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A Guide for Mayors: Preventing and Responding to Hate, Extremism & Polarisation

Last updated:
19/05/2024
Publication Date:
13/09/2023
Content Type:

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Chapter 2: Prevention

The most impactful role a mayor can play in addressing hate and extremism in their city is through prevention – pursuing actions, policies and programmes that make a city and its residents – both long-time ones and new arrivals – more resilient and socially cohesive. 

Prevention requires a mayor to understand the vulnerabilities affecting their city, its different communities and the conditions that leave individuals or groups more susceptible to narratives of hate and extremism. This can include individual grievances or insecurities based on their own experiences or those of others in their community, as well as external pressure from hate- or extremist-driven narratives and individuals or groups that exploit these personal vulnerabilities to recruit individuals or radicalise them to violence. 

While a mayor alone cannot quell all the insecurities a person is facing, a mayor can take steps to address grievances they may be experiencing due to marginalisation, exclusion, discrimination or other injustice or structural inequalities. This can help make their city a place where everyone can find belonging.   

This chapter outlines strategies a mayor can pursue for preventing the spread of hate and extremism in their city and, more broadly, increasing their community’s resilience by inter alia:

  • Developing and promoting an inclusive identity in their city.
  • Communicating strategically and consistently to counter hate and extremism. Including by making it consistently clear what they and their administration stand for.
  • Shaping their city’s prevention objectives.
  • Building the capacities of critical prevention stakeholders.

What is prevention?

The prevention of hate and extremism includes the core elements elaborated on page 15 of this Guide: identifying and then addressing the underlying conditions and protecting ‘soft’ targets. 

Mayors have a role in each of these prevention-related areas and more. This includes: 

  • Championing appropriate strategies, policies and programmes. 
  • Directing relevant local
    government components. 
  • Engaging directly with local communities.
  • Mobilising resources and political will as they work to make their cities more resilient and cohesive.

Prevention measures should be considered complementary to security and criminal justice efforts and are typically led by civilian governmental departments and agencies, such as education, social services and public health, civil society, youth, the private sector and, in some cases, local police. The specific stakeholders and city departments involved will depend on the services and departments that fall under the jurisdiction of the given city, bearing in mind the multiple potential contextual differences that exist from one city to the next. It will also depend on the identified needs and vulnerabilities, the level of intervention required, and the methodological approach decided upon.

Prevention

Prevention measures typically operate at three levels: 

  1. Primary (community)
  2. Secondary (individuals identified as particularly vulnerable to becoming radicalised to hate- or extremism-motivated violence)
  3. Tertiary (individuals who have already committed to violence, including ones seeking to disengage from it)  

For many mayors, primary prevention, which allows them to leverage existing city service provision mandates, programmes and resources aimed at making communities more cohesive and resilient to hate and extremism (for example, ones related to education, housing, psychosocial care, recreation, culture and youth engagement), is likely to be the area in which they feel able to make the most difference. Through primary prevention, they can address the broader structural and societal issues that can create an enabling environment for extremism and hate to take root. 

Considerations for prevention

Addressing issues such as systemic discrimination, marginalisation, corruption and intercommunal tensions, while also strengthening social cohesion, good governance, accountability, trust, representation and transparency, are considered key components of prevention and response. Promoting and protecting human rights, gender sensitivity and ensuring that measures do no harm should be fundamental principles for prevention interventions at any level. Considering the complex and multifaceted nature of how hate, extremism and polarisation affect a community, prevention measures should also aim to be multidisciplinary and whole-of-society in approach. 

A city is unlikely to need to create new infrastructure, develop new policies or hire external professionals to be able to deliver prevention or response initiatives. Despite the sensitivities and in some cases the specificity of risks related to hate, extremism and polarisation, cities should not feel obliged to ‘exceptionalise’ prevention by setting it apart from the rest of what they do. In fact, prevention is in many cases more impactful, sustainable and participatory when it is considered a routine part of existing services in a way that encourages contribution and cooperation rather than fear and distrust. Finally, prevention should also be realistic and work for cities where resources are limited and there are daily competing priorities around basic service provision.  

