BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

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European Forum for Urban Security

BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Published by the European Forum for Urban Security (Efus), this document is the result of the ‘BRIDGE – Building Resilience to reduce polarisation and growing extremism’ project, carried out between 2019 and 2021. It was written by Eszter Karácsony and Julia Rettig, Programme Managers, under the direction of Elizabeth Johnston, Executive Director, and Carla Napolano, Deputy Director, with support from Hemma Jari and Stephanie Stacey, Efus interns, and the project partners. This document also gained contributions from Götz Nordbruch (, Germany), Adrian Jofre Bosch (Elcano Royal Institute, Spain), Tim Chapman (University of Ulster, United Kingdom), Eolene Boyd-MacMillan (University of Cambridge), and Markus Pausch (Salzburg University of Applied Sciences, Austria). Use and reproduction are royalty free if the purpose is non-commercial and the source is acknowledged. Editing: Nathalie Bourgeois Proofreading: David Wile Layout: Marie Aumont Illustrations: Thibéry Maillard Printing: Technicom, Boulogne-Billancourt Printed in June 2021 ISBN: 9782913181861 Legal deposit: June 2021 European Forum for Urban Security 10 rue des Montibœufs 75020 Paris – France Tel: +33 (0)1 40 64 49 00 -

This publication was co-funded by the European Union Internal Security Fund – Police. It reflects the views only of the authors, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained herein.

European Forum for Urban Security

BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level


>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> The BRIDGE project was carried out thanks to the commitment and contribution of the representatives of its partner institutions: City of Brussels (Belgium), Departmental Council of Val d’Oise (France), Düsseldorf (Germany), Government of Catalonia (Spain), Genk (Belgium), Igoumenitsa (Greece), Leuven (Belgium), Reggio Emilia (Italy), Region of Umbria (Italy), Rotterdam (Netherlands), Stuttgart (Germany), Terrassa (Spain), Vaulx-en-Velin (France), (Germany) and the Elcano Royal Institute (Spain). We thank the elected officials and their teams, as well as the members of the expert panel, for sharing their experience and knowledge and for their precious work and insights. We equally thank the European Commission for its financial support, without which this project and publication would not have been possible.

Project partners Quentin Degrave (Val d’Oise, France), Hadelin Feront and Farida Belkacem (Brussels, Belgium), Tanja Schwarzer (Düsseldorf), Lluis Paradell (Government of Catalonia, Spain), Karien Lantmeeters and Bieke Vancraeynest (Genk, Belgium), Telis Karapiperis, Dimitris Rossakis and Garifalia Bastiano (Igoumenitsa, Greece), Miran Scheers, Jana Nickmans and Anneleen Oyen (Leuven, Belgium), Selma Cherif el Meslouhi (Reggio Emilia, Italy), Cinzia Ercolani (Region of Umbria, Italy), Ineke Nierstrasz, Alia Azzouzi and Aike Janssen (Rotterdam, Netherlands), Anna Farraz, Joan Chicón Vallejo, Antoni Flores Lorente, Ana López Hernández (Terrassa, Spain), Gregor Belgardt and Felix Grünwald (Stuttgart, Germany), Claire Bourguignon, and Pavia Acevedo (Vaulx-en-Velin, France).


Project partner institutions Götz Nordbruch (, Germany) and Adrian Jofre Bosch (Elcano Royal Institute, Spain).

Other contributors Agnès Pradet (Expert, France), Patricia Andrews Fearon, Verena Knerich and Martino Ongis (University of Cambridge, United Kingdom), Michela Morelli, Antonino Azzara, Stefano Anastasia and Lorenzo Fanoli (University of Perugia, Italy). The Efus Team and Moritz Kondradi, Programme Manager.


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

Table of contents

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Foreword by Elizabeth Johnston..................................p. 8 Introduction................................................................. p. 11 Part 1: Understanding polarisation – key concepts and observations................................................................. p. 18 Polarisation and social cohesion................................................... p. 20 Polarisation and its key actors...................................................... p. 21 Polarisation, conflicts and tensions.............................................. p. 22 Polarisation and radicalisation...................................................... p. 23 Social media, social isolation and polarisation.............................. p. 26 Polarisation as used throughout this publication.......................... p. 27 The role of local and regional authorities in addressing polarisation............................................................. p. 28

Part 2: Diagnosing polarisation through local audits.................................................... p. 30 Indicators and tools .................................................... p. 32 Demographics............................................................................... p. 33 Social structures........................................................................... p. 34 Political and social participation................................................... p. 35 Different perspectives on local realities......................................... p. 35 Risk factors................................................................................... p. 36 Key figures.................................................................................... p. 36 Protective factors.......................................................................... p. 37


Selection of audit tools............................................. p. 38 Polarisation questionnaire/survey (‘zero-sum mindset’).............. p. 39 Identifying actual or potential ‘resource people/bridge builders/ bridging agents’............................................................................ p. 42 Rotterdam’s Quick Scan................................................................ p. 43 Ladder of participation.................................................................. p. 45

Ethics review.............................................................. p. 48

Part 3: Addressing polarisation – innovative strategies of prevention and mitigation.............................................................. p. 50

Part 4: Integrating polarisation in urban security policies – recommendations for local and regional authorities............................................. p. 68

Guide with resources and further reading............... p. 81


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level



Over the last years we’ve witnessed the increase of societal polarisation throughout Europe. While oftentimes intertwined with international or national drivers and narratives of polarisation, social division and sharpened tensions between groups or communities play out locally and impact peaceful, democratic life in European cities and regions. Thus, local and regional bodies play a central and strategic role to prevent and overcome polarisation and to foster social cohesion. Addressing this unsettling societal phenomenon starts with tackling the underlying causes of polarisation. The European Forum for Urban Security’s approach is based on the firm conviction that preventing discrimination and the marginalisation of groups or communities contributes to strengthening social bonds and to increasing individual and collective resilience. To prevent or overcome polarisation, it is key to promote and enable dialogue between all groups and sectors of society and to reinforce citizen participation and inclusion. After several years of work on the prevention of radicalisation leading to violence and growing extremism at the local level by Efus and its members, tackling the issue of polarisation is a consequential step to address potential root causes, because polarisation can render societies more vulnerable to radicalisation and growing extremism. Yet, addressing polarisation is a relatively new approach in the field, notably at the local level.


A ground-breaking initiative in this respect has been the Efus-led Building Resilience to Reduce Polarisation and Growing Extremism (BRIDGE) project, launched in January 2019 with the financial support of the European Union. The intensive work realised by 13 local and regional authorities from 7 European Member States over the last two and a half years, supported by Efus and an interdisciplinary expert panel, led to the compilation of knowledge and insights that are gathered in this publication. It aims to provide cities with an outline of key concepts and concrete, practical recommendations on how to assess and tackle polarisation. This handbook for local and regional authorities does not claim to give an exhaustive response to the rapidly evolving and complex phenomenon of polarisation, but it introduces a selection of concepts, tools and practices that can be operationalised and adapted to diverse local and regional contexts. Taking into account the phenomenon of polarisation can complement and thus reinforce existing local security strategies.

Elizabeth Johnston Efus Executive Director


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

Quotes from some of the project partners “Leuven is a multicultural city with a high level of social cohesion, diversity and tolerance. These are important in protecting the city from polarisation and extremism. We strongly believe in the strength of connection and togetherness in all policy areas. Therefore, we work closely with our citizens and see them as partners in a more global integrated approach. This intensive collaboration with all layers of society allows us to tackle the problems and challenges we face with a swift and integrated approach. The city embraces diversity as a force for positive change, and we care for each other, no matter what background.” Mohamed Ridouani, Mayor of Leuven

“The BRIDGE project against polarisation is in line with our local crime prevention strategy and the Territorial Plan Against Racism, Anti-Semitism and Discrimination. Our participation in this project illustrates our commitment to peaceful coexistence, as attested by a number of existing participatory initiatives such as the Neighbourhood Committees, the Citizen Council, the Senior Council, and the Parents Council. The objective is for everyone to recognise that the rules of the Republic are meant to protect everybody.” Hélène Geoffroy, Mayor of Vaulx-en-Velin

“In a city with more than 170 nationalities, various educational backgrounds, social classes and religious beliefs, there will always be topics that can lead to polarisation and societal tension. Our policy is to focus on preventing situations of tensions and violence that are caused by polarisation. By doing this, we can contribute to creating a Rotterdam where there is respect and room for all sorts of different opinions.” Ahmed Aboutaleb, Mayor of Rotterdam




>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Polarisation as a key factor in the work to prevent radicalisation and violent extremism The phenomenon of polarisation has become an increasingly important issue in academic and especially in political debates in recent years. There is a rising tendency towards polarised societies that seem to agree less on shared values or a common ground within the democratic system. In this handbook, the term ‘polarisation’ refers to pernicious polarisation that increases tension within society and thus endangers democracy and social cohesion, while decreasing community resilience. Polarisation involves a process of sharpening differences between groups in society that can result in and from increased tensions. Social and economic inequalities, as well as the marginalisation of certain groups and the lack of representation or participation of all citizens in the democratic process, can be driving factors for polarisation. In highly divided and fragmented societies, groups or individuals that perceive themselves as marginalised or their identity as being threatened are more susceptible to be attracted by negative narratives about the ‘other’ group spread by polarising actors, so-called ‘pushers’ of polarisation. These polarising narratives amplify differences, fuel hostility between groups and deny the existence of any common ground or shared values. Hostility towards other groups, ‘us-and-them’ thinking and the neglect of a common ground or shared values within society are features that are common to both the phenomena of polarisation and of radicalisation towards violent extremism. Addressing the phenomenon of polarisation in the framework of the BRIDGE project stems from the work carried out by the European Forum of Urban Security (Efus) and its partners in the past few years in the field of the prevention of radicalisation leading to violent extremism. Under different EU-funded projects, this extensive collective work


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

encompassed the identification of concrete areas of intervention and the elaboration of practical actions to prevent radicalisation at the local level1, as well as the development of local prevention strategies.2 In the aftermath of several terrorist attacks in Europe, understanding and preventing radicalisation processes and developing prevention strategies that aim at fostering social cohesion and building resilience has become a cornerstone of urban security policies for many local authorities.3 To enhance these efforts, understanding and preventing polarisation dynamics within the local context is of utmost importance, as increased tensions and divisions within a society can amplify the various psychological and social factors that contribute to individuals being vulnerable to radicalisation processes. Polarisation can be considered both a cause and a consequence of radicalisation and violent extremism. Disregarding phenomena of sharpened tensions among groups at the local level could reinforce ‘us-and-them’ thinking, intensify polarisation and thus contribute to creating a breeding ground for radicalisation processes and their subsequent extremist dynamics. Effective municipal strategies to tackle and prevent radicalisation processes leading to violent extremism should thus incorporate approaches to address or prevent the polarisation of groups within the local population.

Polarisation as a transverse topic for urban security policies in Europe Polarisation is a transverse topic that is observed, studied and defined in the framework of diverse disciplines (psychology, public health, sociology, political science, democracy theory, conflict studies, restorative justice and urban security). Each discipline sheds light on different aspects of the complex phenomena of polarisation. Psychology focuses on individual, group and community thinking patterns, mindsets and 1- See Efus (2016), Preventing and Fighting Radicalisation at the Local Level. 2- See Efus (2017), Prevention of radicalisation leading to violent extremism. Methodological guide for the development of a local strategy. 3-See conclusions and recommendations for local authorities resulting from the PRACTICIES project: Efus (2020), PRACTICIES – Partnership Against Violent Radicalisation in Cities.


behaviours that characterise polarisation. These include low complexity ‘us-and-them’ thinking (we are right, they are wrong; we are good, they are bad) and a ‘zero-sum’ mindset (their gain is our loss), which is predictive of key factors at play among polarised groups. This can result in individuals, groups and communities feeling unable to find ways to tolerate and work pro-socially with difference and disagreement. Sociology puts an emphasis on socio-structural inequalities and the phenomenon of exclusion and marginalisation that can constitute driving factors for polarisation. From a political science perspective, polarisation is analysed within the framework of competing ideologies/ movements/parties and diverse forms of political and civic participation. The analysis of power relations is the central focus. Political science is not only concerned with institutional settings and their interactions, but also with their relation to citizens as sovereigns. Polarisation processes are therefore analysed both in terms of party-political polarisation and the division of the electorate. The subdiscipline of democratic theory poses the question of the extent to which polarisation processes affect the quality of democracy and the balance of power in a given political entity. Different approaches focus on the modes of deliberation as well as the emergence and existence of populist dynamics. Most recently, the analysis and further development of innovations in democracy, which should lead to more inclusion and participation, has become an important branch of the discipline. Conflict studies examine models of conflicts, escalation dynamics and potential means of intervention, whereas the discipline of restorative justice emphasises the importance of accountability, dialogue, mediation, connections and the (re)elaboration of just relations. A holistic, interdisciplinary and multi-sectoral approach is necessary to accommodate both the multi-layered nature of polarisation and a strategic approach to urban security policies, as conceived and promoted by the European Forum for Urban Security. This strategic approach to urban security emphasises “the balance between prevention, sanction and social cohesion” and aims at “ensuring social inclusiveness in all aspects and areas of local security policies.”4 Integrated urban security 4- Efus, Manifesto adopted in 2017. Security, Democracy and Cities: Co-producing Urban Security Policies, p.15.


