
  • Family: the aim of the intervention is either to support a family and parents in fostering caring and educational environments or to address a risk identified within a family setting.


  • Interventions should address something that matters to individuals/families;
  • Interventions should be supportive, facilitate dignity and avoid stigma;
  • Interventions should be mindful of ‘unintended consequences’.

Source: IIJ Training Curriculum: Developing Multi-Actor P/CVE Intervention
Programmes – Implementing a Whole-of-Society, ‘Do No Harm’ Approach

A key challenge that many cities raised was that most individual interventions at the secondary prevention level are based on voluntary participation. This requires investment from the individual themselves to engage in the intervention and for the individual to see the value of engaging in the first place. It also requires interventions to meet the needs and expectations of the individual themselves requiring additional, thorough assessment. Understanding what will motivate an individual or family to participate is key, as is ensuring that people are not overloaded by too many interventions and that the intensity of an intervention corresponds to the level of risk posed.

Supporting Existing Mechanisms

Cities may choose not to establish their own referral mechanism, perhaps in an effort to avoid duplication with a national one or perhaps because they lack a sufficient mandate to develop one. Alternatively, they may focus on leveraging an existing mechanism and integrating aspects of preventing hate and extremism into structures already addressing different harms (e.g., sexual violence, people trafficking or wider crime prevention).

Even when cities are not developing or leveraging mechanisms at local or regional levels, they can often play an important role in promoting national mechanisms, building trust in them, and combating mis/disinformation and conspiracy narratives relating to them. A number of countries have general crime prevention hotlines, with a growing number (including Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany and Luxembourg) having put in place dedicated helplines for concerns around hate and extremism. 

Safety House Model, The Netherlands: In the Netherlands, “Safety Houses” are local networks that bring together municipal representatives, the police, community-based organisations and others to discuss and jointly develop programmes to address different community safety concerns. While originally focused on broader crime prevention, the model expanded to include extremism prevention following the departure of several Dutch citizens to join ISIS. 

In some contexts the choice may not be limited to either local or national mechanisms; there are also examples of regional mechanisms.

In British Columbia, Canada, rather than setting up a programme in different cities across the geographically expansive territory, the provincial government set up a single programme (Shift-BC) to support the secondary prevention requirements of cities and their residents across the province. On an as-needed basis, the province – through its Department of Public Safety, and with funding from the federal government – connects individuals who may be at risk of extremist-motivated violence with local counselling, social services, or other tools. The programme also provides training to psychosocial and other relevant service providers across the province who work with those referred to them by Shift. As reflected in the IIJ Training Curriculum, this approach may have “appeal where resources and capacities are limited, and the expected caseload may not warrant investing in standing mechanisms in different parts of the country, state, or province.”

If a central government has already opened a hotline or website to collect referrals, a city might also provide additional support and information to concerned families or individuals. This may be helpful when a party is hesitant or unsure about making a referral and wants to receive advice short of actually making the referral. In such cases, avoiding overlap and making very clear the distinction between the two services and what the city is responsible for is imperative. 

Depending on demand, there may also be a need to support a twin approach that combines government-administered and CSO-administered hotlines and other mechanisms. This might cater both to those people who feel more comfortable contacting a government hotline and to those who prefer speaking to a non-governmental, community-led one.

Tertiary prevention 

Tertiary prevention programming typically targets individuals who have radicalised to violence (including but not limited to terrorist offenders) and possibly their families, as well as those who, for various reasons, have not entered the prison system but who may demonstrate some level of support for hate-or extremist-motivated violence. This includes returning foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) who, for one reason or another are not prosecuted, and their family members. 

This type of prevention work, which generally focuses on enabling the rehabilitation and reintegration (R&R) of the individual into their community, often occurs in a prison or probation setting or directly in the community. Although secondary and tertiary prevention programmes have different targets and goals, they share a number of common elements, e.g., religious, psychosocial, family counselling, sports and culture, job training and placement, housing and mentoring interventions, and thus can involve the same types of professionals and practitioners. 

As in secondary prevention, the intended beneficiaries of tertiary prevention measures are likely to have a diversity of needs and vulnerabilities; as such, a single practitioner or institution is unlikely to be able to address them all. Thus, as with secondary prevention, a coordinated, multi-stakeholder approach is required, albeit one where the practitioners and organisations involved will likely need specialised training needed to work with a cohort that is more likely to pose a security risk or has suffered from trauma more than that those with whom they typically work.  

Yet, despite these similarities, examples of city-led tertiary prevention efforts are few and far between. Instead, national law enforcement and other security actors have generally been the primary actors in this sphere. 

This is due to a number of factors including: 1) the heightened security risks that are typically associated with the targets of this type of prevention work; 2) the limited access local governments and local service providers generally have to this population, which in turn leaves them with limited experience in engaging with them and thus little added-value to show; and 3) because of the heightened national security sensitivities surrounding these individuals, central governments are more likely to view tertiary prevention (as opposed to primary and secondary prevention) as their exclusive responsibility. As such, the instances where local governments are either provided with or see themselves as having a mandate in this area are more limited than with other levels of prevention.

