Empowering communities
Empowering communities

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Empowering communities

5.1 The role of government and communities

A 2008 report by the UK Department for Communities and Local Government (2008) emphasised the role that Government at any level can play in supporting communities to more effectively address the challenges posed by radicalisation and extremism. Underpinning this perspective is the recognition that government action alone is not enough, and instead must be supported by active community engagement. This is a view supported by pan-European networks set up to address the challenge posed by radicalisation and extremism, including the Radicalisation Action Network (RAN).

Extensive research by RAN (Russell, 2018) has emphasised the importance of local engagement and actions by communities in addressing the longer-term impacts of radicalisation. This applies both when working proactively to prevent future radicalisation but also to reduce existing levels of radicalisation:

Although governments and public authorities must do all they can, the prevention of extremism and radicalisation is most effectively addressed by communities. Extremism is able to thrive when communities themselves do not challenge those who seek to radicalise others. In some communities, particularly minority communities, there is a profound lack trust and confidence in the government, police and public authorities. This can make it harder for them to achieve success. It is therefore important to invest in community engagement and community empowerment. Community engagement should be in place routinely and not just implemented after a problem arises.

(Radicalisation Action Network, no date.)

Beyond the trust and engagement that are implicit in local communities, there is also arecognition that a clear understanding of ‘local dynamics and the hyperlocal nuances of a specific area’ (Smit and Meines, 2019, p. 3) are key aspects of any effect strategy for successfully grappling with radicalisation and extremism. Ultimately, it is crucial to recognise that:

Extremist groups exploit hyperlocal vulnerabilities and events to reinforce their narrative and strengthen their appeal. Since the local context plays a crucial role in the process of radicalisation, the local context forms the basis of any potential solution or counter/preventive strategy.

(Smit and Meines, 2019, p. 3)

Activity 4 Radicalisation and extremisim

Timing: Allow approximately 20 minutes

In the following clip Robert Örell, an expert in radicalisation and extremism, discusses some of the key challenges facing communities.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 3
Skip transcript: Video 3 Robert Örell

Transcript: Video 3 Robert Örell

My name is Robert Orell. I worked for about 18, 19 years in the field of exit work, helping people to leave violent extremist groups. I worked for NGOs in Sweden with the EU and in the US on the similar topical helping people to leave but also supporting families and concerned communities. How do we understand and respond to violent extremists?
So radicalisation is usually described as a process of radicalising people into ideas and behaviours that promote extremist ideology. Often, we talk about violent extremists, so people adopt violent extremist ideas where they understand how to change society with violent means.
From both research and practise, we know that there’s a lot of different factors that affect why people join or become radicalised. And there's really not one single factor for this but a range of different factors that, together, links people to become radicalised. Very often, we see the role of social relations, so meeting somebody who were involved in these groups or getting in touch with these type of ideas and that that's helpful for individuals to process and lead into these type of groups.
So potential risk factors is usually lived through personal experiences. So looking at individuals’ experiences of, perhaps, school failure, of difficulties with social relations, family issues, but also being, perhaps, victim of a crime or bully, or even trying to understand society, in a way, and not really being able to get the different pieces together.
This can be potential risk factors for radicalization. But they, once again, need to be combined with getting attention and knowledge about these ideas and usually meeting individuals who are active and involved already.
So we look at this, once again, from the individual perspective. And when we talk about protective factors, we need to look at who is this specific individual, and what situation and needs and risks is involved with that person? This can be, for example, having a strong connection with adults, with professionals in the schools, being able to communicate about needs or events that you've gone through with adults or with the support of their peers. This can definitely be protective factors.
We also see emotional intelligence, being able to put words on your emotions and your lived-through experiences as helpful to deescalate different type of strong emotions but also managing conflicts or strained relations in constructive ways. So how do we communicate with people that we think differently with? How do we manage conflict?
How do we manage stress? How do we manage different type of situations in life, where we, instead of going into a polarised and conflict mindset, try to understand people from their perspective, so this, in a sense, cognitive flexibility or complexity in understanding others.
Well, primarily the close cooperation. So if we leave young people at risk, without connection, without being close to them, trying to understand them, listening to their needs, the risk is that they will seek out others who will help them to fulfil these needs and give them answers to their questions.
So I think it's really about being close to the individuals at risk and the concerned communities, so building close relationships and partnerships with them. This is usually done when we spend time with each other. We invest time in each other. We listen to each other. We try to facilitate needs or work together.
There’s also a model for how to engage young people and influence over their own decisions and communities called the influence [INAUDIBLE] or the participation [INAUDIBLE] which is really that we can communicate in different ways. We can communicate with young people by giving them information, and then they know.
We can raise the bar, and we can have a consultation, and we can understand what they think. We can raise the bar yet more, and we can go into dialogue, and we can resonate and respond and understand more from each other. We can also go into collaboration and help them to implement different type of things.
But primarily, we should look at actually cocreating to decide, to let young people have the influence of actually deciding important things for themselves in their communities. And this will definitely reduce the risks of other groups telling them that they have no influence, they have no future, nobody cares about them, but quite the opposite. This model gives a very strong sense of empowerment, of being listened to and being able to themselves create a change in the communities they want.
I think, primarily, it's important to understand, so to have awareness of radicalization. What does it mean? What is radicalization, and what is not radicalization? Which groups are we talking about? How do they identify themselves? What type of material do they spread? A bit of what we discussed here, as well-- what type of a process leads young individuals to become radicalised?
So the awareness level is one part. But then it's also identifying and responding to specific needs of young people to create appropriate measures for care and concern for young people. This can be, as we touched upon earlier, it can be everything from mediation and deescalation to listening to young people to empower young people to find constructive and inclusive ways to create change instead of not listening or not responding.
End transcript: Video 3 Robert Örell
Video 3 Robert Örell
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In this clip Robert Örell highlights some of steps communities can take to overcome both radicalisation and extremism and the role of community empowerment in supporting this process. Key to this is early and active engagement with youth to understand them and their challenges, and an awareness of the role which communities can and should play in supporting those who live within them.


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