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

policies are centred around civic participation and multi-stakeholder cooperation. They aim to include all groups within a municipality or region in the definition of goals and methods, as well as in the co-production of solutions. Only a municipality that is cohesive and fosters solidarity among a pluralistic and diverse society can be resilient and provide security for all. Overcoming polarisation – which, by definition, implies a rupture of social bonds and an absence of dialogue and productive forms of inter-community exchange and conflict resolution – is a precondition for successful urban security policies. Within an interdisciplinary approach, the role of local authorities is particularly relevant as, on the one hand, the effects of polarisation often play out locally, fuelling conflict and radicalisation within municipalities and, on the other, local authorities have extensive competencies in preventing violence and fostering social cohesion. Moreover, municipalities’ crime prevention structures are best placed to diagnose and monitor polarisation, raise awareness, mitigate it in the short and long term, and empower local actors to prevent it. In particular, mayors and other local and regional elected officials play a central role in addressing polarisation at the local level. Elected officials taking political leadership for the city’s prevention strategies and initiatives to promote social cohesion increases these efforts’ visibility and public acceptance. As they work closely with the local population, they can contribute to reinforcing or restoring trust between citizens and local institutions, notably by enhancing the inclusiveness and transparency of policy-making processes. Thus, this publication addresses local and regional authorities as well as other local stakeholders. It outlines the concept of polarisation and provides concrete tools and recommendations on how to detect, prevent and mitigate polarisation at the local or regional level.

The BRIDGE project This publication combines the insights and tools gathered in the framework of the European project BRIDGE – Building Resilience to Reduce Polarisation and Growing Extremism led by Efus. The project was


co-financed by the European Commission – under the ISF-P Programme – and undertaken by a consortium of 13 local and regional European authorities from seven countries: Brussels (Belgium), Departmental Council of Val d’Oise (France), Düsseldorf (Germany), Government of Catalonia (Spain), Genk (Belgium), Igoumenitsa (Greece), Leuven (Belgium), Reggio Emilia (Italy), Region of Umbria (Italy), Rotterdam (Netherlands), Terrassa (Spain), Stuttgart (Germany), Vaulx-en-Velin (France). The consortium also included two expert partners: the Madrid-based Elcano Royal Institute, a think tank specialised in international and strategic studies, as well as the Berlin-based association ufuq. de that provides training and workshops on topics such as the prevention of radicalisation, Islamism and youth culture, and discrimination and racism. Furthermore, a multi-disciplinary panel of experts provided the consortium with their expertise and experience to help define key concepts of polarisation. They also accompanied the local and regional partners in the implementation of their pilot projects. The BRIDGE project aimed to enhance the capacities of local and regional authorities to detect and assess tensions and polarisation within their respective local contexts; support the development of activities seeking to prevent and mitigate the causes and effects of polarisation; and foster citizen participation and social cohesion. First, a working definition, alongside methods and indicators to analyse the phenomenon of polarisation, was developed using a multi-disciplinary approach that served as a conceptual framework for the whole project. In a second stage, every partner city and region conducted audits to identify the forms and dynamics of polarisation within their local contexts. They included in-depth analysis of socio-economic and demographic data, as well as surveys, interviews and focus groups with relevant stakeholders that shed light on a variety of indicators: structural deficits; existing polarising actors, topics and discourses; risk factors or vulnerabilities of groups or individuals; and protective factors that enhance the resilience of groups and communities. These local assessments allowed the authorities to explore the risks and challenges within their communities, as well as the capacities and resources that are available to counter polarisation and prevent further escalation of tensions and violence.


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

Based on the findings of these local audits, the municipalities and regional governments developed concrete activities (pilot projects) to further analyse the degree and risks of polarisation, mitigate its effects and causes by raising awareness among local stakeholders and training them, and foster community resilience and social cohesion in their city or region. Both the audit on polarisation and the concrete prevention and mitigation activities can be incorporated in the cities’ prevention strategies and related action plans. During the development phase of these local pilot projects, the Covid-19 pandemic broke out. This situation affected the local and regional authorities’ opportunities and capacities to conduct the planned activities, precluding in-person individual or group meetings and the hosting of on-site events. Moreover, some cities and regions perceived that the pandemic and its accompanying stringent restrictions had themselves, to a certain extent, a polarising effect. Local authorities took this situation into consideration while elaborating their activities, for example by aiming to capture experiences of the pandemic and its effects on public mental health and on social connections through a local in-depth polarisation survey.

Outline of the publication This publication provides urban security stakeholders with a practical approach and concrete recommendations to help them to locally address the phenomenon of polarisation. The first part outlines the key concepts of polarisation from the perspectives of different academic disciplines in order to provide a holistic and practical conceptual framework to better understand this phenomenon. The relations between polarisation, concepts of urban security and social cohesion are subsequently highlighted, as well as the significant role of local and regional governments in addressing polarisation. The second part focuses on the diagnosis of polarisation at the local and regional level: it stresses the importance of a sound analysis and assessment of polarising actors, factors, topics and discourses. Concrete assessment indicators, tools and diagnostic methods are presented with


practical advice on how to use them and the resources they require, so that local actors can identify those methods, tools and indicators that are the most appropriate for them. This part also includes reflections on the results and findings of the audits conducted by the local and regional authorities within the BRIDGE project. The third part introduces practical, innovative and sustainable measures and strategies to prevent and mitigate polarisation at the local and regional level. Furthermore, concrete action plans and projects that aim to foster resilience and social cohesion at the local and regional level are briefly presented. The fourth part provides concrete, methodological recommendations for local and regional authorities on how to include the issue of polarisation and assess it as part of their local urban security policies, initiatives and prevention strategies. It gives practical advice and concrete guidelines on both the diagnosis and the prevention and mitigation of polarisation. The key conclusions regarding local activities to mitigate polarisation and foster community resilience from the local pilot projects are also highlighted. This publication concludes with a list of available resources, tools and literature.


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

Part 1


Understanding polarisation – key concepts and observations




BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

Polarisation and social cohesion Defining a complex term with as many nuances as ‘polarisation’ is not easy, especially considering that one of the most extensive causes of polarisation is the oversimplification of reality, leading to a confrontation based on a lack of mutual understanding. After all, the notion of democracy presupposes a society characterised by differences and conflicting interests. The term polarisation does not refer to political, social, cultural and religious diversity and pluralism as such, but to a growing fragmentation of society into antagonist collectives perceived as opponents on existential questions over the future of society.5 While democracy is built on shared values and principles and, ideally, social bonds, polarisation relates to a social and political fragmentation that questions these common ‘building blocks’. Under the BRIDGE project, the term polarisation is used according to the following working definition elaborated by the project’s consortium: a growing fragmentation of society into antagonistic collectives perceived as opponents in existential questions over a common future. It is characterised by sharpened forms of ‘us-and-them’ thinking and ‘othering’ and by the absence of dialogue. Polarisation can facilitate a community’s, group’s or individual's shift toward radicalisation, violence and crime, while its mitigation will increase social cohesion, resilience and democratic progress. Social cohesion refers to the presence of social bonds: it holds society together through trust, reciprocity and solidarity. A society might have some form of polarisation and at the same time a degree of social cohesion. For example, there might be a strongly polarised and divided political landscape, with political groups neglecting to share common ground, within an overall cohesive society and a general consensus on the norms and values of the democratic system. Although the link 5- As an example: Switzerland is a decentralised country characterised by the existence of three main groups, each with their own language – French, German and Italian – which is reflected in the political and territorial structure. Despite substantial differences, all groups consider themselves to be equal parts of Swiss society. While polarisation has risen in Switzerland recently around questions of immigration and the public visibility of Muslim religious symbols, Swiss multilingualism can be seen as an example of a public policy that accommodates diversity and pluralism and does not breed fragmentation and polarisation.


between social cohesion and polarisation is complex and fluid, there are observable and experiential indicators6 that can allow local authorities to assess and monitor social cohesion and polarisation at the local level (see Part 2).

Polarisation and its key actors In his publication Polarisation: Understanding the dynamics of us versus them7, Bart Brandsma presents polarisation as a way of interpreting one’s social world based on ‘us-and-them’ categories, fuelled by identity discourses that reinforce oppositional group categories, and maintained by experiences of threat, fear, anxiety and anger. Indeed, much research has found that a sense of threat in times of uncertainty can drive individuals and communities to seek refuge in homogeneous groups with clear inclusion-exclusion rules that provide a sense of safety and security.8 Brandsma distinguishes between different roles or actors involved in the process of polarisation. The so-called ‘pushers’ are the drivers and advocates of antagonistic groups and their identities. Pushers try to sow or reinforce tensions and disunity between groups by exploiting incidents or conflicts and by disseminating antagonistic/hostile narratives about other groups. Their attempts to create polarisation appeal to emotions and feelings rather than to reasoning and the evaluation of facts. ‘Joiners’ are people who have been susceptible to these pushers’ appeals and thus have chosen a side. Polarisation is a process that requires constant attention and communication to successfully unfold and evolve. ‘Bridge builders’ who try to reach out and arbitrate between the opposing groups might, by acknowledging their antagonism, involuntarily reinforce polarising dynamics. Bartsma’s category of ‘scapegoats’ refers to people or groups that are being blamed or attacked. 6- See for example UNODC (2010), Manual on Victimization Surveys, p.4., or Council of Europe (2005), Methodological Guide to the Concerted Development of Social Cohesion Indicators, Strasbourg, Council of Europe Publishing, p.28. 7- Brandsma, B. (2017). 8- Schmid et al. (2009).


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

Through the dynamics of polarisation, increasingly extreme views regarding the superiority of the ingroup and deficiencies or worse of the outgroup gain credence and power among group members, thereby reinforcing polarisation in a dysfunctional feedback loop.9 Brandsma notes that bystanders exist in the midst of polarised groups: people who do not hold extreme views about either group and who are trying to remain neutral. He recommends drawing attention to, strengthening and giving platforms to those occupying the ‘middle ground’. He argues that these actions will reduce the recruitment power of the extreme views, provide examples of ‘middle-ground thinking’, and give others permission to think this way by ‘making grey thinking okay’. It is important to note here that middle-ground thinking is not the same as ‘mainstream thinking’; the extremism of the centre has shown how institutionalised agents can (directly or indirectly) initiate polarisation and marginalise middle-ground thinking.

Polarisation, conflicts and tensions While conflicts and tensions are normal, the escalation of conflicts, which leads to extremism, intolerance and violence, is problematic. Social polarisation can be understood as an already advanced escalation of conflict, which can no longer be overcome with the usual democratic discussion and negotiation processes because the fronts are already hardened. Socio-psychologically, polarisation and conflict are the norm rather than the exception; polarisation and conflict are inevitable social phenomena. Bart Brandsma suggests that “peace is a long series of conflicts that we have dealt with successfully.”10 He offers an iceberg model with conflict and polarisation divided by the waterline, conflict above and polarisation below. Perhaps a volcano image is also helpful: the deep, dynamic foundation of the volcano (polarisation) is always present, while the volcanic mountain can lie dormant or erupt (conflict),

9- Pettigrew, T. F., & Tropp, L. R. (2011); Diamond, A. (2007); Davies, L. (2014). 10- Brandsma, B. (2017), p.65.


depending on various factors both inside and outside the mountain. Brandsma argues that conflict is an escalation of polarisation. A brewing conflict can be prevented by refusing to fuel the polarisation, e.g. refusing to frame an issue or incident with ‘us-and-them’ language and instead listening to all parties to create a frame that weaves together diverse experiences and underlying social concerns and desires. A conflict in full swing requires intervention to create safety. Similar to polarisation and conflict, extremisms are the norm rather than the exception. We can define extremism as “an attitudinal position at either end of any ideological dimension (political, religious, ethical, moral, philosophical, ecological, etc.)”11 Anyone can, and many do in every society, have an attitudinal position at one pole of an ideological dimension: for example, ‘my political party is the best’, ‘all religions are bad’, ‘my religion is the one true religion’, ‘technological solutions to social problems are the best’, etc. Whether or not an extreme attitudinal position fuels polarisation and erupts in conflict can depend on the extent to which one recognises one’s viewpoint as related to those who are elsewhere on the ideological scope. If we see ourselves on the same dimension as others, then we can find some common ground, some shared interests, and recognise some expression of shared humanity. In contrast, if we deny being on the same dimension, then we deny the existence of a community or civic space in which to participate. Recognising or denying that different and even opposing views are located on the same dimension seems to be an indicator for the absence of radicalisation and violent extremism.