The Role of Cities in Tertiary Prevention

However, this is gradually changing as many countries are dealing with the return of citizens who had travelled to the conflict-stricken regions of Syria and Iraq to join the so-called Islamic State. While some can be prosecuted, the majority – some of whom may have been radicalised to violence and many of whom will have suffered significant trauma as a result of their experience, will return to the communities from which they originated. Their successful reintegration is now viewed as both a security and humanitarian imperative. It is one where local governments, for many of the same comparative advantages they offer in the secondary prevention space, are increasingly, seen as having an important role to play in the rehabilitation and reintegration of those returnees who do not end up in prison or those who are released after serving what are typically short sentences. 

For their part, national governments increasingly realise the need for local actors to become more involved in supporting the returnee process and are creating opportunities for them to contribute. 

As the practice of a number of cities demonstrates, local governments, if properly mandated, resourced and capacitated, can take on a range of responsibilities in a field where multiple stakeholders are involved; and enabling and sustaining coordination and cooperation among them is likely to be essential. 

For example, it can:

  • Serve as a point of contact for all relevant stakeholders (e.g., family members, service providers, members of the community, law enforcement, local government agencies);
  • Coordinate and/or contribute to a comprehensive assessment of the risks, needs and vulnerabilities of each targeted individual;
  • Establish and manage a network consisting of the varied stakeholders involved in the reintegration process, which can enable an efficient exchange of information and good practices among them, as well as the public;
  • Engage with local businesses, schools and families to mitigate the stigma that a returnee is likely to face as they try to reintegrate; 
  • Provide essential information and support to service providers involved in the process; 
  • Develop guidelines, drawing on international good practices, to inform the work of the different professionals and practitioners who are likely to be involved in supporting the individual targets of tertiary prevention interventions; and overall;
  • Bridge the gaps in mindsets between security actors and psychosocial providers, child protection workers, etc; 
  • Enable a cohesive multi-stakeholder approach by navigating between the relevant national and local frameworks; and
  • Create a robust support structure that aids the reintegration and rehabilitation of returnees back into the city, balancing their individual needs with the broader requirements of national security.

Special Considerations for Cities Looking to Engage in Tertiary Prevention: 

  • Heightened trauma: The beneficiaries are more likely to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other forms of trauma as a result of their exposure to violence and are typically further along the path to radicalisation to hate- or extremist-motivated violence.
    As a result, those involved in tertiary prevention programmes may require more specialised training and engagement on psychological, ideological, and theological issues than those working in prevention more broadly. 
  • Intensive/sustained support: Tertiary prevention targets returning to their communities (e.g., after serving time in prison or returning from a conflict zone) often will need more intensive and sustained support on a range of practical issues (e.g., housing, job, education) to facilitate their re-entry into society than those who are the targets of secondary prevention efforts. 
  • Increased stigma: Cities will need to be prepared to confront and mitigate the stigma these individuals may receive from the wider community and the potential for this not only to undermine reintegration efforts but encourage recidivism. As well as working with the communities receiving such individuals, cities can also do important work to engage local businesses, schools and the media in an effort to minimise stigmatisation and allow individuals not to be defined by their past behaviour. Unless mitigated, stigma has been shown to complicate efforts to enable individuals to access critical psychosocial, education, housing, financial and vocational support. 
  • Coordination with National Security Actors: Unlike in secondary prevention, some level of two-way information sharing or other coordination with national security actors is likely to be needed given the nature of the individuals targeted by tertiary prevention efforts. Thus, cities will need to navigate the general reluctance among the security services and the police to share what they view as sensitive information with the local government about the targets of tertiary prevention efforts. However, the inability to access such information could undermine the city’s ability to understand and thus address the needs and vulnerabilities of the targeted individual. 

City-Led R&R Efforts

The Hague, Netherlands works closely with a range of national agencies and civil society organisations on this topic has developed a “Returnee Manual”, a confidential document for all city-level and national stakeholders involved in managing returnees to the city. The document describes the municipal policy as well as actions that can be taken with regard to returnees. It focuses on the role of local actors but also places this within the national framework and the need for this work to be done in consultation with national stakeholders. 

This approach highlights the importance of national and local actors, including the city, having a common understanding of the overall approach to managing returnees and the roles and responsibilities of the relevant stakeholders involved. As such, it clarifies that the role of the city here is focused on overseeing the care for former violent extremism prisoners and the adults and minors who return to the city from Syria and Iraq but do not land in prison.

Berlin, Germany developed an R&R strategy which is based on a comprehensive whole-of-society approach and is overseen by a single point of contact embedded within the local government, who coordinates multiple actors – social workers, community-based organisations, police and others – to ensure the appropriate support is provided to returnees upon their arrival in Berlin. The strategy offers a long-term vision for R&R, recognising that the R&R process may take several years per individual.