Building an inclusive identity in your city

A mayor alone will be unable to address the feelings of marginalisation, exclusion and injustice that can make individuals in their city vulnerable to hateful and extremist narratives. For example, eliminating, let alone reducing, systemic discrimination and unconscious bias towards a particular religious, ethnic or other minority group is a long-term endeavour. It not only requires a whole-of-society approach but should be a continued focus that outlasts the tenure of any one mayor.

However, every mayor can contribute to this by making clear the values that the city stands for, such as equality, diversity, inclusivity, equity and openness. 

This includes committing to building an inclusive identity for the city to which all residents and communities feel a sense of connection. It involves creating opportunities for all to be active members of their communities and for grievances to be aired peacefully, while limiting the space for mistrust to manifest and, thus, for hate, extremism and polarisation to take root.

A mayor can lead the effort to build an inclusive city identity in many ways. Below are a few of the strategies that mayors shared with Strong Cities, which might have relevance to other local leaders.

Inclusive and social cohesion policies promote a sense of value and belonging among city residents regardless of their social, economic or political status. Through [such] policies, every city resident feels respected that they are part and parcel of the development policies of the city.

Representative, City of Zomba, Malawi 

Defining that we are a ‘welcoming city to everyone who calls Aurora home’ is the clearest statement that reflects inclusivity.

Mayor Mike Coffman, City of Aurora, Colorado, USA

By valuing diversity, promoting equal opportunities and ensuring participation from all groups, mayors create an environment where everyone feels valued and represented. This approach challenges divisive ideologies, fosters understanding and empathy, and creates a counter-narrative to extremism. By nurturing social resilience through dialogue and collaboration, mayors build networks of trust that can withstand and counteract extremist tactics. Ultimately, by embracing diversity and promoting inclusivity, mayors create cities united in shared values, preventing the spread of extremism and hate.

Representative, City of Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Institutionalise inclusion 

A mayor can lead the effort to demonstrate the city’s commitment to inclusion by promoting policies that provide for all its residents, whether long-time ones or new arrivals, and shaping the city into a place where different groups feel at home together. To do this, a mayor should consider policies and programmes that, inter alia:

Provide for all residents, especially those who have been historically, especially those who have been historically excluded. This can ease social tensions and help address grievances, which can fuel hate and extremism and make those who had felt left out previously feel cared for and more connected to the city. One way to do this is through inclusive urban planning that provides for all residents without creating or furthering segregation, and accounts for challenges posed by gentrification. For example, a mayor should consider a housing policy that not only provides homes for vulnerable populations but also incorporates low-income housing throughout the city in a way that guards against segregation. 

For example, Mayor Jan Vartiainen has led the city of Helsinki, Finland to assert its identity as an inclusive ‘smart city’, one that is sustainable, economically viable and where all its residents can be at ease. He is committed to making Helsinki a city “filled with places where people can be at ease, like parks or public libraries, where people can gather around whatever activities they want to have”. He is also working to make the city more inclusive through an intentional housing policy that not only helps people get housing who need it but is designed to reduce segregation and isolation. 

Facilitate integration and welcome new residents into the city, including those coming from other countries. Resources that help new arrivals find housing, understand how to access services and get connected with community activities can make it easier for them to settle in. Mayors should also consider providing language classes for those who are coming from other countries. 

In Columbus, Ohio, USA, Mayor Andrew Ginther launched the New American Initiative

to provide refugees and immigrants who move to Columbus with immediate access to city services and programmes to help them settle into their new home faster and become productive and equitable residents. A representative from Columbus told Strong Cities that, “as a Welcoming City, our central tenet is to strengthen the social cohesion of our large and growing diverse population. Through a myriad of city efforts, the core of our work is dependent upon engagement of community, religious and grassroots leadership and in fact help to train future community leaders through our New
American Initiative.”