Polarisation and radicalisation It is crucially important to highlight the difference between polarisation and radicalisation. Radicalisation can be defined as “the process where individuals or factions of these polarised groups grow further towards the acceptance and use of violent extremism and ultimately terrorism.”12 Consequently, polarisation can potentially lead to radicalisation in certain circumstances. 11- Suedfeld, P., Cross, R. W., & Logan, C. (2013). 12- Radicalisation Awareness Network, Tackling the challenges to prevention policies in an increasingly polarised society, November 2016, p.3.


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

It is also possible to find radicalised groups in non-polarised societies and to find polarisation without radicalisation. Radicalisation and extremism have become the most common terms used to refer to the dynamics by which individuals, groups and mass opinion are mobilised to support or participate in political violence. The term ‘cognitive extremism’ refers to concepts that presuppose supremacy of a certain belief or ideology that is fundamentally opposed to the values and principles of liberal, democratic societies. Behavioural or violent extremism “refers to the means and methods of extremist individuals to achieve their goals by ignoring the lives, rights and fundamental freedoms of others.”13 While the dynamics of violence can involve radical or extremist ideas and beliefs, the link between extremist ideas, radical beliefs and violent extremist behaviours is not linear, automatic, or one-way.14 At this point it must be emphasised that this refers to anti-democratic radicalisation processes and polarisations that threaten democracy. Historically, the term radicalisation has long been used to refer to democratic and emancipatory movements directed against authoritarian rule. In this way, rulers classified democratic movements as terrorist and branded them as dangerous. This can still be observed today in various parts of the world. The concept of a ‘radical democracy’ is still aimed at enhancing and advancing democratic progress within society, but in a non-violent and participatory way. In times of democratic regression and de-democratisation in many countries, a differentiated view of radicalisation processes, and also of how the terms radical, extreme or terrorist are used, is particularly important.15 A challenge in this context is that even in a number of EU member states, anti-democratic extremist parties are in

13- Efus (2017), Prevention of radicalisation leading to violent extremism. Methodological guide for the development of a local strategy, p.10. 14- The High-Level Commission Expert Group on Radicalisation, set up by the European Commission in 2017 to develop recommendations on how to strengthen EU policies to counter radicalisation and violent extremism, stressed the important link between polarisation and radicalisation. In its final report published in May 2018, the group recognises the relevance of polarisation and extremist ideology for radicalisation processes and highlights the importance of further interrogating and raising awareness to this link (HLCEG-R 2018). 15- Freedom House (2019).


government functions at various political levels. These parties may understand the fight against radicalisation or extremism as the fight against radical emancipatory concerns. In addition, the creation of exclusionary narratives and the establishment of the ‘us-and-them’ terminology (‘othering’) that reinforces the social capital bond created by equals from the same community does not need to be real, it just needs to be perceived as real.16 This distinction highlights the importance of an analysis of the actual situation. The contexts of polarisation can be very different and as a result the strategies for effective prevention can vary significantly. We may refer to, for instance, the conflict in Northern Ireland and the implied polarisation, and compare this to the polarisation of German society around issues of migration and Islam. While the conflict in Northern Ireland is linked to substantial political and territorial issues, and thus to real inequalities, the polarisation of German society around issues of migration and Islam is much less factually based. Yet, irrespective of these contextual differences, the closing of social identities and this configuration of individuals in opposition to each other results in marginalisation and discrimination, and it dehumanises the supposedly antagonist other with fake data, facts and arguments even in the absence of a homogeneous contrary group or opposition. While social identities based on definitions of ‘us and them’ are normal features of social life and communication as they provide identity and security, rigidly closed social identities often prove to be toxic: they not only provide an answer to the question “who am I?”, but can also foster a retreat from wider society and imply a devaluation and dehumanisation of others.17

16- For example, ‘scales’ (i.e. questionnaires) have been developed and validated cross-culturally for measuring perceived income inequalities (subjective GINI) and perceived discrimination, both of which can fuel polarisation. 17- Similarly, a ‘scale’ or questionnaire has been developed and validated cross-culturally to measure the extent to which respondents dehumanise others.


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

Social media, social isolation and polarisation In recent years, social networks have played an important role in the polarisation process of modern societies and in the development of far-reaching and consequential events (one striking example being the assault on the Capitol in Washington in January 2021). It has been shown that algorithms developed by technological platforms to personalise the information we receive via navigation data have become instruments to control the flow of information and exert an increasing influence on public opinion and on the distribution of information. The risk of removing information that contradicts a user’s points of view, causing their de facto isolation in their own ideological bubble, is known as the ‘echo chamber’18 phenomenon or ‘bubble’ filter. This isolation polarises society and drastically reduces the opposition to and confrontation of ideas as an exercise in cognitive complexity.19 Social isolation has increased during the Covid-19 pandemic and in some cases created the perfect breeding ground for polarised narratives, mindsets and behaviours.20 When individuals, groups or communities do not perceive themselves as fairly represented in the institutions responsible for Covid-related decision-making, social cohesion is undermined and polarisation reinforced.

18- See, for example, Pariser, Eli. (2011). The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You. London: Penguin UK. A recent study on this topic: Cinelli et al. (2020). Echo Chambers on Social Media: A comparative analysis. Based on the definition that “echo-chambers are characterised by the coexistence of two elements: (i) opinion polarisation with respect to a controversial topic, and (ii) homophily in interactions, i.e. the preference to interact with like-minded peers” (p.1), the analysis of empirical data provided “support for the hypothesis that platforms organised around social networks and with news feed algorithms which take into account users’ preferences foster the emergence of echo-chambers” (p.6). 19- With or without algorithm-driven echo chambers, internet users themselves often replicate the filtering process by ignoring, giving a ‘thumbs down’, or otherwise being rigidly closed to views different from their own. Exposure to alternative perspectives then leads to the strengthening of one’s pre-established views rather than increasing tolerance for a range of viewpoints, while holding on to one’s own values. ‘Confirmation bias’ refers to the human tendency to interpret incoming information as confirmation of existing views; we do not ‘see’, ignore, or dismiss contradictory information. Confirmation bias can express low cognitive complexity, an inflexible, closed thinking style displayed by individuals and groups that is unable to tolerate difference or cooperate with others when there is disagreement. 20- Notably the American QAnon movement that spreads highly preposterous conspiracy theories about political leaders has increasingly gained ground in Europe since the Covid-19 pandemic emerged.


Polarisation as used throughout this publication Building upon these preliminary definitions and distinctions, it is important to refine the term’s scope as used throughout this publication.

 The polarisation of ideologies does not necessarily mean the polarisation of individuals. In a political context where the public agenda can be fractured around two main blocks, society is not necessarily polarised at the level of individuals.

 Polarisation is not limited to the margins of society but can be rooted in mainstream society. The so-called ‘extremism of the centre’, as expressed for instance in the role of populist parties in governments, is a relatively new phenomenon. As recent political developments in Europe have shown, some elected officials engage deliberately in divisive and antagonistic discourses and actions and thus initiate or reinforce dynamics of polarisation.

 A fundamental structural dimension strongly influences polarisation and, in particular, radicalisation. The exclusion of stakeholders and citizens from public debates, playing fields, decision-making processes or negotiation tables marginalises the excluded groups. The integrative ability of democracies to institutionalise social conflict through a regulated process allowing for the opposing of ideas and values has guaranteed a certain order and stability. Nevertheless, misrepresenting and discriminating against segments of the population can have severe detrimental effects as it can lead to an erosion of social cohesion and fuel polarisation processes. In this sense, it is crucial to address structural deficits by producing ‘polarisation prevention mechanisms’ to reduce discrimination and improve social cohesion, including democratic and civic participation, and reduce inequalities, including health inequalities that lower well-being and resilience. Well-being and resilience operate as protective factors that enable civic participation to increase social cohesion.


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

The role of local and regional authorities in addressing polarisation Many European local and regional authorities are lacking deep and detailed knowledge on the processes of polarisation. As we have seen, polarisation is a complex, multifaceted and rapidly evolving phenomenon. Research on polarisation and policy strategies to address it are being developed at an equally high pace, yet they remain in an early stage. While the drivers of polarisation can be located at the local, national or international level, the effects often play out locally, potentially fuelling tensions, conflicts and violent behaviours within municipalities. Local and regional authorities are key stakeholders who can address polarisation due to their extensive competencies and relevant resources in preventing violence and fostering social cohesion. Their crime prevention and urban security structures are best placed to diagnose and monitor phenomena of polarisation and tensions at the local and regional level. In order to depict a full picture of potential risks and tensions, local and regional authorities should include all groups and communities as well as relevant stakeholders in both the assessment process and in the elaboration of strategies and concrete activities to prevent or mitigate polarisation. By raising awareness about the phenomenon of polarisation, training stakeholders, empowering local actors and associating citizens in these efforts, local and regional authorities can strengthen their communities’ resilience to potential risk factors and actors. The continuous monitoring of polarising dynamics and trends should be integrated into comprehensive urban security approaches and become a cornerstone of prevention policies at the local and regional level. A comprehensive approach allows local and regional authorities to foster a cohesive and resilient society that provides security for all. Prevention and resilience building constitute local authorities’ key assignments in the realm of integrated approaches to urban security. Various local actors and fields can be mobilised and can contribute to building resilience and help prevent polarisation, such as youth centres, social and mental health centres, family counselling, sports


clubs and religious communities. Prevention activities should foster tolerance and highlight the importance of social, cultural and religious diversity as a basic axiom of a peaceful and democratic society. Strengthening resilience encompasses encouraging individuals to reflect upon and empathise with different experiences, perspectives and viewpoints. Enabling dialogue and citizen participation, as well as ensuring that municipalities and other local institutions represent the diversity of the local population they serve, is fundamental to preserve social cohesion and prevent polarisation.


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

Part 2


Diagnosing polarisation through local audits




BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

I. Indicators and tools

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Polarisation increasingly impacts local communities. Assessing the scope of polarisation is thus of paramount importance for cities and regions. A strategic approach to urban security (which as we have seen should also include the objective of preventing polarisation) builds on up-todate knowledge of the local reality. Efus has long advocated such a strategic approach, which should take into account the factors that shape the local ‘security landscape’, in particular socio-economic factors and social cohesion, and that associates all the relevant actors in preventing crime and improving the local perception of crime.21 The implementation of local actions to mitigate and prevent polarisation and thus improve individual and collective security requires a clear and precise understanding of potential risk factors and actors, tensions and fragmentations in the specific context of each city. The best way to establish such an assessment is by conducting a local audit, meaning a systematic analysis of the phenomenon of polarisation in a local context and at a given time. Indeed, an audit is a snapshot of a situation and thus needs to be regularly updated. It helps to identify priorities as well as assets and resources for preventive measures and enables local and regional authorities to develop concrete strategies to tackle the identified challenges. A local polarisation audit will usually involve the analysis of the city’s or region’s demographic and socio-economic characteristics as well as the identification of risk factors and actors that can contribute to increased tensions and polarisation. The effectiveness of existing programmes and activities aimed at strengthening social cohesion at the local level, including services such as health, housing, welfare and education, should be investigated, as well as the institutional and political environment, in order to build on opportunities and innovative prac21- For further information on local audits see Efus (2016) Methods and tools for a Strategic Approach to Urban Security.


tices. It is also crucial to identify opportunities to increase citizen participation and to involve civil society and local stakeholders in the elaboration of a comprehensive prevention strategy.22 The next paragraphs introduce factors and actors a local polarisation audit can identify and analyse.