Cërrik, Albania is the first city to pilot an R&R programme in its country, a few years before the initial national government-led repatriation. The local government worked closely with CSOs with experience in psychosocial support as well as the national government in coordinating R&R services. It approved individual plans for structured support based on the needs of families that returned to Cërrik. Additionally, the city provided safe spaces and facilitated additional in-kind support for the programming delivered by civil society and community-based organisations. 

Training and capacity building

Prevention is best achieved through a whole-of-society approach in which different actors can play their part effectively in support of the city’s plan or policy. This may require upskilling different actors through training and resources, especially for those whose role does not explicitly deal with preventing hate and extremism or who do not otherwise have any experience with it. To get the most out of their team and other contributing stakeholders, the city should identify specialised expertise and provide access to training and resources that help enhance:

Familiarity with hate, extremism and related threats to public safety, local democracy and social cohesion and understanding of how misinformation, disinformation and conspiracy narratives are fuelling them. This can include theoretical background and approaches as well as specific threats facing the city, such as Islamaphobia, anti-migrant, anti-LBGTQI+, anti-Semitic or other forms of hate, anti-establishment sentiments and the local dynamics that might contribute to extremist and hate-motivated violence.
The knowledge and skills needed to design, manage and evaluate prevention projects that follow a ‘do-no-harm’ approach. This is equally important for civil society and community actors who may seek support to run programmes in their communities. 

  • Familiarity with local and national strategic prevention frameworks and their role in supporting them. 
  • Processes for reporting and responding to potentially dangerous situations. 
  • Local government-led communication and engagement with the city’s residents, especially when working with potentially vulnerable individuals. 

Cities should keep in mind the need to ensure that training and other support are made available on an ongoing basis. That way each actor can build relevant skills and knowledge in a sustained way, rather than through single-day sessions, and stay up to date on new developments and approaches. 

Defining training needs

Recognising that specialist training may be needed to equip cities to tackle hate, extremism and polarisation is not to “exceptionalise” the topic. Rather, it recognises that while all stakeholders will apply a skillset to tackle any given problem in accordance with their professional background and the responsibilities of their role, there may be some specific gaps that need to be addressed when confronting these particular challenges.

These gaps should all be identified in the context of responsibilities outlined in a city’s local plan or framework, not just how much or how little a specific individual knows about prevention in general. Many gaps will likely also be identified through the initial mappings that are conducted; again, provided that such mapping is comprehensive and inclusive, it will continue to inform every aspect of a city’s prevention approach and needs.

General vs specific needs? 

There will likely be different levels of need for different stakeholders, depending on their professional background, existing competencies and role in the local approach. 

Some examples of general training needs expressed by cities include: 

  • Awareness raising around what prevention can entail, why cities are relevant and what other cities are doing and have learned;
  • Awareness of local threats and familiarisation with national strategy, if relevant; and
  • Background understanding related to different ideological aspects of extremism, polarisation and hate and key narratives and vulnerable groups.

These examples are intended to be illustrative, not exhaustive, and to demonstrate that cities will have more specific, specialist needs as well as more general gaps in the knowledge and capacities of different stakeholders.

Some examples of more specific training needs expressed by cities include: 

  • Gender sensitivity training;
  • Child protection;
  • Domestic violence and
    coercive behaviour;
  • Psycho-social support and
    individual mentoring;
  • Online harms, including understanding conspiracy narratives and mis/disinformation;
  • Referral systems, data protection and coordination mechanisms/protocols. 

Stamford (Connecticut), USA:Stamford Stands Against Racism” is a collective of human service and faith-based organisations that works with elected officials, the school district, the Police Department, and others to engage and create awareness about institutional racism, train members of the public and community groups on anti-racism curriculum and educate about social disparities and inequalities. Other groups include the Stamford Youth Mental Health Alliance, the Concerned Clergy, the Interfaith Council of Southwestern Connecticut, and Stamford Cradle to Career.  

Isiolo County, Kenya: To scale local prevention efforts, the County of Isiolo
arranged intensive training on prevention of hate and extremism for its multi-disciplinary Community Engagement Forum, which comprises county officials, education institutions, traditional and religious leaders, and civil society organisations. Training covered topics ranging from psychosocial support, how to monitor and evaluate activities, to how to engage the private sector on the
topic of hate and extremism prevention.

Seattle, Washington, USA, conducted city-wide training on preventing hate and polarisation in the workplace. The local government worked together with a think-tank to develop and deliver pilot trainings, after which feedback and other input were used to improve and introduce a new training programme. This also helped the city develop policy and practice improvement recommendations to address workplace polarisation.