Communicate inclusion 

Mayors should proatively use communications campaigns and activities to build and reinforce the narrative that the city is dedicated to inclusion. One way mayors have done so is by leading the development of a statement of inclusion for the city that asserts its values and commitment to not only including, but also celebrating, all residents in the city.

In Highland Park, Illinois, USA, nder the leadership of Mayor Nancy Rotering, the city has underscored its commitment to inclusion though its Statement Against Hate, which “unequivocally condemns any racist, misogynistic, antisemitic, anti-LGBT, ableist, or otherwise hate-motived groups or individuals who are threatening any form of violent acts, bigoted harassment on, or discrimination against our residents, visitors, or city staff”. The statement is a powerful tool for mayor and other city officials when responding to events that counter the city’s values.

In Podgorica, Montenegro, under the leadership of Mayor Olivera Injac, the city is developing a Strategy for the Protection of Human Rights to solidify its commitment to protecting human rights. They informed Strong Cities that the strategy seeks to enhance the city’s efforts to build an inclusive identity as it guides their continued efforts to further improve good practice, experiences and results in the field of human rights protection and the visibility of different social groups, especially those who face social marginalisation and discrimination.

A mayor should also consider how the city can prepare to communicate to reject antithetical ideas and condemn hateful incidents when necessary, making it clear those have no home in that city and cannot impact the city’s core values. This can be done through official statements, online messaging through social media, or standing in solidarity with those who have been targeted by hate, or in support of those who have stood up against it. 

When Ron DeSantis, Governor of Florida, USA introduced several bills targeting LGBTQ+ residents, eight Floridian mayors signed a pledge to support LGBTQ+ advocacy group GLSEN. Many have gone a step further, issuing city proclamations that promised to provide “safe learning environments that include and affirm all children”. In an interview with ABC News (USA), Mayor Harvey Ward of Gainesville, Florida explained: “I was elected to be mayor for every resident of Gainesville, and it is important to me that all our neighbours, particularly the youngest and most vulnerable, feel welcome and safe in our community.” 

An innovative example of communication through actions can be found in Dabrowa Gornicza, Poland. Following a xenophobic march in his city, Mayor Marcin Bazylak attended the judicial hearings of anti-hate protesters who faced charges for their demonstrations against the march. In an interview with Strong Cities, Mayor Bazylak explained that because the xenophobic march had been organised legally, he was unable to prevent it from taking place. He could, however, make a statement by attending the judicial hearings and making it clear that he and the city reject such xenophobia and instead stand for inclusion.  

Interview with Clarence Anthony. CEO of the National League of Cities

Demonstrate inclusion

Mayors should adopt policies that showcase the city’s commitment to inclusion. In addition to the strategies for institutionalising inclusion detailed above, mayors should seize upon opportunities to demonstrate the city’s commitment to inclusion responsively in the face of emerging challenges.

Mayors leading the charge to welcome refugees

In response to refugee crises in which many places have closed their doors to refugees, some mayors have made a point of welcoming displaced people and asserting their cities commitment to inclusivity.  