Demographics Polarisation is not caused by nor unambiguously linked to demographic diversity. However, toxic ‘us’ and ‘them’ narratives often build on and exploit demographic data to highlight a presumed opposition between groups of population. If these narratives gain credence, tensions and fragmentations within local society increase. The analysis of such toxic narratives in light of relevant demographic data can allow local authorities to identify those demographic markers that nourish the supposedly antagonistic collective identities that polarise society. Socio-economic and gender inequalities as well as the absence of equal opportunities for religious or ethnic minorities in local society are factors that should be examined in a local polarisation audit. Data on the following should be collected and analysed: 1. Social equality (i.e. income and distribution of wealth, education and employment match/mismatch, age groups, long-term inhabitants vs. newcomers), including health inequalities and their social determinants. 2. Employment rates, with a special emphasis on links with gender, age, ethnicity and the level of education. 3. Social diversity and multiculturalism. 4. Changing demographic factors and elements (i.e. income distribution/employment in a certain neighbourhood, the arrival of new immigrant groups, the level of social integration of different ethnic and religious groups). 22- Ibid.


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

Social structures The marginalisation or exclusion of certain groups or communities can be a driving factor for tensions and polarisation. The lack of equal access to public and social services, including health services, as well as the geographical exclusion of certain neighbourhoods (for example because of limited connections by public transport) have a segregating effect on certain communities. These daily experiences of marginalisation and exclusion can be aggravated by experiences of discrimination, for example in the equal access to the job market or housing, or discriminatory institutional practices (i.e. ‘racial profiling’). When analysing relevant social structures at the local level, the assessment of potential security concerns concentrated in specific neighbourhoods is of great importance. The occurrence of hate crime, drug trafficking or petty crime contributes to residents’ feelings of insecurity that can impact their well-being and physical and mental health.23 Such security concerns and feelings of insecurity can be exploited in polarising narratives. Accessing data about the following issues will provide valuable information about personal and community resilience, public mental health and areas for investment and intervention to reduce or prevent exploitation by polarisation ‘pushers’:

 Equal access to public services (childcare, schooling, public transport).

 Equal access to social activities (sports clubs, cultural associations).  Security and social/health issues, including victimisation, insecurity and violent discrimination24.

23- Mental ill-health is not limited to diagnosed conditions but includes sub-clinical, psycho-social impairment resulting from adverse experiences, such as the disruption of ‘life systems’ or ‘pillars’ that characterise secure societies: safety/security, networks/bonds, justice, identities/roles and existential meaning (economic, political, religious, spiritual, other). 24- An act of discriminatory violence is a violent incident which the victim, a witness or any other person perceives as being motivated by prejudice, intolerance, bias or hate, and which may or may not constitute a criminal offence under the valid penal code.” In Efus (2017), Preventing Discriminatory Violence at the Local Level: Practices and Recommendations, p.20.


Political and social participation Democracy and social cohesion are strongly based on participation and dialogue as they build on a sense of representation and participation in communal life. In contrast, inequalities in political and democratic participation can increase citizens’ daily experiences of exclusion and marginalisation. Marginalisation may also manifest as an absence of counselling and support structures and other help to ensure citizens are aware of and able to stand up for their rights, ranging from anti-discrimination policies to advice bureaus, legal and financial assistance offices, language support networks, counselling and other mental health services. Experiences of exclusion and marginalisation may also include a lack of safe spaces for discussion, productive dialogue and trust building between different community groups. Such services and facilities can be key in preventing or decreasing the level of polarisation. In order to assess the level of political exclusion and marginalisation, a polarisation audit can observe the following aspects: 1. The level and form of participation in local decision-making processes (in the local neighbourhood and at the municipal level, formally and/or informally). 2. The level of inequalities regarding access to local private and public social support and mental health services, as well as support structures. If the level of participation is low and the level of inequalities in access to support services is high, then marginalisation and exclusion are likely to be present in the local society and constitute a key risk factor for polarisation.

Different perspectives on local realities Perceptions of polarisation can differ according to the perspective and role of the person who is consulted. A police officer’s assessment of the local situation may vary from the view of a social worker; a senior


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

citizen may have a different perception than a young person or a single mother from a minority background. As it is of great importance to obtain a comprehensive picture of polarisation at the local level, different viewpoints from different actors and backgrounds have to be included in the process. Polarisation and its factors are sensitive topics, and analysis requires careful consideration of the influence of who is asking the questions and how they do so, as this will affect how comfortable a participant might feel, and subsequently how free and honest their responses will be.

Risk factors Assessing the situation in a city or region requires an analysis of possible risk factors that might foster harmful forms of polarisation. Demographic data and an analysis of structural deficits should be included, with a targeted assessment of social or political topics or incidents that are relevant to groups or segments of the population. These might relate to controversies over rising crime rates in a specific neighbourhood, concerns about the location of a planned refugee shelter in another, or correspond to echoes of international politics within local communities. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the propagation of conspiracy theories occurred alongside polarised views about public health agency responses and guidelines to mitigate the spread of the virus. Identifying these controversial topics is a prerequisite to developing strategies that respond to local discourses and concerns.

Key figures Gaining a full picture of polarising issues and tensions at the local level also requires the identification of the ‘pushers’ involved in the respective sides of the polarised groups and their focal interests. This includes identifying individuals, groups, organisations and institutions, such as local media outlets, who play a role in polarising dynamics in the city. Conducting this assessment requires the involvement of a variety of stakeholders representing diverse backgrounds and roles within local communities. In order to determine prevention or mitigation strate-


gies, not only should ‘pushers’ of polarisation be identified, but also individuals who can act as potential ‘bridge builders’, ‘bridging agents’ or ‘resource people’ within communities. These are individuals who might not yet be involved in controversies or polarising discourses, but possess public confidence and the ability to engage with diverse parties, groups, and communities. Measures to foster community resilience and reduce destructive polarisation can build on the mobilisation of such figures, who should be involved in identifying preventive and mitigative activities and receive training and systemic support.

Protective factors Local networks, in particular, associations that play an active role in communal, social and cultural life, partnerships and restorative justice practices can help counter polarisation at the local level as they contribute to re-establishing or maintaining just relations, trust, connections and dialogue: all factors that enhance social cohesion, community resilience and citizens’ well-being. Local authorities should provide resources to support these protective factors because they go a long way to prevent or mitigate polarisation. To do so, they first need to identify them locally and assess how they play out. As such, the assessment of protective factors should focus on: 1. The informal and formal structures of local communities and neighbourhoods that address social and political concerns, such as local crime prevention councils, and these structures’ communication and coordination capacities that can help foster social bonds, mediate conflicts and support vulnerable people. 2. The preparedness of public institutions to elicit, engage, address and respond to local concerns and conflicts. 3. The already active or potential resource people/bridge builders who are seen as legitimate mediators across social groups. Once the patterns and functioning of the protective factors have been assessed, information can be gathered about how they are viewed by local residents: are they deemed as well functioning and effective or do


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

residents rather think that they require support, strengthening or re-organisation? When collecting responses, the representation and active participation of citizens should be guaranteed, or at least representative percentages of the local social sub-groups, which will have previously been identified. The following questions could be asked: what are those networks and partnerships that are well functioning? Why can they function effectively? What is missing and what should be changed/reformed?

II. Selection of audit tools

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> The suggested tools aim to identify, affirm and strengthen protective factors as well as to decrease risk factors. A mixed-methods approach is recommended for auditing polarisation to enable municipalities to capture a snapshot of polarisation from many angles, for example using both qualitative methods (focus groups, interviews) and quantitative methods (analysis of existing data, dissemination of questionnaires). Mixing of these methods creates a broader and deeper picture of polarisation based on empirical evidence. Integrating existing demographic data with newly generated quantitative data increases the benefits of previous investments, enables review of data collection processes for improvement and augments existing databases for ongoing monitoring and policy planning. Organising focus groups and interviews generates new insights and can initiate the process of building and strengthening social cohesion. However, bringing together people with different viewpoints requires careful planning to prevent the perpetuation and further entrenchment of polarised viewpoints and narratives among opposing groups and participants.


The following selection of assessment tools provides a range of different axes and perspectives: some of the tools facilitate the detection of polarisation and tensions within the municipality, others help evaluate the level of participation or enable the identification of potential ‘bridge builders’.

1. Polarisation questionnaire/survey (‘zero-sum mindset’) According to ‘zero-sum’ thinking, life is a zero-sum game, and one can only win if the other loses. Such a mindset is one of the root causes of polarisation and social tensions. Therefore, a zero-sum mindset polarisation questionnaire is a useful audit tool to generate empirical data about the manifestation of polarisation in a local community. The survey in question can provide municipalities with genuine insights into the spread of polarisation as well as risk and resilience factors. To do so, the questionnaire uses the concept of a zero-sum mindset, which measures the degree to which an individual views intergroup and social relationships as fixed and antagonistic, excluding the possibility of cooperation and dialogue. The survey aims to assess the presence of zero-sum mindsets along a spectrum, which has been shown to predict key psychological indicators of intergroup hostility.

Operationalisation The questions have to be adapted and edited to fit the city’s local context. It is possible to add territorial markers to the survey, gang names, or other polarising identifiers the municipality perceives to be relevant in the local context. One important aspect to take into account is how the questionnaire will be distributed in order to access as many people as possible and hence gather representative data. This can be done through an online questionnaire, a paper and pen one, or a mix of both. Another important point is to allow people to respond in a safe place anonymously and guarantee their data will not be published or shared. If the responses are collected orally, identifying and demographic data must be recorded and stored separately.


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

In order for such surveys to produce valid data, their execution should be led or supported by an experienced expert partner. Responses may challenge as well as confirm perceptions. Criteria for validity entail that the data collection be based on a representative sample of the population and the survey does not reflect or comprise bias of any kind.

Concrete examples Respondents should feel safe to answer as honestly as possible and be assured that there are no right or wrong answers. Also, they must be able to take as much time as they need. The respondents will indicate their level of approval or rejection of questions/statements such as: “The success of one person is usually the failure of another person.” “Life is such that when one person gains, another person has to lose.” “The local government wants what is best for me and my community.” Besides these statements, to which the respondents’ choices cover a spectrum from ‘strongly disagree’ to ‘strongly agree’, the survey can also entail questions where the respondents need, for example, to name the group or community they most or least identify with.

Required resources To formulate relevant questions and then analyse the answers, it is crucial to have both access and the capacity to analyse existing anonymised demographic data. Furthermore, the local authority must make sure to collect data from participants that represent the diversity of the local population. Incentivising engagement with the questionnaire, under the form of cultural vouchers, coupons or by offering the opportunity to visit important cultural or historical places in the city, could be one option to attract those who would be unlikely to respond without an incentive. The city should avoid collecting skewed data by only including data from participants who are socially agreeable and therefore probably not involved in polarisation. To collect valid data, it


is equally important to be able and prepared to respond promptly and directly to participants (for example if they experience discomfort). In order to guarantee that the city can build on the findings, public engagement must be sustained.

Partnerships To effectively elaborate and implement the questionnaire, close collaboration with the following actors is necessary: government offices that can provide access to the required statistics and data; a local university or research centre to design the questionnaire, carry out the ethical review, help analyse the collected data and present the results in layman’s terms; diverse local communities and groups across the spectrum of polarisation to enable sustainable engagement of respondents; and local and national organisations that can co-sponsor/collaborate in activities encouraging public engagement after the questionnaire’s findings have been analysed.


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

2. Identifying actual or potential ‘resource people/bridge builders/bridging agents’ A tried and tested method to prevent polarisation is to rely on local people who can act as ‘bridge builders’ because they are trusted by the local community and seen as legitimate mediators by the opposing groups. They can play a valuable role in decreasing tensions and rebuilding dialogue and trust. Once identified, they should be trained and provided with ongoing support for short, medium and long-term engagement in the local community (both within specific population groups and between different groups). Such a process should allow these bridge builders to foster social cohesion by increasing intergroup trust and cooperation, and by building on shared interests.