Key Principles for Training and Capacity Building

  • Capacity building programmes should be based on actual needs and tailored to individual stakeholders. These needs should be identified in initial mappings but could potentially require further assessment.
  • The programmes should cover a range of topics that are relevant to a stakeholder’s role whether engaging at a community or individual level. This should include practical skill building related to the pursuit of multi-stakeholder models that support project management, communication, MEL and more.
  • Training should not be restricted only to ‘hard’ skills. Given the nature of extremism, polarisation and hate and the sensitivity and nuances that need to be understood when engaging on these issues, it should also involve an examination of preconceived notions, unconscious bias and assumptions.
  • Although there may be a need to make certain training mandatory, in general all training is usually more effective when participation is voluntary, and the person being trained is invested in its outcomes.
  • Where appropriate, local governments should leverage existing international good practices and build on lessons from other cities.
  • Training should incorporate, where possible, practical exercises that enable participants to connect knowledge and skills to real-life application. Such approaches should be targeted to address specific issues that stakeholders are likely to encounter, rather than employing a generalised training curriculum. This should include interactive learning tools such as tabletop exercises that test participants’ knowledge and skills and support them to apply them critically.
  • Each stakeholder should be considered individually to provide the training they need to play their particular role, and collectively to promote a cooperative approach in which each role reinforces the efforts of the others. 
  • Where possible, cities should adapt existing capacity building tools and models to meet prevention needs, rather than creating dedicated curricula from scratch. 
  • Local governments should consider opportunities to partner with civil society, private sector and multilateral organisations that specialise in prevention training to fill gaps.
  • Cities should invest in ‘train-the-trainer’ models that are scalable and can be adapted to local and hyper-local needs to enhance sustainability and maximise reach.

Note: this advice includes guidance from the NLC Implementation Toolkit

Training providers

In many cases, individual agencies, departments, or organisations will be responsible for procuring/delivering training to their own employees. When it comes to addressing some of the particular dynamics of prevention, it may be useful to open training sessions to professionals from different backgrounds (e.g., local/city administration, central government agencies, CSOs, faith groups, youth/community centres, sports clubs, etc.) This could be a helpful way to break down institutional barriers and build trust by allowing different actors to share a common experience and offer insights reflecting their different positions.

Cities are unlikely to develop training resources themselves. Instead, local officials can work with experts to identify and adapt existing resources or commission new ones to be created that are specifically tailored to support the different stakeholders in their city.

Not everyone is equipped to be a trainer and for some needs, very specialist professional qualifications and experience will be needed. 

Nonetheless, here are some basic distinctions among types of training provided: 

  • In-house training: a professional from within the city administration, maybe following a train-the-trainer programme, can offer the training. 
  • External trainer: cities should consider, funding permitted, issuing a call for proposals (or any similar procedure) to select the most qualified trainer, based on specified criteria. If funding is unavailable, they should work with partners, such as civil society organisations, national government and/or the international donor community to identify and procure experts to address capacity gaps. 
  • Local government associations: these exist in many countries, with one of their functions often being to organise and/or deliver training activities. The South African Local Government Association, for example, invests in significant learning opportunities for South African cities on violence prevention. For example, it encourages local governments to engage with Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading, which brings cities together with a focus on implementation of interventions in crime hotspots.

Peer experience: depending on the needs, a city may want to build on what other cities have already learned. Expertise held by other cities might be helpful and can be accessed through Strong Cities and other partners. 

For example, after Strong Cities workshop, representatives from Busia, Kenya organised a learning visit to the City of Cape Town, South Africa focused on their recently launched prevention framework and how they have integrated this with their broader crime prevention efforts. In addition, Dialogues for Urban Change has facilitated a partnership between four cities in both South Africa and Germany to share learnings on how urban planning and design can contribute to safety and security.

When cities or organisations need to train a significant number of professionals, train-the-trainer programmes – where a smaller group of participants are equipped to deliver the training to a wider audience, maximising reach – may be a good model to adopt. 

In delivering prevention, cities will very likely need to face specific issues that pose heightened sensitivities or difficulties for interventions. The areas highlighted below are far from exhaustive but were among the top issues raised by cities consulted for this Guide.

Engaging with historically marginalised or hard-to-reach groups

Exclusion and marginalisation offer fertile ground for hate, extremism and polarisation and make specific groups particularly vulnerable. While this makes them important target groups for secondary prevention, they are by definition more difficult to engage. Such exclusion can also be a two-way process: if a group is marginalised consistently over a long time period, they may end up self-excluding and resorting to their own mechanisms for support outside the services provided by a city. Trust is likely to be extremely limited, if there is any. The following key learnings in particular were highlighted by cities for such engagement:

Engage via a trusted intermediary or third party who may be able to mediate engagement based on an understanding of the needs and perspectives of both the city and the marginalised group. This could be a civil society organisation, or another trusted stakeholder with credibility in the eyes of the group.