  • In New York City, Mayor Adams released The Road Forward: Blueprint to Address New York City’s Response to the Asylum Seeker Crisis in March 2023. The mayor’s plan includes a series of measures to help the city manage an influx of refugees and support them as they settle into the city. It includes the formation of a new Office for Asylum Seeker Operations (OASO), focused on resettlement, advocacy and legal services, as well as a pilot program to provide job training as asylum seekers await work authorisation, and a 24/7 arrival centre to replace port authority operations. 
  • In Poland, several mayors have made a concerted effort to welcome Ukrainian refugees displaced by Russia’s invasion of their cities. The mayors of Peremyshl, Rzeszow, Lublin and Chełm were recognised for their efforts with Ukrainian badges of honour, presented by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, designating them as ‘rescue cities’. 
  • In Zahony, Hungary, Mayor László Helmeczi has been personally involved in settling Ukrainian refugees in his small city of 4,000 people, carefully balancing the needs of his residents and those of the newly displaced people. In an interview with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), he explained: “From coordination to connections and to putting in extra work hours, municipality workers play an essential role in making all this happen. And, in the meantime, we’re also running a town.”
  • In Koboko, Uganda, as part of his commitment to making his city “a place for everyone”, Mayor Sanya Wilson established the South Sudanese Refugee Association, mandated to collate and relay the needs of refugees arriving from South Sudan to ensure the local government provides appropriate support. This active engagement with the city’s refugee population, driven by the mayor, has resulted in the development of a trauma centre to support their psychosocial recovery, and in trainings to empower them in the local job market. A similar community engagement forum is being established for the city’s Congolese diaspora.  
  • In Mardan, Pakistan, Mayor Himayatullah Meyer led the effort to settle 432,000 internally displaced people (IDP), mindful to provide for the basic needs of so many people without exacerbating polarisation in the city. In addition to providing shelter and basic services for the IDPs, the mayor also organised activities between the city’s new arrivals and its host population to promote mutual understanding and emphasise the ties between the two groups. He also continuously advocated for the IDP’s needs and rights to make it clear to the broader community why the city was providing support.  
Interview with Jacek Jaśkowiak, Mayor of Poznań, Poland

Celebrate inclusion

Mayors should organise or otherwise encourage public celebrations of holidays and events to bring people together. They should  be sure to include a representative selection of holidays that represents the cultures of all residents to showcase the city’s diversity and its commitment to inclusion, rather than obscuring it by only honouring those of the majority. 

Bangladesh has institutionalised its commitment to celebrating religious diversity. Mayors are encouraged to take an inclusive approach to celebrating religious holidays and the national government provides each mayor a dedicated budget to organise public celebrations honouring their residents’ religious holidays. The size of the budget and how it is used depends on the city’s population and it gives mayors the opportunity to celebrate the diversity of their city and reinforce its identity as an inclusive place where people of all faiths are not only welcome but are celebrated. These celebrations create regular opportunities for a city’s communities to come together, as residents will often join a wide range of celebrations, not only those honouring their own religion. 

Engender shared pride

Mayors should invest in opportunities to promote a shared local identity and pride in the city. For example, sports teams provide a rallying point for diverse communities within a city to come together psychologically and physically and can create positive recognition among those outside the city in which residents can take pride.  

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA succeeded in creating a new source of pride and connection when they brought a professional basketball team to the city. The team was important for changing the way the city’s residents viewed the city, and for shaping associations among those outside the state who had come to associate the city with the deadly bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in 1995. 

A mayor can also promote pride in the city and unite residents by investing in public spaces and creating places and opportunities for people to engage with the city’s cultural offerings. Art walks, playgrounds, outdoor movies and concert spaces all provide opportunities for different groups to intermix and share positive experiences of their city. This can also include efforts to make existing public spaces safer and more welcoming for all residents. 

In Rabat, Morocco, Mayor Asmaa Rhlalou – the city’s first female mayor – is continuing efforts to make public spaces safer for women. According to City President Mohamed Sadiki, “

Rabat is engaged in multi-sectoral partnerships to prevent all forms of violence in public and private spaces, and is committed to mobilising efforts, expertise and capacity to ensure the success and sustain the results of its Safe City with Women and Girls programme”.

Invest in active citizens

Mayors should promote active citizenship by providing opportunities for citizens to get directly involved in local decision-making, like city councils or town halls. 

At the start of her first term, Mayor Naszalyi of Budavár, Hungary initiated the development of a strategy for the involvement of citizens in the local government’s decision-making processes. It included the institutionalisation of two new positions within the district government dedicated to civil society engagement and initiated fortnightly town hall meetings that she chairs where residents can raise concerns and have a debate on prominent community issues.

Furthermore, mayors can help secure the city’s future commitment to social cohesion by investing in the city’s youngest residents – regardless of their community – enabling them to become active citizens who value inclusion. Develop curriculums for formal and informal education that teach tolerance, democracy and respect for others, as well as critical thinking, conflict resolution and how to engage with people who have different opinions. 