Required resources In order to identify these potential bridge builders, local and regional authorities can consult local stakeholders that have a good knowledge of local communities on the ground and can recommend people who could play that role. These can be mediators, social workers or associations who know and have access to local communities. Once the resource people are identified and engaged, they should be provided with training sessions on the tasks in question and offered constant support and supervision. Furthermore, the municipality should have adequate resources for when the bridge builders eventually reach out to and involve other people and thus help expand the network of bridging agents and render the process more sustainable. Establishing a training programme for bridge builders might require collaborating with local educational institutions or organisations that can provide accreditation or official validation, for example by elaborating a practical test based on a set of required skills and competences.


3. Rotterdam’s Quick Scan Aligned with their Approach to Radicalisation, Extremism and Polarisation, the City of Rotterdam conducts Quick Scans that provide a general assessment of social tensions and polarising incidents and topics within the municipality. The Quick Scan has been conducted four times a year since 2017 and is also utilised in reaction to certain incidents at the local, national and international levels. It allows the local authority to ‘gauge the temperature’ within the city and enables the identification of tensions, polarising topics and sharpened conflicts at an early stage. The Quick Scan involves one-on-one interviews and meetings with key figures, stakeholders and representatives of all the communities and groups of the local society. This helps to quickly collect information about rising concerns and tensions in the city and thus enables a better comprehension and an adequate, targeted response. Other sources of information included in the Quick Scan are reports and information provided by youth services, which operate both online and on-site, as well as briefings and insights by police and other partners.


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

Required resources The Quick Scan’s information and findings are provided by a range of key figures who represent and reflect the diversity of the city’s society. The municipality thus has committed to a long-term effort in establishing and maintaining a network of individuals who represent different communities, neighbourhoods, professions and demographics. These individuals contribute to a peaceful daily life in the city where people, regardless of their background or faith, can live together. The municipality maintains regular contact with them and holds training sessions as well as theme days to support them. The municipal guide for facilitating the network of key figures stresses the importance of investing in these efforts both at times of peace and tranquillity and at times of conflict. Alongside interviews with these individuals, other sources of information are also collected and analysed, including the monitoring and assessment of social media and other relevant online content.

Partnership The municipality’s long-term engagement with its network of key figures is the cornerstone of the Quick Scan methodology. In addition to this, partnerships with police and other municipal services help to detect and assess information on rising tensions and polarisation.

Findings Key individuals often quickly pick up signs of polarising tensions because they can easily identify what is going on in a given community because people trust them. The findings can be differentiated into ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ signals: soft signals refer to sentiments or rising concerns, hard signals to events or incidents. The Quick Scan findings are combined with other sources of information, such as the Rotterdam threat assessment that monitors trends of radicalisation. The Quick Scan is a cornerstone of Rotterdam’s approach to responding to rising polarisation and to determining a comprehensive strategy to foster dialogue and social cohesion. Rotterdam attempts to enable


the voices of moderate groups and individuals to be heard and thus to prevent the escalation of tensions. Local ‘bridge builders’ play an important role in these efforts, as they have the ability to call on members of their community to keep the peace and organise activities to counter increasing polarisation.

4. Ladder of participation Democracy and social cohesion are strongly based on participation and dialogue. The lack of opportunities to formally and informally participate in local society (political, democratic or social/economic participation) is a factor of exclusion and marginalisation and can be one of the structural causes of polarisation processes, as it increases tensions.


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

The ‘ladder of participation’ is a practical tool to assess the possibilities, level and forms of participation of individuals in local society. It is a visual tool that allows local authorities to represent and categorise the different opportunities of participation for individuals within a given society, which can be partnership and participation in debate, participation in decisions, and partial decision-making power 25.

Required resources to use the tool The local authority should have access to and the capacity to analyse anonymised data on conventional and unconventional participation in democratic processes across different groups and milieus within the local society. If existing data does not include conventional and unconventional forms of participation, then the municipality should be able to carry out a democracy perception analysis using the ladder of participation and test it with the public. Once the collection phase is completed, the relevant municipal experts analyse the data, focusing on the groups and subgroups who perceive themselves as influential and powerful in different areas of local decision-making. Finally, local authorities need to have the capacity and the political will to respond to the findings by designing strategies to reinforce public engagement and participation.

Partnerships In order to carry out this exercise, it is recommended that the local authorities engage with relevant national or regional government offices that can provide them with access to the required statistics and related data; local communities and groups across the spectrum of perceived democratic participation; local and national organisations that co-sponsor/support public engagement; a local university or research centre that can facilitate an ethical review and support the research, analysis and reporting processes; local education institutions and/or associations (cultural or sports clubs) that can promote the participa25- PRACTICIES Project (H2020-SEC-06-FCT-2016), D4.2 – Exchange of experiences, 28 October 2018, p.6.


tion of young people; and lastly social workers and NGOs that have contacts and trusting relationships with groups who are unlikely to participate politically.

The links of the findings with the level of polarisation Findings provided by the ladder of participation will enable local and regional authorities to assess and address experiences along a continuum of disempowerment versus democratic participation and co-decision making. Indeed, experiences of marginalisation and disempowerment, real or perceived, can fuel polarisation and erode social cohesion.


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

III. Ethics review

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Before starting the implementation process, audit tools based on surveys or questionnaires require ethical review and approval. Ethics applications usually require the submission of sample forms such as participant information and a consent form (and a separate consent form for photographs, video and audio recordings). It is advisable to verify these requirements beforehand with a local university or central ethics committee (in some countries the ethics review process is centralised, while in others it is decentralised and based in research institutions such as universities). At an early stage of the planification of the audit, local and regional authorities should engage in collaborative partnerships with researchers and organisations that can support the ethics application processes. This collaboration will help the city to conceptualise the use of the tools in ways that not only meet the international ethics standard, but also contribute to addressing underlying risk factors for polarisation and supporting protective factors for social cohesion. As the duration of an ethics review can range from weeks to several months, it is necessary to plan for this early on. An ethics review is not the same as a legal review and it is possible that both will be required in the city’s respective context (compliance with local, regional, national and European requirements). During the Covid-19 health crisis, many, if not most, ethics review committees around the world have prioritised Covid-related research and put in place expedited ethics review processes for any research related to the pandemic. Given that Covid-19 has in some cases amplified and accelerated polarisation, including the social and physical determinants that contribute to inequalities of all kinds, collaborating with public mental health experts to include Covid-related questions in qualitative and/or quantitative research focusing on polarisation could benefit cities and regions.

26- It can depend on the respective national and local context; in each case it should be verified in order to ensure the ethics reviews’ compliance with the relevant legal requirements.



BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

Part 3


Addressing polarisation – innovative strategies of prevention and mitigation




BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

Based on the results and findings of the audit phase – which allowed each local and regional partner to assess the level and form of polarisation at play in their respective context, the risks and the protective factors and actors – local authorities elaborated targeted local pilot projects with the help of the BRIDGE expert panel. These projects seek to prevent and/or mitigate polarisation in the short, medium and long term. Their objective is to implement sustainable solutions to prevent and/or mitigate the structural root causes of polarisation instead of only proposing immediate actions to tackle polarisation in an ad hoc manner. These actions can only be sustainable if citizens appropriate them, which means they have to be involved in the design and implementation processes along with all the relevant local stakeholders that will have been previously identified, building a ‘whole of society’ approach. Due to the unprecedented situation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the local partners’ pilot activities had to be reviewed and adapted to the circumstances, while in some cases the implementation of activities requiring in-person participation had to be delayed. As, at the time of writing, restrictive health measures – with some national differences – are still in place, some activities are still pending and their future implementation is uncertain.

City of Brussels: Polarisation questionnaire and focus group methodology The objectives of the pilot project of the City of Brussels were manifold: 1. Better understand the structure of polarisation in the city. 2. Improve local inter-community relations. 3. Bridge the gap between different population groups and local institutions and government. In light of these objectives, the City of Brussels has implemented an online survey in order to better understand the structure and characteristics of polarisation at the local level and the impact of the Covid-19 health crisis on it.


This large-scale qualitative survey targets 5,000 residents and workers in Brussels. Experts contributed to creating the questionnaire in order to ensure it would produce valid data and be adapted to the local context of the city, as well as to designing the sampling of the local population. A legal and ethical review was also conducted. Furthermore, to guarantee the validity of the sample, and notably the inclusion of categories of the population who tend to be marginalised in such surveys (seniors, migrants, women), the city created cross-departmental partnerships with different city services, such as higher education, social services and community centres. In order to incentivise local residents to take part, they were offered free visits to cultural and historical landmarks in Brussels. The idea was also to illustrate the bonds that exist between the city and its residents through these visits. The questionnaire itself is tested and disseminated in five phases: the first one is addressed to English speakers in Belgium recruited through a survey recruitment platform, such as Prolific or Pollfish. This testing phase aims at enabling analysis planning and identifying the parts of the survey that the city could edit if needed. The second one is based on a convenience sample: the City of Brussels staff orally report their survey experience in French and Flemish/Dutch to other staff who will record, translate and communicate the experiences to the researchers. No survey data will be collected to capture user experience. The individuals do not provide real data; the focus is on surveying their experiences (which may vary). The third one is addressed to French and Flemish/Dutch speakers in Belgium recruited through a survey platform, to test translations, analyse plans and iron out any remaining glitches. The fourth one is based on a convenience sample of Brussels’ residents with whom the city already has strong relationships who could facilitate preparing social workers and community members for focus group sessions and gather initial empirical data regarding polarisation and public health. Finally, the last


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

phase consists of recruitment from the general population and targeted subpopulation groups to increase empirical understanding of polarisation and public health during this time. At the time of writing, the analysis of the questionnaire’s results by specialised experts remained to be done. After that, the municipality plans to set up citizen focus groups and training for community leaders. The purpose of these focus groups is to gain knowledge on existing tensions between different groups of the population while building a continuous dialogue between them and local authorities. Further actions foreseen: Recruitment and training of community leaders in dialogue facilitation methods (September-October 2021). Implementation of the focus group process in co-facilitation between social mediators and community leaders (end of 2021-2022). Key attention points and recommendations: the design of the questionnaire and evaluation of its results should be done by experts to ensure it produces valid data based on results from a representative sample; a legal and ethics review should be carried out; and the municipality should clearly identify the objectives it intends to pursue in light of the survey’s results, as part of a long-term sustainable strategy.

Government of Catalonia and City of Terrassa: conducting an in-depth polarisation survey Based on the findings and insights gathered in their audit phase, the Government of Catalonia and the Municipality of Terrassa developed a survey to further analyse the complex conflicts related to polarisation dynamics in this region. The survey aimed to investigate social cohesion, security issues and radicalism/extremism, as well as resilience factors. It also comprised questions about community interactions, external influences on polarising dynamics and good practices to foster social cohesion.


The survey was delivered in a twofold approach: in the city of Terrassa, the questionnaire was distributed to a variety of actors, such as social workers, local police, professionals in the field of education, community leaders and members of local health services, to gain a more comprehensive picture of the local situation. In a complementary step, about 300 members of the Catalan police forces were queried to cover a wider scope of polarising actors and dynamics in the whole region. The findings and results are to be analysed and disseminated via online training sessions for police and municipal actors across Catalan municipalities. The regional authority seeks to incorporate both the extrapolated findings and the tools of the polarisation survey into their integrated public policy strategies.

City of Düsseldorf: raising awareness on the phenomenon of polarisation The state capital of North Rhine-Westphalia, Düsseldorf has long been committed to promoting togetherness in the city’s society. In addition to the City Council, there is an integration council, a council for senior citizens, a youth council and an advisory council for the disabled, all of which take care of the concerns of these respective groups. Although all of these bodies have existed for a long time, polarising, and in some cases extremist, views and behaviours are now emerging in Düsseldorf. To address this, the municipality decided to launch a video campaign that raises awareness among a variety of local stakeholders and the general public. A working group was formed, including partners from the Equal Opportunities Office, Office for Migration and Integration, Department for Culture, School Administration Office, Youth Welfare Office, League of Welfare Associations, the Jewish community and the Crime Prevention Board. The video produced for the campaign will be made available to educational professionals to engage in a discussion with young people on racism, discrimination and polarisation.