Invest in building long-term relationships with such groups that exist separately from any specific intervention around security or hate, extremism and polarisation. Cities need to engage communities in good faith, not merely to gather information about threats. Historically marginalised groups that hold longstanding feelings of exclusion need to feel valued and validated rather than viewed only as a potential threat, which would likely just reinforce perceptions of exclusion and/or discrimination.

Remember that the objective of trust building exercises is not necessarily for all parties to agree. Instead, it may be more important for all parties to hear and understand each other’s perspective, establish common goals and open up a safe space for dialogue. 

Balancing immigration, refugees and other new arrivals with social cohesion

Cities are places where new people arrive all the time; their diversity and growth can be a valuable asset in building a respectful, tolerant and inclusive society. At the same time, the challenge of welcoming significant numbers or responding to sudden refugee or displacement crises can stretch services and resources and create challenges with integration and social cohesion, especially where resentments build, tensions grow, and volatile situations are manipulated or inflamed by those sowing division and hate or fanning polarisation by spreading disinformation and conspiracy narratives. Some key learnings from cities experienced in managing such difficulties include: 

  • Establishing welcoming plans and/or committees and identifying induction and activities like familiarisation with local services and institutions as well as cultural and religious dialogues.
  • Prioritise language provision, which can mitigate the risk of exclusion and marginalisation and empower newcomers to engage more with a city’s services as well as with other communities.
  • Offer wider education, training and employment support, or identify partners that can.
  • Develop public communication and awareness raising on the benefits of immigration as well as tackling prejudices and discrimination.
  • Recognise that integration is a two-way process: newcomers must have a desire and a motivation to integrate into a new society or community, but the welcoming community must also be willing to accommodate the newcomers and may need to better understand cultural and religious norms
    as well as the circumstances and needs of different groups.

Supporting social cohesion and welcoming new arrivals: city examples

Communication & Addressing
Misinformation & Disinformation

Bilbao, Spain has a section dedicated to “Awareness and Social Impact” in its Third Intercultural City Plan, which recognises that no integration or inclusion strategy is complete without efforts to actively address all forms of intolerance and discrimination. The Plan therefore commits to sensitisation and awareness campaigns (delivered via social and traditional media) to dispel anti-migrant narratives and otherwise promote tolerance and “positive narratives” about the “advantages of diversity”.

The city also produced a documentary and publications to highlight the key roles of migrants (with a focus on migrant women) in enriching the city, presenting them as “professionals, leaders, thinkers, politicians and entrepreneurs”, and thus addressing anti-migrant narratives that claim they only burden (rather than contribute to) a city’s social and economic landscape.


Bratislava, Slovakia, set up a Crisis Centre to support and integrate incoming Ukrainian refugees. The centre coordinates local NGOs, local police and national agencies to deliver substantial support to deal with the crisis. 

Columbus, Ohio, USA launched the New American Initiative to help refugees and immigrants who move to Columbus have immediate access to city services and programmes to help them settle into their new home faster and become “productive and equitable residents.” 


Wroclaw, Poland, has taken various measures to support refugees and promote social cohesion. It has established an Integration Centre which leads migrant integration by partnering with 140+ government and civil society organisations to provide its services. It is the key body which supports the integration of Ukrainian refugees.

When the influx of refugees happened, they supported the registration of children in schools, providing housing and social services and where necessary humanitarian assistance. However, the Centre also has regular services it provides to all migrants at no cost, such as Polish language classes. Additionally, the local government also established a Centre for Social Development to promote social cohesion, support migrants and refugees, address hate, polarisation and disinformation and facilitate inter-cultural dialogue. It cooperates with community-based organisations from all over the city to run activity centres in 22 neighbourhoods.

On refugees and migration, the Centre operates an online platform WroMigrant which is designed to meet the needs of foreigners, who encounter various types of formal and legal difficulties, language and cultural barriers, hindering their functioning in everyday life.

Further Case Studies: Migration & Refugees

Koboko, Uganda is a border town in Uganda that hosts a high number of Congolese and South Sudanese refugees. In the past, the city experienced tensions and violence between local communities and refugees, partly caused by the impact of changing demographics on critical infrastructure and access to services, as well as disputes over land given to refugees.

To address this challenge, Koboko did the following:

  • It first made an explicit effort to map out the concerns and needs of both refugees and host communities. 
  • It then used its needs mapping to develop and implement a number of projects focused on the integration of refugees in all aspects of the city: social, economic, cultural, etc. This included building a trauma centre offering psychosocial support to refugees, as well as building additional schools, markets and sanitation facilities to ensure each refugee had access to basic services. 
  • To sustain this effort, the city then offered training in entrepreneurship and support with seed capital to help refugees start their own businesses and thus contribute to and feel part of the local job market. 

Importantly, throughout these efforts, the city emphasised inclusion through ensuring that services and support are equally offered to refugees and long-time residents.

