- Target Audience
- General publicLocal community organisations/NGOsAuthorities
- key themes association
- Local strategies/citiesMulti-agency cooperation
- Peer Reviewed practice
City of Vilvoorde
Local authority within the Flemish part of Belgium. There is no project funding for this practice, but limited financial support comes from the federal government as well as Vilvoorde.
Type of Organisation: Other
This practice is a step-by-step guide on how to set up a local network, based on the experience of Vilvoorde in Belgium.
- First step: Individual outreach
In order to start creating a local network, you need to first start creating your own personal network of relevant stakeholders from your local municipality. Reach out to relevant stakeholders within the different organisations and parts of the municipality (the formal network), and to stakeholders within the local community. This may be someone from the local football club, the church, mosque or the local farmers’ women’s club.
- Locate the relevant stakeholders within your municipality/city Use the networks already in place, for example the network of organisations working on truancy or youth workers, or the communities working together on keeping the city clean. Introduce yourself to the stakeholders and get acquainted. Be very clear about your focus. For example: ‘I am trying to set up a network within Valencia to prevent radicalisation amongst our youth.’ Keep in mind: relevant stakeholders already identified will be able to point out other relevant stakeholders. You could do this in order to create the formal and the informal parts of the network.
- Go as local as possible Look for initiatives at community level. They are sometimes small scale and not very well known to authorities.
- Look for key personalities There is no such thing as a set participants list indicating who should be involved when it comes to tackling radicalisation. Look for individuals who can help you reach certain communities, who can echo your efforts to their audience. Be creative: this individual could be the owner of the grocery store across the street from the mosque if he has the right status within his community.
- Create awareness Talk about the situation in your municipality with the stakeholders. Is there polarisation between different communities? Is there general polarisation? Are there cases of young people becoming radicalised / violent extremists / foreign fighters? Make sure you have your facts and numbers straight when creating awareness of the possible risk of radicalisation among young inhabitants of your municipality. Be prepared to hear other concerns that aren’t necessarily within your scope, but try to refer them to the right services in order to create a sense of cooperation and understanding.
- Sharing information Ask stakeholders for information about their ‘youngsters’ or their community members. But if you want them to share information with you, you should be willing to share information with them as well. If there is any information from the local authorities in which you think they might be interested, do not hesitate to share this with them. Don’t sit on your information, share it. And if stakeholders ask you for information that you cannot provide, be upfront about this. Tell them you do not have or cannot share the requested information, and explain why. You would want them to be as upfront with you as well.
- Don’t rush A path is created by walking the same route several times. Take your time to get to know people, however frustrating it may be that you need to find a ‘quick fix’: the process is as valuable as the result. Make your contacts sustainable, don’t just reach out when you have a problem that needs solving.
- Second step: put similar people together
When you have your local individual network in place, start enabling them to get acquainted with one another. Start simple by organising meetings between groups that are similar. For example, stakeholders from all the municipality’s youth organisations or all sports and youth clubs within the local community. In short, create groups of similar stakeholders.
- Exchange of experiences The different relevant stakeholders should also get acquainted, if they do not already know each other. Organise meetings with all of them to discuss matters of violent extremism and polarisation currently relevant to your region. Or, talk to them about the role of prevention of radicalisation, or the ways in which they have come into contact with radicalisation and radicalised people within your local region.
- Localise solutions and cooperate to achieve them If in the meetings with these groups you come across specific problems within your local municipality, do address them and try to establish in what way this problem can be solved. Try to work together with the stakeholders to find a solution. Focus on this solution, not on the problem, while cooperating. Keep in mind the different tasks and responsibilities of the different stakeholders. If needed, write down what your takeaways from these meetings are and disseminate this within the groups. Remember, you are coordinating, this does not mean that you have to do everything (or that everyone will do things according to your ideas).
- Create a shared story Don’t only focus on what you are doing, but also on why you are doing it. Formulate shared goals, and hence work on a shared vision you can reach back to when discussions get bumpy. This is easier in a group of similar people or organisations as a first step.
- Explain why these participants sit around the table Define the criteria by which you have selected them: what do they bring, what do they take away, are there participants missing?
- Good coordination is crucial from the beginning. Define who takes the lead and who can be approached if issues arise.
- Third step: put people with the same goals together
Now start combining the different mini-networks – the formal and informal groups as well. They need to get to know each other and understand who could do what within the local community. This way you’ll have a network throughout the whole of the local municipality. The key message to the multi-agency setting is: ‘You’re all part of the solution.’
- Define clear rules on the sharing of information. This creates trust. Carefully consider the ownership of information before formulating actions: who brought a piece of information to the table? Who will act on this information? How can this happen without endangering the position of the one who brought the information to the table?
- Reciprocity is key. Avoid participants who only take but never give. Make a distinction between who deals with the actual cases in order to have hands-on discussions, and the bosses and managers in order to talk policy. Different profiles require different networks. Ideally, you should have both: the one can support the other.
- Gain expertise if needed. Provide specialised training for your participants. This not only creates the relationships that make it possible to ‘do’ something together, apart from just talking, participating in training together also enhances a shared language and vision.
- Continue to work on the different levels. Keep paying enough individual attention to your partners, to the different sectors, and keep enhancing your multi-agency setting.
This practice has led to the creation of a local multi-agency setting through which Vilvoorde deals with individual cases of radicalisation: the so-called partners’ round table. This approach is described in the city’s local policy plan on countering violent extremism (CVE), and in a manual on the partners’ round table (published in autumn 2017).