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

City of Genk: dialogue sessions on the impact of the pandemic and collective storytelling The City of Genk’s pilot project focuses on learning about the pandemic’s impact on levels of polarisation among different age groups (16-25, 26-39, 40+) in order to understand the tensions within local society during the pandemic, the emergence of potential new ‘polarising factors and actors’, and the negative and positive impacts the pandemic has had on polarisation. Genk wants to learn about and understand personal stories and experiences. Therefore, residents will be invited to share their experience during group sessions. To obtain the relevant information from the different age groups, dialogue sessions will be organised for all the age groups together. Participants are selected by a specialised social worker and by representatives of the relevant municipal services (‘Diversity and Equal Opportunities’ and ‘Positive identity development and connectedness’). Based on the results of the dialogue sessions, the participants will design and produce a creative final ‘product’ (e.g. a written collection of stories, theatre performance, exhibition, short film, etc.) and co-create it. The main objective of this activity is to share personal stories and experiences that can build connections between different members of the community and enhance social cohesion. The final product will present both the negative and positive impacts of the pandemic (as a potential positive impact we may think of the fact that the shared experience of the health crisis could possibly help to overcome divisions). The municipality expects that a number of themes will emerge from these conversations and wishes to openly discuss them with local residents. Themes that might emerge include:

poverty/economic difficulties and opportunities gender/sexuality cultural diversity religion/belief health/well-being 56

 globalisation education/training asylum/migration education/work/training perceptions of people and of society leisure/nightlife (club life). As a preparation for the group session, one-on-one conversations are equally organised with participants in a safe environment where they can freely tell their stories and share their experiences. Key attention points and recommendations: it is advisable to task specialised municipal officers, such as social workers, with selecting participants; participants must give their consent; and the selected group should be representative of the different local communities.

City of Igoumenitsa: polarisation questionnaire and thematic seminar for local stakeholders The city’s pilot project is based on a polarisation questionnaire – elaborated with expert support – aimed at detecting the level and form of social tensions and thus the potential manifestations of polarisation in the local society. The questionnaire was addressed to local stakeholders (local elected officials; representatives from the police and the coast guards; the Law Association of the City; the Commercial Association; representatives of the local media and cultural actors...) Forty-eight local stakeholders responded to the questionnaire. The results showed that there are indeed social tensions and that the society is, to some extent, polarised. To the question “Are there different groups in our local area who do not talk to each other (which groups)?”, the majority of the respondents answered ‘yes’. As for the categories of citizens who do not engage in exchanges with other groups, the respondents identified the Roma population, students (secondary education) and supporters of various sports clubs.


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

To the second question, “Are there groups who are excluded, marginalised or discriminated against by the state or by others?”, the majority of the respondents said ‘yes’. Most believe that there are indeed social groups that are excluded, marginalised and discriminated against, and that they include, primarily, the Roma population and workers from immigrant backgrounds. To question number three, “Have you noticed/experienced crime/ violence in your city?”, 66.7% replied they had witnessed phenomena of violence and delinquent behaviour in the city. To the sub question, “Which of the above phenomena is believed to lead to polarisation/ xenophobia/racism and sexist violence?”, 81% replied that it is mainly “Acts of violence and vandalism in public and communal spaces”. Related to this sub-question, under question number four, “Do you think that this phenomenon has increased in recent years?”, 88.3% replied ‘yes’, which shows that this issue needs to be tackled. Finally, the last question focused on the role of the city in preventing and mitigating such acts and behaviours that could, for example, lead to or increase polarisation. To the questions “What kind of actions shall be taken?” and “Who do you believe should undertake these actions?”, almost all the respondents said that the City of Igoumenitsa and its associated bodies should primarily elaborate and implement awareness-raising activities, for example via different online and media channels. An expert analysed the results and pointed out the areas of tension that fuel polarisation and the actions that could be taken. The next stage will be for the municipality to organise jointly with specialised experts a seminar with local stakeholders on what constitutes polarisation, how it manifests in the local community, and how to prevent or mitigate it, for example with awareness actions targeted at young people. Key attention points and recommendations: elaborate the questionnaire with the support of an expert who is aware of the local specificities and of the nuances of the terms related to polarisation in the Greek language; the local stakeholders shall be informed about the project’s objective and the aims of the questionnaire, in order to be engaged in the awareness-raising sessions and in the follow-up activi-


ties that seek to prevent or mitigate polarisation; and the experts shall have relevant knowledge and be aware of the local characteristics.

City of Leuven: developing a model of ‘restorative approach’ in the organisational structure of the city and experimenting with the ‘community circles’ methodology Under its pilot activity, the Municipality of Leuven sought to include the ‘restorative approach’ model in its organisational structure and, on the practical level, to experiment with the ‘community circles’ method in a pilot case in a neighbourhood where conflicts and tensions are recurrent. The restorative approach is a way to deal with conflict and harm by bringing all the involved parties together in a safe environment where they can recognise the damage caused and work together to repair it. It is particularly fruitful in dealing with situations of polarisation. In the words of Tim Chapman, an expert in this field, “restorative justice enables people to meet either to build community or to repair community after a harmful incident. This can be done through restorative circles or conferences in which everyone is supported to relate their experiences and express their feelings and views and to listen and question each other in a safe and respectful manner. A restorative circle is a non-hierarchical communication process in which each participant sits in a circle and speaks in turn without interruption.”27 The City of Leuven aims to apply this approach to its modus operandi. To do so, the municipality has planned a preparatory phase during which different municipal services as well as all the members of the steering group of Leuven Restorative City will work together on how to operationalise the restorative approach for the municipality. They will produce clear, practical recommendations regarding the restorative approach in Leuven for the City Council; identify a case for the use of the community circle model; compose, prepare and run the community

27- Mitigating Polarisation: Lessons from the restorative justice approach by Tim Chapman, expert with the BRIDGE project. Article published on Efus’ website (2021):


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

circle, led by a facilitator; document and evaluate its process and outcomes; and discuss and define the relation between the community circles model and other restorative practices. In line with the objective of integrating the restorative approach in the organisational structure of the city, there will be parallel work phases. The first one will seek to define the precise organisational structure required to support Leuven as a restorative city. It will be followed by three interactive sessions to clarify the stakeholders’ ambitions and objectives; the form of governance for this structural support; and the roles and tasks of the partners involved in this structural innovation and the necessary financial support. The second phase, a scientific one, will consist of research on how Leuven can effectively be a restorative city. This phase will be mainly carried out by an external expert. In particular, this activity will focus on the benefits this approach can bring to local actors and citizens. The effective implementation of these activities requires collaborative work in partnership with members of the steering group of Leuven Restorative City (municipal services, local police, KU Leuven (University of Leuven) Institute of Criminology, local mediation services and youth workers) and with the stakeholders of the pilot case (e.g. neighbourhood managers, neighbourhood mediators, social housing and community guards). Prior to the operationalisation of the work of this partnership, representatives of the relevant stakeholders had the opportunity to participate in a training session on restorative justice as an effective method to curb polarisation. Key attention points and recommendations: the relevant stakeholders should be trained to understand the specificities of the restorative approach with its community circle tool; the pilot case for the experimentation of the community circle tool should be identified with expert support; and clear and practical recommendations and conclusions should be formulated based on the test case in order to integrate the restorative approach in the city’s organisational structure and thus make its use sustainable.


City of Reggio Emilia: accompanying urban regeneration by invigorating social cohesion The Municipality of Reggio Emilia’s polarisation audit revealed tensions between different groups of the local population living in the neighbourhood surrounding the train station. The area is characterised by strong economic and social inequalities and the lack of public spaces where citizens can meet. This multicultural and diverse neighbourhood has a poor image among residents of Reggio Emilia, mostly because of negative media coverage. On the urban regeneration plans to revive the station area by developing an underused former industrial compound, the municipality and its partners decided to develop their pilot project as an accompanying measure to foster social cohesion and prevent further polarisation in this neighbourhood. The city thus responded to the associations and communities of foreign citizens who are based in the area or work in it, and who had expressed the need to redevelop the neighbourhood from a residential, social and cultural point of view. The municipality and its assigned partner, the Mondinsieme association, organised a series of meetings in the neighbourhood, building on existing collaboration within a network of local stakeholders, citizens, municipal staff and police. The aim was to identify and involve key individuals living in the area and therefore to enhance the inclusiveness of the activities designed to foster communication and social cohesion. Besides these meetings, an annual street game festival in the neighbourhood was initiated, aiming to create shared spaces and activities for all citizens, whether immigrants or natives, residents or non-residents. Accompanying the urban development of the station area and particularly the planned relocation of the municipal police headquarters in this neighbourhood, a training programme was conducted for the municipal police that aimed to improve communication with local residents. The programme encouraged an intercultural approach, helped dispel stereotypes and fostered mutual understanding between police and citizens by promoting dialogue and cooperation. All activities that accompanied the urban regeneration of the neighbourhood contributed to the objective of collectively rewriting the narrative around the station area.


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

Key attention points and recommendations: encouraging fruitful dialogue between local residents and police requires the involvement of trained professionals who can facilitate communication and potentially help dismantle stereotypes.

City of Rotterdam: addressing the need to mitigate polarisation in schools The City of Rotterdam’s assessment of polarisation through the Quick Scan method (see Part 2, Chapter 2.3) revealed that the detected tensions and polarising dynamics were also affecting local schools. Notably, secondary school teachers expressed a need for support in tackling polarising dynamics that divide students and thus endanger peaceful and respectful daily life at school. The municipality addressed this need by carrying out an online training programme for future secondary school teachers to provide them not only with theoretical insights and knowledge about radicalisation processes and polarisation dynamics, but also to focus on their practical and communication skills. The aim is to teach concrete methods on how to react to students who incite polarising and antagonistic debates, as well as how to establish classrooms as safe spaces where students can freely discuss their opinions and beliefs. The training programme will be evaluated and made available for a larger number of teachers or future teachers in Rotterdam and beyond.

City of Stuttgart: tackling polarisation by training Respect Guides The Municipality of Stuttgart decided to address the issue of polarisation as they perceived rising tensions between different groups of society due to and subsequent to several incidents at public pools, where employees and lifeguards were insulted and even attacked. These incidents, which coincided with similar events in other German cities, provoked widespread media attention and led to growing controversies. To a certain extent, immigrants and young people were blamed for the events and stigmatised as disrespectful. The discussion


was shaped by false accusations and misleading generalisations. These incidents, as well as other observations, led the City of Stuttgart to focus on the topic of respect and to decide to tackle the evolving polarising dynamics. The Respect Guides pilot project aimed at fostering social cohesion by promoting the importance of respectful, fair and peaceful interactions among all citizens, particularly in public spaces. The project was based on a peer-to-peer approach and enhanced dialogue between young people and other groups of society. By reaching out to citizens and engaging them in dialogue about respectful and peaceful communal life, the volunteers were also acting as intermediaries between the city and the public. Furthermore, as they were representing different local population groups, the Respect Guides helped emphasise the opportunities that arise from immigration and diversity. The city launched a public campaign to recruit volunteers, predominantly among young adults. They all received training on their mission as Respect Guides and basic knowledge about communication strategies and conflict management. When performing their duties in public spaces such as pools, parks and plazas, they were always accompanied by municipal staff and sometimes conducted joint missions with police officers. The city provided constant support in the form of occasions to reflect on the missions and advanced training sessions. The pilot project was implemented in cooperation with several partners, such as police, conflict trainers deployed by a street workers’ network, youth associations and the city-owned company in charge of public swimming pools. This cooperative approach strengthened the city’s general approach to security, called Stuttgart’s ‘partnership for security’. Above all, the pilot project confirmed the assumption that the majority of young people are open to dialogue and cooperation, if approached on equal terms and addressed by low-threshold communication. Key attention points and recommendations: recruiting volunteer Respect Guides requires constant support and supervision, as well as training in communication and conflict management provided by professionals. When being deployed, volunteers should always be accom-


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

panied by municipal staff, police or other professionals. The limits and boundaries of their missions must be clearly communicated and followed: volunteers cannot and should not act in unsafe situations where professional mediation or even police intervention is required.