Sousse, Tunisia, an affluent coastal urban centre, has experienced a significant influx of internal rural-to-urban migrants, further compounded by a recent surge in new arrivals. This influx of newcomers has placed immense strain on the city’s capacity to provide even the most basic living essentials to all its residents, including adequate housing. As a result, the emergence of informal housing, high rates of school dropouts, and unemployment in these disadvantaged areas have become a pressing concern.

The city has implemented a number of initiatives to address these challenges, and to ensure both new arrivals and long-time residents are receiving the services they need. Firstly, Sousse partnered with the IOM and National Office for Family and Population to deploy a mobile unit that is able to provide immediate, hands-on support in communities with high volumes of migrants, and to raise awareness of the services and support (both by the local government and IOM as an international partner) available to them. 

Partnership with the National Office for Family and Population also resulted in the development of resources on migration for both new arrivals and service providers. This includes the creation of a referral mechanism, “cheat sheet” that outlines the agencies/stakeholders responsible for different types of service provisions for migrants. 

Separately, the city has launched awareness campaigns through which it is dispelling anti-migrant narratives and established a “migrant orientation desk” that serves as a dedicated resource for social integration. The Sousse has also advocated strongly for the national government to recognise and support the role of local governments in managing migration challenges, earning it the title of “A Solidary City, with Migrants, Refugees, and Asylum Seekers”.

Managing protests and balancing free speech against public safety

The fundamental human right to protest and challenge authority can be undermined and abused by those who stoke hate, extremism and polarisation and aim to enact or incite violence. As the sites of protests and sometimes their direct targets, cities face these challenges particularly when applied to physical gatherings and demonstrations. Working closely with central governments and police, cities are often required to identify and then uphold the subtle balance between free speech and public safety. 

A clear and simple point of reference is Article 5 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR): “Nothing in the present Covenant may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms recognised herein or at their limitation to a greater extent than is provided for in the present Covenant.” The Article provides that no individual’s rights extend to the right to infringe upon the rights of others, providing an indicator of where the line is crossed and public safety may be at risk in the example of a protest or demonstration. 

Managing organised rallies and opening communication with organisers, as well as those of any counter-demonstrations, should be pursued from the outset with lines of dialogue and negotiation made clear. Such engagement should set behavioural expectations and explain why the activity is taking place. Similarly, community engagement and outreach should be conducted with all groups affected by the demonstration, including any specific groups that are targeted by those protesting.

Cities need to be aware of groups that may take advantage of the planned march or demonstration to further their own agenda, including via social media. 

Local governments should be mindful of the risks that counter-protests can create, underscoring the need to avoid having the two events in proximity to one another. On policing, cities consulted felt that the goal is for law enforcement not to make the situation worse and therefore, while a visible police presence should be limited during a march, police need to be on site should something go wrong.

Crisis response

Cities invest in prevention in the hope that they will be less likely to suffer violence and terrorist-related attacks and incidents. Yet they must also recognise that the worst can happen and they must then be ready to respond. Responding after an attack and supporting victims of terrorism or hate crimes require anticipation and preparation. 

In the case of a large-scale terrorist attack, training is considered by some to be of limited use: most practitioners will be trained at a certain point in time, for an event that may take place years later, or may never happen. When they must react, they may have forgotten their training entirely, or they may be (understandably) too stressed or otherwise immobilised to react adequately or quickly enough. Exercises and simulations are often considered more useful forms of training, either in table-top or in real life format. This includes building networks and connections between practitioners, agencies and institutions relevant to response, agreeing on respective roles and responsibilities, and stress-testing cooperation in different scenarios. For more on training and capacity building in general, see Chapter 3.

Preparation should take place in times of peace and not in times of crisis. When something occurs, cities need to have crisis management plans and procedures already in place. Preferably, these plans and procedures should be formalised and updated regularly. The line of command should be clear, even if national government agencies will likely take the lead in a particular case. 

In the immediate aftermath, and depending on the incident, the role of a city might be restricted to providing logistical support and adequate facilities. Beyond this, issuing clear public communications, public safety notices and reaching out to communities will likely be an area of support. A distinct role for mayors and local leaders may also be appropriate (see Strong Cities Mayoral Guide for more on this). Support for victims should be made available as early as possible to mitigate the long-term impact, and it should cover all the necessary fields: medical, psychological, social, legal, administrative, financial, etc. This support should be provided as much as possible by trained professionals, given the importance and the scale of the potential damage. 

After the crisis, cities face ongoing responsibilities for resilience, remembrance and renewed prevention. It is then essential to listen to all the victims and allow them to take key decisions on certain areas themselves (for example on the construction of a memorial site). Reconstruction is a long-term process and local communities can remain affected for years after an attack. 

Finally, cities are responsible for ‘helping the helpers’ by protecting and safeguarding local practitioners and responders, starting with their own staff. They should offer care and support, including mental health services, as needs determine. Some practitioners will probably have to be prompted to seek help as they may not realise the psycho-traumatic impact of the incident.