In 2016, then-MayorVojko Obersnel introduced civic education into elementary schools in Rijeka, Croatia to promote non-violence, tolerance and solidarity to some of its youngest residents and help them develop values based on acceptance, inclusion, diversity and respect for human rights. To support the programme, Rijeka developed a textbook – The Pupil Citizen – along with supporting resources that students use throughout their civic education, which lasts from grade five until grade seven and gradually introduces the concepts of civic education.


Engaging communities

A mayor’s proximity to the city’s residents and, where locally elected, their accountability to them, makes them well placed to build strong, personal relationships with the different communities in their city. Doing so can help enhance trust in local government – thus promoting active citizenship – and creates a channel for two-way communication that allows a mayor to understand what is going on in their city and positions them well to mobilise a response where needed, for example, following a hate- or extremism-motivated incident. This is especially important for identifying signs of trouble within or between communities and working with trusted community leaders to address them before these tensions result in hate- or extremism-motivated violence. These relationships will become even more crucial if the city faces a crisis or violent incident and the mayor needs to mobilise a city-wide response. 

To make engagement fruitful, a mayor should be committed to developing trusting and mutually-beneficial relationships and demonstrate a sincere commitment to providing support. 

It can damage trust when local officials go to communities merely to extract information or make requests. A mayor should be mindful of what that community needs and how the city can help meet those needs.

Empower communities to promote social cohesion 

A mayor should consider ways to take an individualised approach to community engagement that gives each community what they need and gives them ownership in crafting their own solutions. 

In addition to offering broadly applicable programmes and services – like those outlined in the section above – local leaders should provide opportunities for communities to define their own challenges and their own solutions. Whatever the approach, a mayor should formalise it and identify ways to fund it (whether through funding from local government or non-governmental sources or some combination thereof) over the long term to ensure it is consistent and sustained.

Interview with Hassan Naveed, Executive Director at the Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes, NYC Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice

Anti-Racism in Edmonton, Canada

Concerned about racist incidents targeting Muslims and people of colour in Edmonton, Mayor Amerjeet Sohi led the creation of an Anti-Racism Strategy. The strategy was developed through consultations with those who have been most affected by racism to understand their experiences and needs. As a result, the strategy called for the creation of a community-based organisation fully resourced and dedicated to leading anti-racism work and provided sustainable core and operational funding and capacity-building to community organisations
that do anti-racism and anti-hate work, with dedicated funding provided especially to organisations led by people of colour.

To ensure communities of colour have a continued voice in guiding the city’s anti-racism work, the strategy also called for the development of an Anti-Racism Advisory Committee of Council, to advise the city council on matters related to race. This has helped ensure the resulting strategy would provide the right kinds of support and created a sustained channel for ongoing communication and cooperation. 

The City of Edmonton has stated its commitment to inclusion publicly on their website. “At the city level, we believe everyone who lives here is an Edmontonian, that every Edmontonian deserves to call this place home.” Edmonton is placing affected communities at the center of their efforts to make that vision a reality.

Make yourself available

Showing people that a mayor is willing to make time for them and provide consistent access can help strengthen trust and create a stronger foundation for problem-solving. Mayors should consider establishing a set time during which residents can come by city hall and discuss their concerns or schedule regular town meetings where residents can come together as a group to address issues or exchange ideas. Mayors can also consider creating online platforms where residents can share their concerns or ideas directly with the government. 

In Masaka City, Uganda, residents can meet with Mayor Florence Namayanja every Friday without an appointment. The mayor told Strong Cities that this openness prompts people to share information with the local government that they might otherwise be reluctant to provide.

In Cape Town, South Africa, members of the public are invited on the first Thursday of every month to engage directly with public officials, whether to give feedback or open a line of communication about specific citizens’ needs.

Community engagement can also be enhanced when city officials are available to the public regularly in dedicated liaison roles. 

Under the leadership of Mayor Bruce Harrell, Seattle, Washington, USA, has embraced a ‘high visibility approach’ to governing, in which officials are embedded within all parts of the community in designated roles such as community support officers. The intention is to remove barriers to reporting and build the trust needed to ensure residents feel comfortable proactively raising their concerns.

