How to Counter Violent Extremism?

Most efforts to counter violent extremism have centered largely on youth with the aim of sapping potential terrorist organizations of their ability to enroll young people into their cause and to address the underlying conditions in which extremist ideologies can take hold. It finds that while governments have sought to undermine the narratives of terrorist organizations, it is youth-led and organically developed citizens’ media which has a more profound effect, especially within those hotspots where extremist organizations are very active. The report recommends four prominent approaches that have emerged as good practices to prevent youth involvement in extremist violence and other sorts of violent armed groups:

  • Peer-to-peer approaches. Many lessons can be drawn from efforts to reduce youth involvement in organized violence in other contexts; gang-violence reduction efforts in Central America and the United States, for instance, have yielded significant results and have generated a clear evidence base for what works. Among the key factors in the most effective gang-related projects is that former gang members themselves play a significant role in dissuading potential recruits from deciding to join, using their street credibility to transform their peers attitudes and life decisions.  
  • Youth Participation in Communities.  Some of the most effective programs in dissuading youth involvement in organized violence have focused on developing positive, non-violent alternative outlets for the frustrations, grievances and leadership potential that active young people have. In some of the most conflict-affected places in the world, programming focuses on engaging young people in community decision making, enabling them to liaise with power brokers in their own villages and neighborhoods and contribute to determining major decisions, even how budgets are used. 
  • Community Resiliencies and Collaboration to Prevent Violent Extremism. The relationships and collaboration among community stakeholders has emerged as a key factor in whether extremist groups are able to actively root themselves in communities and recruit young people into their cause. While many programs aim to bring civil society, religious leaders and security forces together, some now focus on the relationship between youth and the police. A powerful approach is to create opportunities for facilitated dialogue among youth, religious leaders, and security forces to direct collaboration in violence prevention at the community level.
  • Narratives. An important dimension of programming for young people is to create alternative and constructive narratives through mainstream and new media which both inoculate them against believing propaganda (strengthening their core analytical skills) and create positive role models for them to follow.  This is done effectively in two ways: a) professional media is used to promote messages of tolerance and pluralism through TV drama, reality TV shows, and other traditional tools; b) Youth and citizens produced media – primarily distributed through social media – enables young leaders who are vulnerable to recruitment to express themselves and bring their own values into the public sphere in constructive ways.

Williams, M., Prelis, S. and Taza R.W., Working Together to Address Violent Extremism: A Strategy for Youth-Government Partnerships, Search for Common Ground (2016, Washington DC) (
Octavia, Lanny, and Esti Wahyuni. 2014. Final Evaluation Report for the project: Countering and Preventing Radicalization in Indonesian Pesantren. Search for Common Ground.
Promoting Mediation and Dialogue in KPK & FATA. 2014. Search for Common Ground.
Developing Effective Counter-Narrative Frameworks For Countering Violent Extremism. 2014. International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, The Hague, Netherlands.