For more on this, see Strong Cities Response Toolkit.

Monitoring, evaluation and learning

MEL is not only a necessity for resource mobilisation or justifying continued investment in a city’s prevention efforts. More fundamentally, it is a set of actions and considerations that a city can incorporate into the planning and delivery of activities to understand whether they are working as intended. Effective MEL should determine whether identified objectives are being supported and expected outcomes met, in order to determine the impact interventions are having and how an approach might be altered or improved in light of this information. Cities should develop and follow a process for MEL, using results to strengthen the strategic coherence and impact of their overall approach. 

Local governments should also incorporate MEL into their P/CVE programs and support mechanisms to understand and demonstrate impact. MOPAC’s Shared Endeavor Fund in London, UK is one such example. Currently in its fourth round, it has provided almost £3 million of funding for CSOs across London. This kind of funding is critical for the sustainability of community-led hate and extremism prevention efforts, and to ensure they can sustain this kind of support, MOPAC commissioned an external evaluation of the Fund. An independent evaluator worked with each of the grantees to evaluate their projects, using a standardised suite of data collection tools to assess their impact. The findings were published in a public report at the end of each round (see Call One and Call Two reports). These evaluation reports showcase the importance of supporting civil society and community-based P/CVE and have provided critical learnings both for improving the performance of the Fund for each round and the field more broadly, as it covers a broad range of approaches and offers key takeaways for organising local funding schemes.

Similaly, the State of New South Wales (NSW), Australia has developed and launched the Community Partnership Action (COMPACT) Programme to strengthen community resilience and social cohesion. Established following the Martin Place siege in Sydney in December 2014, the initative has supported more than 60 grassroots community organisations, charities, NGOs, private sector partners and other relevant local stakeholders and empowered more than 50,000 young people to contribute to social cohesion. COMPACT has been independently evaluated as “first of its kind” based on a detailed programmatic Theory of Change. One of its key recommendations is to maintain investment in evaluation to ensure that the long-term outcomes of initatives are assessed and any impact on communities sustained.. To that end, COMPACT projects are reviewed frequently and evaluation findings discussed at a regular peer-learning forums to ensure that lessons are integrated into future delivery.

Applying MEL to Cities

Although practical guidance on MEL may be more obviously applicable to individual programmes and other activities, the information presented below is equally applicable to the coordination mechanisms and specific intervention frameworks that cities already have in place or may want to develop. For both activities and systems, goals should be identified and impact needs to be understood. The steps presented here can be followed regardless of what a city is trying to measure or assess, provided consideration is given to different types of indicators.

There are a number of resources available to inform and guide MEL approaches, including several related to preventing hate, extremism and polarisation

The majority are developed with a non-governmental audience in mind to inform project design and measurement of results. Despite often being developed for CSOs, NGOs, development contractors and international agencies, much of the technical learning applies equally to developing approaches to city-led prevention. Arguably the emphasis on sustainability, institutionalisation, local ownership and the cycle of incorporating learnings to adjust implementation may take on additional importance for cities where, regardless of resource availability and changes in political direction or broader policy, communities will continue to feel the impact, knock-on effects, or lack of success of prevention efforts in the longer term.


Monitoring: refers to “the task of ensuring that activities are completed on time and within a prescribed budget and plan. It is the assessment of progress toward project implementation – the completion of key activities for intended beneficiaries, implementers, and partners – and the measurement of quantitative outputs such as
the number of participants engaged in the activities”
(See Source)

Evaluation: refers to “the assessment of whether project activities collectively achieved the objectives as intended or planned, and as articulated in a Theory of Change. Inherent to any effective evaluation effort is a clear understanding of the project objectives, the development of measurable and specific indicators, and access to reliable and relevant data”. (See Source)

Develop a Theory of Change

At a basic level, a Theory of Change identifies what is expected to change as a result of an intervention and how this change can be expected to be achieved. It can be presented in narrative format, most simply as an ‘if, then, because’ statement explaining what effect certain actions, outputs and outcomes will have and how they will combine to achieve a stated goal. This narrative is typically accompanied by a diagram, or logic model, which depicts the pathways of change arising from an intervention and will structure and guide how a city measures results across its effort(s). Although there are few limits to the amount of detail or technical complexity of such theories and models, it should be remembered that transparency and engagement, especially with non-specialist community stakeholders, is an important broader principle in a city’s approach. Simpler models may aid this and ultimately serve more ends. Cities also may not need a comprehensive model of a one-off activity or isolated initiatives and resources. Time and technical expertise should be expected to be limited for many cities and therefore impact practical feasibility. 