Help diffuse intercommunal tension by providing a safe space for different groups to come together

By maintaining productive relationships with the different communities within a city, a mayor will be better placed to identify where there are tensions between groups, and when these tensions could pose the threat of escalating toward violence. A mayor should consider how they can engage with these communities both separately and together to find common ground so they can address their issues together and work toward a more cohesive relationship.  

These activities can be targeted at specific groups to diffuse existing tensions.

One example of this approach can be found in the city of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, where, under the leadership of Mayor Solomon Mguni, the city has established regular meetings with all of the political parties present in the city in hopes of bridging the growing political divide that was affecting the city’s cohesion. They also organised public forums where leaders from across the political spectrum could speak to communities in constructive debates that fostered learning and mitigated political conspiracies. 

These activities can also be done more broadly to bring groups together to celebrate cultural diversity. 

In New York City, New York, USA, residents are invited to share a meal and learn about the diverse cultures and traditions that make up the diverse city. Organised by New York City’s Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes (OPHC), Mayor Eric Adams initiated Breaking Bread, Building Bonds to break down silos and segregation between different communities. Mayor Adams initiated the programme based on the belief that preventing hate, extremism and polarisation requires individuals to engage beyond their social circles and commit to learning more about cultures and traditions that differ from their own.


Communicating strategically

A mayor and their office should take an active approach to communications around prevention and response. This includes developing and implementing a plan to communicate with residents and other key stakeholders to establish a city’s inclusive and peaceful identity and respond to hate- or extremism-motivated incidents, messaging or propaganda. 

Communicate for peace

Communication campaigns about the city can also demonstrate its commitment to inclusion and serve as a critical alternative narrative against extremist rhetoric that seeks to target specific communities within a city. Such campaigns can be targeted at those inside the city and those outside to establish or re-establish a city’s identity. 

For example, under the leadership of Mayor Carlos Moedas, Lisbon, Portugal sought to recast what it means to be a resident when they developed the public communications campaign “Somos os Direitos que temos” (“We are our rights”) in 2022.

The campaign sought to enhance awareness about diversity, human rights and inclusion and showcase the city’s pride in its diversity.

Keep residents informed 

Mayors should communicate about the opportunities, events and programmes available to them in the city and increase awareness about city-led strategies and activities related to prevention. Such communication will help maximise the impact of these initiatives and promote active participation. This is especially important for targeting communities that have been historically excluded or have been difficult to reach. Mayors should take a strategic approach when targeting these groups specifically. This includes delivering messages in the relevant local languages and leveraging mediums and platforms – online and offline – that these groups frequent.  

In Narayanganj, Bangladesh, Mayor Salina Hayat Ivy and her administration have prioritised the citizens’ right to digital information and the digitalisation of services. During an interview with Strong Cities, Mayor Ivy explained that this has given residents more consistent, transparent and immediate access to information from the city, as well as direct access to the mayor and other officials who can use the platform to respond to their needs, grievances and suggestions. Information officers are also available to every citizen with an online click or a phone call.  

In Uganda, mayors are utilising radio shows – a popular medium across the country – to keep their residents updated and provide more visible leadership. Mayors should consider using a range of different mediums and platforms, including social media and direct messaging apps, that are popular and easily accessible by different demographics to reach as many people as possible.

Responding to hate and extremism

Be prepared to respond in the event of extremist or hateful incidents or messaging campaigns. These could be targeting the city government, or even the mayor directly, or the wider public. Mayors should utilise communications strategically to reaffirm the city’s stance on hate, address misinformation and disinformation, counter extremist ideologies and promote peace.

Such campaigns can also be used to stand in solidarity with communities who have been targeted or diffuse tension between groups following an incident.  