Department of Val d’Oise: educational and cultural activities to decrease tensions between police and youngsters The Val d’Oise local pilot project was implemented as part of its specialised prevention policy in the cities of Argenteuil and Villiers-le-Bel and focused on tensions between police and youngsters. It aimed at understanding the views from each side; nuancing and developing the perception and the representation of the two groups and creating favourable conditions for dialogue; and strengthening the links and trust between professionals involved in the regulation of juvenile behaviour in public spaces. In light of these objectives, the pilot project of Val d’Oise was divided into four mutually reinforcing and complementary sub-activities. The Valdocco association – active in the field of specialised prevention – started working with a group of 4-5 young girls on writing a screenplay in order to make a short film on the theme of police-population relations. The girls were able to meet police officers and interact. This exchange nourished the final phase of the implementation of the short film. This activity is complemented by another educational and artistic action led by the Contact association, also working in the field of specialised prevention. Under this activity, Contact works with youngsters to transcribe, with the help of a professional editor working for a publishing company, their experiences with and perceptions of the police. It is also foreseen, if possible, to carry out the same activity with volunteer police officers. The texts will constitute the basis of a cross-cutting review and potentially a meeting between representatives of the two groups. In addition, a working group on police-youth relations is foreseen to be


set up, gathering police officers and specialised prevention educators. It will discuss ways to diffuse tensions between the two groups and dispel prejudice and misrepresentations. Finally, the fourth action will consist of theatre performances on the theme of police-population relations followed by a debate. The Théâtre en Stock association will deliver this activity. The play will be written for the Departmental Council of Val d’Oise, with the involvement of police officers and specialised prevention associations. The play is foreseen to be offered to specialised prevention associations that could mobilise young people to participate. Key attention points and recommendations: create a safe place for dialogue; establish trust with each concerned group before trying to work on the subject with them; and engage in artistic and cultural activities under the supervision of experts and professionals in order to build a bridge between the different groups.

City of Vaulx-en-Velin: a deepened assessment to objectivise the level and form of polarisation and elaborate a local prevention strategy The municipality’s local pilot project sought to carry out an in-depth, objective analysis of local polarisation – which is actually not clearly identified, described or well known by the local actors and citizens in Vaulx-en-Velin – and to identify indicators through which the city can locally monitor the evolution of polarisation. Based on the findings, a sustainable, long-term objective was also associated with the results of the pilot activity, namely to elaborate concrete courses of action to prevent the identified manifestations of polarisation. To implement these actions, Vaulx-en-Velin designs the methodology for an in-depth diagnostic, identifies quantitative evaluation indicators of local polarisation, and designs/readapts relevant qualitative assessment tools (e.g. questionnaires). In the following stage, data and information are to be collected in relation to the identified indicators. Afterwards, the next steps concern the registration of the data collected and the analysis of the results.


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

To implement the planned activities, two types of partnerships have to be established and mobilised. The first is a partnership with an expert/ professional from the field of research and academia, with knowledge of polarisation and experience in the elaboration of relevant indicators and analysis of results. This is in order to design a methodology that allows an objectified analysis of the raw data collected. The second type of partnership gathers local actors and aims at collecting qualitative and quantitative data. Such local actors include, for example, the relevant municipal services, representatives of the police and the citizens who could also provide the local authority with the necessary information and data. Key attention points and recommendations: for an in-depth assessment of polarisation, the local authority should work with a relevant expert who has specific knowledge of polarisation and the elaboration of relevant indicators to collect representative data, as well as the analysis of data; local partnerships should be established and mobilised to collect relevant information and data; and the results should be presented in a manner that may nourish a long-term, sustainable strategy to prevent polarisation, which can include suggestions for specific actions; lastly, such a strategy should be fully integrated into the existing, overall security strategy.

Region of Umbria: inquiring into the spread of zero-sum thinking and training local stakeholders The Region of Umbria conducted a regional polarisation audit that revealed not only an increasing poverty rate and other negative socio-economic factors, but also a downward trend in political participation and the increasing spread of hate speech against immigrants. As the audit’s findings revealed the presence of polarisation among the region’s citizens, the regional authority decided to further investigate the phenomenon by measuring the spread of zero-sum thinking within the population. A survey, based on a psycho-diagnostic instrument designed to measure the presence of zero-sum thinking, was carried out in cooperation with the University of Perugia and other experts. In order to include a wide range of individuals representing the diversity


of the population’s socio-economic, cultural and educational background, the research used both a paper and an online questionnaire. The paper questionnaire was given out in doctors' surgeries and hairdresser salons, as well as to groups of residents in different municipalities. The online questionnaire was predominantly filled in by university students. The survey results showed a greater diffusion of potential polarisation phenomena among individuals with lower education levels, people aged between 35 and 60, and residents of the urban suburbs and the less-populated municipalities. Following this survey, a training programme for multiple stakeholders – including police, municipal staff, lawyers and representatives of various civil society organisations – was carried out. The purpose was to inform about and discuss the phenomenon of polarisation, disseminate the survey’s findings and raise awareness. The training programme included sessions on crime prevention and integrated urban security approaches, as well as on the phenomenon of hate speech. In order to continue efforts to raise awareness of polarisation and to capitalise on the experience and knowledge achieved to date, the region produced a publication that will be disseminated to other local and regional authorities. The Region of Umbria conducted its pilot project activities in cooperation with academic experts and the University of Perugia, municipalities in and beyond the region, police, bar associations, civil society organisations, physicians and hairdressers. Key attention points and recommendations: conducting a survey on the spread of zero-sum thinking requires the involvement of experts, such as academics. Ethical and legal aspects must be carefully considered and all research and data collection activities must be compliant with national and EU legislation. In particular, collaboration with professionals in sensitive areas such as GP surgeries and hairdressers requires extensive preparation and precautionary measures to guarantee the confidentiality of the information and anonymity of respondents.


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

Part 4


Integrating polarisation in urban security policies – recommendations for local and regional authorities




BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

The following section provides methodological and operational recommendations for local authorities on the elaboration of local safety audits and the design and implementation of sustainable local strategies and activities that aim to prevent or mitigate polarisation. All measures and efforts to diagnose and tackle polarisation at the local or regional level should be aligned with and integrated into the city’s or region’s general prevention strategies, policies and initiatives. They should build on existing networks and complement existing practices to promote social cohesion and enhance community resilience. As polarisation is a manifold and complex phenomenon that impacts multiple layers and spheres of society, successful prevention and mitigation strategies require a cross-sectoral and multi-stakeholder approach. Thus, various municipal services (social services and education, police and health services) as well as stakeholders such as youth associations, citizens’ initiatives and community leaders should be involved in the development and implementation of polarisation prevention strategies.

Tackling a sensitive topic Addressing polarisation is challenging and requires the involvement of a range of local actors and local stakeholders. Yet, their respective perceptions of local realities and the dynamics and assumptions about the causes of polarisation may vary significantly. Determining whether the local population exhibits phenomena of polarisation and which behaviour, action and situation is correctly described as polarising should be conducted carefully and requires transparency and clarification of terms and understandings. Engaging a variety of local actors to elaborate a shared and common understanding of the local situation is thus paramount. Conflicts of interest or tensions between groups or communities are legitimate and constitute the norm in democratic societies. Misusing or light-heartedly applying the label ‘polarisation’ can (unintentionally) discredit the legitimate claims of one or another group and thus elicit further tensions and lead to polarisation.


When local realities display sharpened conflicts and polarising dynamics between groups or communities, the municipality must be aware that representatives of local government or police cannot act as ‘bridge builders’ themselves, as they are most likely not perceived as impartial representatives of a trustworthy institution by all actors involved. Tackling polarisation in the midst of a highly divisive controversy that affects the local population necessitates precautions and strategies that might be, to some extent, counter-intuitive. As polarisation thrives on constant attention to reinforce divisive narratives, mitigating activities should not be addressed to the ‘troublemakers’ or ‘pushers’ of polarisation themselves. A local authority that addresses polarising actors while polarising dynamics are still unfolding and unresolved might unintentionally legitimate their claims and amplify underlying divisive narratives. On the contrary, activities to mitigate polarisation should, at first, focus on target groups that do not actively take part in the sharpened conflict, the so-called ‘silent middle ground’. Communication strategies about measures to mitigate sharpened conflicts and tensions should take into account existing polarising narratives and avoid (unintentionally) reinforcing presumed labels and stereotypes of either group involved28.

Political will – the role of local and regional elected officials Political support and engagement, as well as active communication of elected officials about objectives and strategies to tackle polarisation, are necessary for the effective implementation of preventive and mitigating measures. Elected officials’ political discourse and public acts are highly symbolic and can serve as an example and leverage within the local or regional context. Such discourses and acts can also have a spillover effect at the national and even international level. As such, local and regional politicians should refrain from any kind of polarising discourse themselves and always, under all circumstances (including campaigning), promote inclusivity and tolerance. 28- See Efus (2017), Preventing Discriminatory Violence at the Local Level: Practices and Recommendations.


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

The political will and engagement of elected officials should be expressed through transparent communication both internally (with their own teams) and externally (with the local citizens), as well as in financial support and adequate resources to tackle the problem. This will give political legitimacy and public acknowledgement to the strategies and activities that are carried out.

Building on a shared vision for the city Elaborating a concrete prevention plan to tackle polarisation starts with a broad assessment of the scope and forms of the problem at the local and regional level. As a next step, it requires the formulation of a clear vision about the future of the city. This vision should be shared and supported by all actors involved in the process. It implies collectively defining medium and long-term goals, as well as establishing a common understanding of the objectives and priorities. It enhances multi-stakeholder participation and thus the inclusiveness of the policy-making process. Such a collective effort is most effective when it focuses on highlighting potential, resources and shared experiences rather than deficits and conflicts. Addressing the issue of polarisation based on a broadly shared vision for the future of the city or region fosters public acceptance and support. In order to gain broad support and ensure that the local population is involved in the process – and therefore claims ownership of this vision for the community – informal formats of participation should be put in place that go beyond formal electoral politics. Many municipalities already carry out various forms of citizen participation on a regular basis, ranging from panel discussions with political leaders, town hall meetings, focus groups and ‘future labs’. The development of strategies and measures to tackle polarisation should build on such formats to mobilise and engage the local community in the development of shared goals and a common vision.


Creating a space for dialogue and mutual understanding Polarisation is characterised by hardened fronts and the absence, or even refusal, of constructive dialogue between opposing groups. Facilitating dialogue between groups and segments of the population is thus of utmost importance to overcome sharpened tensions. Bringing people with diverse viewpoints together requires careful planning and facilitators who are acknowledged and seen as legitimate and impartial, as well as trusted, by all involved. Group dialogue activities should be carried out in a format that ensures equal status and treatment, shared goals, cooperative interaction and institutional support. Initiating dialogue without preparation can perpetuate and entrench intergroup conflict.29 Yet, facilitating intergroup contact, when accompanied by trained practitioners and conducted carefully, can foster participants’ capacities to empathise and can help increase cognitive complexity that translates into openness and correlates to increases in resilience.30 Increasing cognitive complexity by overcoming patterns of black-and-white thinking as well as ‘us-and-them’ thinking is not an easy task. Nevertheless, facilitating participants’ reflection on and expression of their experiences and enabling everyone to share their story while steering away from discussions about the ‘other group’ can be a valuable starting point. Plans to facilitate dialogue should take the actual local context into account. When there is no particular conflict or recent incident, prevention dialogue involving participants representing a variety of backgrounds can foster mutual understanding and help (re-)affirm a commitment to resolving conflicts peacefully and foster positive interactions between groups of the local or regional society. In case of entrenched conflict, dialogue as a part of a mediation process can be helpful. Trained professional local actors (e.g. social workers) could engage the silent middle ground to participate in such a type of event. Members of perceived polarised parties should meet separately to achieve clear aims. Participants should be carefully recruited based

29- See Kelman, H. C., & Fisher, R. J. (2003). 30- See Boyd-MacMillan et al. (2016); Saslow et al. (2014); Pancer et al. (2000).


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

on their willingness to own the problem and talk about it. The use of polarising rhetoric and intergroup confrontation should be avoided because it will elicit reactive defensiveness and prevent further communication and engagement. When a conflict or incident has been resolved, reconciliation dialogue involving members of polarised groups is a useful format that can help reduce polarising rhetoric, promote measures to contribute constructively in cases of conflict and foster social cohesion.

Actors, networks, partnerships Based on the previous assessment of existing resources, structures and potential voids, the elaboration and implementation of concrete actions seeking to prevent or mitigate polarisation require teaming up with different actors. Key actors and partnerships should be identified and attributed specific roles (i.e. bridge builders or bridging agents) and tasks. These actors and partnerships should represent public services and civil society organisations, while also including informal structures and individuals. Such an approach might require the involvement of organisations that are not yet part of the municipal networks, or with whom the municipality does not have formal contacts or officialised relations yet. In this regard, it is important to elaborate targeted communication strategies that seek to explain the reasons why being part of a local prevention scheme can be seen as an acknowledgement of one’s role and responsibility within the community, while aiming to respond to the potential concerns the actors may have concerning the ‘negative’ effects at stake (e.g. enhanced responsibility, potential criticism arising from some segments of the local society, etc.) While local actors are key to a prevention strategy, they might not be sufficient to implement all relevant tasks. Cooperation with regional or national institutions in terms of additional expertise and resources could be highly useful. Such a multilevel and multi-stakeholder collaboration can provide the activity with diverse fields of expertise and background knowledge. Consequently, continuous exchange among


policymakers, researchers and practitioners contributes to the elaboration of local, on-the-ground strategies and tools. This multilevel and multi-stakeholder collaboration can further enhance a whole-of-society approach and can contribute to the real and perceived level of legitimacy of the actions carried out.