The Theory of Change diagram should identify different levels of change, as well as the inputs, assumptions and environmental factors which may influence a city’s ability to achieve such change. Inputs are the financial and human resources, equipment and staff training that enables the delivery of particular activities. Groups of activities should then be listed that together form a few key ‘outputs’, i.e. the direct products or services that stem from an intervention. These are the most immediate results of an intervention and are often quantitative (e.g., the number of people engaged in a particular activity or the number of people in a particular target group reached by a specific communication campaign). They can also capture the relevance and usefulness of trainings or other activities, as perceived
by beneficiaries. 

‘Outcomes’ are the next stage of change, typically but not exclusively visualised in a hierarchical or pyramid format and focus on what happened as a result of the outputs and what change has been achieved. In the short-term, outcomes typically consist of changes in knowledge, awareness and attitudes, and in the mid-term, changes in behaviour, practice or performance. 

Finally, a goal or impact level should be identified, which an intervention can reasonably expect to contribute towards in the long-term as a result of successfully meeting the combined outcomes. At every stage, other layers and intermediate steps may also be identified, depending on the complexity or scope of the intervention or what may be required by donors and other partners. 

As well as establishing a causal relationship between the action taken and what it is expected to achieve, or the impact anticipated from an intervention(s), a Theory of Change should identify key causal assumptions and environmental factors that may influence a city’s ability to achieve change. For example, a causal assumption might be made that individuals/groups targeted for secondary interventions are themselves invested in the intervention. If they are motivated and want help and support because they see the merits of engaging, the initiative is more likely to achieve results than if they are non-compliant or only attending and engaging for another reason (for example, to meet conditions of employment support). This example will be all the more pertinent where, as discussed, such interventions are likely to depend on voluntary participation. Equally, environmental conditions such as a stable political environment or the presence of family or other support networks might be identified as factors that permit an intervention in the first place or otherwise give it a better or worse chance of success. These should be factors outside of a city’s control.

For more guidance on developing a Theory of Change and for developing a results framework, see this guide from Global Affairs Canada.

Develop a results framework including indicators and data collection methods

A results framework (or logframe) is typically presented as a table that lists the various levels of change (i.e., outputs and outcomes) identified in a Theory of Change and then outlines the ways in which a city will be able to demonstrate that the threshold for success has been met (indicators), as well and the data collection methods employed. 

Typical data collection methods that cities consulted had employed include surveys, interviews, focus group discussions and direct measurement. Cities should also consider the range of existing data they already collect (for example, user data for specific services, or existing indices and census data) and how they can be relevant to the indicators identified. For more on leveraging existing data, see Chapter One. For a list of indicators already developed specifically for the P/CVE field, see the UNDP Indicator Bank

Two important points on indicators and data collection should be emphasised in particular: 

  • Wherever possible, establish ‘baseline’ data (showing the results for the relevant indicator before any intervention is made) so that the magnitude or nature of change following intervention can be assessed. 
  • For outcome-level change in particular, aim to identify longitudinal changes and consider collecting data at different intervals (e.g., immediately following a given output, three months later, six months later, etc.) and recognise that attitudinal and behavioural change is complex, multi-faceted and
    takes time.

Triangulating the data

The data identified in a results framework may give only a partial picture of the breadth and nature of changes – positive, negative and unexpected – achieved by the intervention(s). Capturing other ways to understand impact could be important to tell the full story. For example, a city might want to identify individual success stories, profile particular experiences, or even ask participants to maintain a video diary or other journal. Anecdotal, informal or testimonial data is still valid, provided subjectivity is acknowledged and any findings are not presented as representative. For more on data collection and analysis, see this guide from INTRAC.

Invest in MEL

Many cities shared that they felt either themselves or partners engaged in local activities had previously treated MEL as an afterthought and merely a technical requirement for funding mechanisms. A key learning expressed by many was the need to invest dedicated time and resources in MEL – from design, data collection and analysis to learning – throughout the lifecycle of their prevention interventions. This recognises that MEL efforts can and should influence how cities engage and potentially prompt changes to their approach is critical. In addition to planning and resource requirements, basic steps such as building in time during activities and follow-up for data collection and carrying out surveys, for example, is also a tangible improvement that cities felt could be made to their approaches. For one of the best-recognised guides to the full MEL process, see the World Bank’s Ten Steps to a Results-Based Monitoring and Evaluation System. For guidance tailored to a hate, extremism and polarisation context, see this toolkit from UNDP and International Alert.

Share learnings

Analysing the data collected is not the endline objective in itself. The analysis should not only shed light on whether an initiative is generating impact or are otherwise on-track but should also elicit learnings and other findings that might inform alterations to the approach and improve overall performance. Ensuring that learnings are shared with all involved in order to maintain a feedback loop where results constantly inform practice is essential. 

Beyond this, sharing the learnings and results from a city’s MEL activities with wider audiences, including where possible, community stakeholders and the wider public, also serves the wider aim of increasing transparency, openness and public engagement – all valuable objectives of city-
led prevention efforts.

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Strong Cities Network A Guide For Cities


Last updated: 13/09/2023

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