Alarmed by the sharp increase in anti-Asian hate crimes during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, New York City worked with multidisciplinary artist Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya to develop a targeted art campaign, “I Still Believe in Our City”. Under the leadership of then mayor Bill de Blasio, the NYC OPHC and the NYC Department of Education also developed a “Stop Anti-Asian Hate Education Resource Guide”, and a range of other resources, including comics, podcasts, a spoken word poem, videos and other multimedia components. The artwork was displayed in public places across the city alongside powerful anti-hate messages and information about the initiative, as well as through social media.   

Tips for developing a communication strategy

To help communicate both proactively and reactively, a mayor can lead the development of a well-defined communications strategy that can be employed as needed. Such a strategy should:

  • Provide guidance on when, how and who should communicate in different scenarios. Ensure everyone can communicate with confidence and in accordance with city guidelines and strategies by developing a communications playbook. To ensure consistency between different messengers, this strategy should include and clarify key terminology and messages. 
  • Define the role of different messengers, acknowledging the limitations of official city messaging and utilising credible messengers and partners to fill gaps in trust and credibility. This will include approved messengers within the local government and non-governmental actors such as community and/or religious leaders.  
  • Incorporate a range of mediums, platforms and languages to reach everyone. While government websites are a good repository for information, they are not always the best way to reach a wide and varied audience. Consider using popular online platforms to reach younger audiences and utilise popular offline spaces to bring messages directly to a target community. Also consider which mediums will be most inclusive for those with disabilities.  
  • Include a range of resources and templates to expediate content creation and establish a recognisable brand for city-led communications. Templates will enable a city to create new content and resources quickly and more affordably, while ensuring there is consistency in the look and feel of all the city’s outputs.  

Building capacities

Prevention is best achieved through a whole-of-society approach in which actors across sectors and levels 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 do not otherwise have any experience with it.

To get the most out of their own team and other contributing stakeholders, a mayor should consider identifying specialised expertise and providing access to training
and resources that help enhance:

  • Familiarity with hate, extremism and related threats to public safety and social cohesion and understanding of how misinformation, disinformation and conspiracy theories are fuelling them. This can include the theoretical background and approaches underpinning the field of preventing and countering violent extremism as well as specific threats facing the city, such as anti-migrant, anti-LBGTQ+, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic or other forms of hate or anti-establishment sentiment, and local dynamics fuelling many of these. 
  • The knowledge and skills needed to design, manage and evaluate prevention projects that follow a ‘do-no-harm’ approach. This is especially important for civil society and community actors who may seek support to run programmes in their communities. 
  • Awareness of local and national strategic prevention and response frameworks and their role in supporting prevention and response. 
  • 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.

Each mayor 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. 

In Mechelen, Belgium, for example, the city makes training available for local organisations and maintains a budget dedicated to supporting youth innovation. Part of their training is specifically targeted for youth workers and was developed in collaboration with youth workers and educators to support professionals in creating safe spaces for young people. The resources are available online, via the European Union’s ORPHEUS project.  

Strasbourg, France provides training on extremism and prevention to its local partners, including regular threat briefings hosted by subject matter experts. Training is offered as widely as possible and thus fosters networking and relationship-building between participating organisations.

Training can also be delivered to help enhance trust and improve relationships between residents and frontline actors. Three American cities provide instructive examples. 

Under Mayor Rotering’s direction, Highland Park, Illinois is working with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to deliver anti-bias and cultural sensitivity training for all their police officers as part of the city’s wider Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives to help improve relationships between residents and the police and enhance the city’s resilience to hate and extremism. 

Houston, Texas, under the leadership of Mayor Sylvester Turner, is working to enhance community-oriented policing by working directly with the community and empowering community groups to deliver training to law enforcement on topics ranging from mental health to cultural sensitivity and inclusion.

In February 2020, Seattle, Washington, USA,  Mayor Jenny Durkan signed an Executive Order to combat hate crimes and crimes of bias. The order named the Office of the Employee Ombud (OEO) as one of the units responsible for addressing these issues, with the OEO then tasked to conduct training for all city employees on preventing of hate and polarisation in the workplace. 

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Last updated: 12/09/2023

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