Capacity building Polarisation affects individuals, communities and society as a whole, as well as institutions, and poses a challenge to a multiplicity of policy fields and practitioners. Addressing this challenge requires a variety of skills, competencies and knowledge. The phenomenon of polarisation is not ‘new’ as such, but its contexts and dynamics vary and evolve over time. To effectively address polarisation and its various expressions, it is necessary to take stock of existing skills, competencies and expertise that can be built upon, and to identify additional needs for targeted training and capacity building. These needs can be linked to a range of domains: the particular role of social media in polarisation processes and the importance of social media skills and tools in responding to this challenge; the rise of new political players that are fuelling polarisation and about whom knowledge is not yet widely available; and the specific expression of polarisation and its underlying narratives, for instance with regard to questions of religion or global conflicts. Based on the assessment of relevant actors and their roles and expertise, the preparation of any prevention scheme should thus detail the specific needs for additional training to provide appropriate background information and knowledge, as well as enhance skills and competencies to respond. This will have to include reflective trauma-informed professional practices, including supervision arrangements (e.g. with senior colleagues, peer-led, and mentoring opportunities) to reduce the risk of compassion fatigue and vicarious and secondary trauma. The latter benefits from the on-going presence and availability of mental health professionals for confidential consultations and support without stigma or negative professional consequences.


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

Starting point – local and regional polarisation audits The initial step and cornerstone of any further concrete actions when seeking to prevent or mitigate polarisation is the design and implementation of local and regional polarisation audits (cf. Part 2). This context-specific diagnostic is crucial to improving knowledge on the polarisation of the local or regional population and providing an evidence base for the development of prevention and mitigation measures. Preventive measures can only be elaborated and implemented efficiently if relevant data – with respect to the local, regional, national and European legal and ethical frameworks and requirements – is collected about the state of play of polarisation at the local level and about the risk and protective factors and actors. In order to carry out a reliable audit, local and regional authorities should rely on adequate methodologies as well as on expert support. Existing prevention strategies, policies and initiatives should be regularly reviewed and evaluated on the basis of newly acquired knowledge and evidence. Data on the state of play of polarisation in a given local territory (local and regional level) should be regularly published (e.g. in annual reports). Furthermore, local safety practitioners should be trained to audit and monitor continuous tensions and polarisation dynamics in their respective local context. Given that polarisation is a rapidly evolving phenomenon that is nowadays predominantly thriving on social media, municipalities should reinforce their resources and capacities to carry out regular social media monitoring. They should design campaigns and strategies to counter divisive and polarising narratives that affect the discourse or increase existing tensions and conflicts at the local or regional level. It is recommended to engage relevant local and regional stakeholders, in particular local media outlets, social media and influencers, in a joint effort to debunk polarising narratives, rumours, hate speech and conspiracy theories that affect and harm the local community. Analysing the local or regional context starts with a general examination of demographics, economic, social and other characteristics of the city. Data on poverty levels, average income, school dropout rates, unemployment, access to health services (including mental health),


access to apprenticeships, housing availability and quality, access to public transport and childcare services can help assess underlying structural inequalities and risk factors that can contribute to marginalisation and could therefore serve as breeding ground for polarisation. Based on the results of the analysis, it is of crucial importance to establish a profile of risk factors for individuals or groups – including their gender, age and socio-economic characteristics – and identify any protective factors or sources of resilience and well-being already in place for these individuals or groups. Mapping the protective factors includes the identification of local stakeholders who work in areas or with groups that have been identified as exhibiting tensions and polarisation. It also includes the assessment of existing structures and programmes within the political and institutional environment that can contribute to the development of preventive or mitigating actions, as well as the determination of the city’s or region’s opportunities, strengths and potential, that could contribute to enhancing social cohesion and fostering citizen participation. It is equally important to identify and build on opportunities to connect with local people, to engage with them in direct dialogue to resolve conflicts and their harmful consequences and also to strengthen their obligations to each other through recognition of shared interests. This can, for instance, be achieved through processes and tools such as the restorative circles that were developed by the restorative justice approach. Equally, based on the results of the audit, it is advised to elaborate an internal and external communication plan that can allow the municipality to start raising awareness among the local public on the phenomenon and the actions to be taken.

Steps forward – elaborating local actions When elaborating concrete local activities based on the results of the audit, it is important to build on existing, previously identified resources, as well as on actors and structures identified during the local polarisation audit.


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

Besides the mobilisation of the identified resources, local authorities should take into account the necessity of ensuring that citizens feel a sense of ownership when it comes to the design and implementation of the local actions. The development of concrete initiatives and policies should be based on a whole-of-society approach that involves all the relevant stakeholders and includes local citizens. Therefore, local and regional authorities shall empower and create trust with community referents who – due to their proximity to and knowledge about the different local population groups and the polarising factors and actors present within these groups – can effectively engage in a joined-up approach with all the relevant stakeholders, including the citizens. Citizens being on board with and claiming ownership of the foreseen measures and strategies increases the legitimacy and sustainability of the actions. Addressing polarisation requires measures and approaches that not only aim to provide the local communities with short-term, ad hoc responses, but also with long-term solutions and sustainable impacts. Strategies and measures aimed at addressing polarisation should be linked to overall long-term strategies and policies. Such initiatives and solutions should be designed in an agile and flexible manner, meaning that they should be adaptable if a change in the local context requires it. Regular evaluation can contribute to the mapping of the relevance and pertinence of the initiatives in question and indicate the way forward to a re-adaptation. Prior to the practical design of concrete preventive and counter measures, both the general and concrete long-term policy goals shall be defined with regards to, for instance, social cohesion, integration, socio-economic development, anti-discrimination, youth work, and educational and employment programmes. Local authorities can provide equal opportunity, for example, by designing urban policies and initiatives that mitigate structural inequalities and marginalisation. Furthermore, in order to legitimise all these actions and create a favourable context for their effective implementation, local and regional authorities should communicate in a transparent manner, both inter-


nally and externally, on the foreseen actions and their short, medium and long-term objectives. Concrete, practical local activities to tackle polarisation should be appreciated as an integral part of a comprehensive and sustainable response tailored to local contexts, needs and priorities. For the effective development of these activities, the following aspects and reflections should be taken into account.

Sustainable approaches to tackling polarisation Activities to prevent or mitigate polarisation should be aligned and coherent with the municipality’s general prevention strategies and policies and aim at achieving long-term and sustainable objectives and outcomes. While the importance of sustainability is widely acknowledged, building sustainable initiatives requires careful planning early on, as well as the implementation of continuous monitoring processes. To this end, the preconditions, the scope and the concrete and common objectives of the strategies and activities to prevent or mitigate polarisation must be determined. It is crucial to inquire whether the new initiative will address polarisation in an effective and meaningful way and to determine whether the proposed activities resonate with and reach out to the polarised groups or communities, e.g. by enabling a shared use of local resources by polarised groups or by providing platforms and opportunities to promote and enable the identification of shared values and goals. Another important aspect is to review if the foreseen measures are in accordance with existing strategies and initiatives, and how the new activities and initiatives can be integrated into the routines and habits of the responsible organisations and actors. Determining the activities’ success can be achieved through a variety of different approaches: by formally evaluating the implementation process and the outcomes of the activities, by establishing structures and systems to enable reflexive monitoring, for instance ongoing informal assessments, status reports, peer and senior colleague supervision and mentoring. These preparations should include formalised


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

processes of record-keeping and documentation, as well as the collective definition of the indicators and markers of success shared by all actors and stakeholders involved in the activity. Working with a variety of different stakeholders and actors might require regular reflection on the activities’ objectives and expected outcomes in order to enable a shared vision, as well as a clear definition and agreement on common goals for all involved.



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 Demarinis, V. Countering Violent extremism: Public mental health promotion in a public health paradigm. In Overland et al. (Eds.) Violent Extremism in the 21st century: International perspectives. Newcastle-upon-Tyne : Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

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 Efus (2016). Preventing and Fighting Radicalisation at the Local Level. Paris: European Forum for Urban Security.

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 Efus (2017). Prevention of radicalisation leading to violent extremism. Methodological guide for the development of a local strategy. Paris: European Forum for Urban Security.

 Efus (2018). Manifesto: Security, Democracy and Cities – Co-producing Urban Security Policies. Paris: European Forum for Urban Security.

 Fielitz, M., Ebner, J., Guhl, J., & Quent, M. (2018). Loving Hate. Anti-Muslim Extremism, Radical Islamism and the Spiral of Polarization. Iéna/Londres/Berlin : Jena Institute for Democracy and Civil Society (IDZ). uploads/2018/06/IDZ_Sonderheft_01_eng_Web.pdf

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 Kelman, H. C., & Fisher, R. J. (2003). Conflict analysis and resolution. In D. O. Sears, L. Huddy, & R. Jervis (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Political Psychology, p.315-353. Oxford : Oxford University Press.

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 McCauley, C. & Moskalenko, S. (2017). Understanding political radicalization: The two-pyramids model. American Psychologist, 72(3), 205-216.

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 PRACTICIES – Partnership Against Violent Radicalisation in Cities (2016). PRACTICIES Project Report (H2020-SEC-06-FCT-2016),


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D4.2 – Exchange of experiences. D4.2-Exchange-of-experiences-PRACTICIES.pdf

 Radicalisation Awareness Network (2016). Tackling the challenges to prevention policies in an increasingly polarised society. Bruxelles : Commission européenne. default/files/what-we-do/networks/radicalisation_awareness_ network/ran-papers/docs/tackling_challenges_prevention _policies_in_increasingly_polarised_society_112016_en.pdf

 Ritzmann, A., Wouterse, L. & Verdegaal, M. (2019). Effective Narratives: Updating the GAMMMA+ model. Radicalisation Awareness Network. Bruxelles : Commission européenne. https://ec. radicalisation_awareness_network/about-ran/ran-c-and-n/docs/ ran_cn_academy_creating_implementing_effective_campaigns_ brussels_14-15112019_en.pdf

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 Weine et al. (2017). Violent Extremism: Community-Based Violence Prevention and Mental Health Professionals. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 205(1), 54-57. Violent_Extremism,_Community_Based_Violence.9.aspx

Tools and Projects Filter Bubble : LIAISE 1 & 2 – Prevention of radicalisation leading to violent extremism. Led by Efus, co-funded by the Internal Security Fund of the European Union.

 Presentation of the stages of the development of a local strategy for the prevention of radicalisation, from political mobilisation to its design, diagnosis and assessment.

 Methodological advice is provided, explaining the potential obstacles to the strategy and ways to overcome them. LOUD – Local young leaders for inclusion. Led by Efus, co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union.

 Strengthening the capacity of local authorities and young people to produce alternative narratives, combat prejudice and enhance social cohesion.

 Alternative narrative methods and local campaigns produced by the young people of the municipality addressed to their peers with the aim of fostering inclusive environments for young people to prevent them from drifting into intolerance and extremist behaviours. Newscraft:


BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level

PRACTICIES – Partnership Against Violent Radicalisation in Cities. Co-led by the University of Toulouse II – Le Mirail (France). 100% funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 framework programme for research and innovation.

 Prevention tools against hate speech.  Prevention practices that address violent radicalisation at European, national and local level.



BRIDGE - Understanding and addressing polarisation at the local level Pervading extremist opinions, sharpening forms of intergroup conflict and proliferating forms of ‘us-and-them’ thinking seem to increasingly mark the reality of many European societies today. While such forms of polarisation are often intertwined with transnational phenomena such as financial crises, migration movements, international terrorism or pandemics, they deeply impact social life at the local level. This publication sheds light on how polarisation unfolds and how it impacts municipalities and regions across Europe. It gathers tools, practical examples and recommendations on how local and regional governments can better understand, diagnose and act against polarisation.

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