Image Source: USIP Image
May 2018
REGION: Global

In “Lessons from Strengthening Capacity in Countering Violent Extremism,” Nathaniel L. Wilson and Jeff Krentel reflect on the development, implementation, and outcomes of a U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) project (“the project”) designed to strengthen the capacity of individuals and organizations involved in countering violent extremism (CVE) efforts. The project focused on training, network building, and community empowerment as methods of mitigating and preventing violent extremism. This summary gives a brief overview of the project and outlines selected recommendations from the report for implementers and donors involved in CVE capacity-strengthening programs. For more detailed information on how the project was developed and analyzed, refer to the full report.

Project Overview

The project, a partnership among USIP, the Abu Dhabi–based Hedayah Center, and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Counterterrorism, offered nine courses from 2014-2016 in three “streams” of effort: education, media and messaging, and community engagement. Each course focused on sociocultural issues and upstream preventative tactics, rather than military and law enforcement approaches, to address the root causes of violent extremism. The first stream, education, concentrated on educators using participatory action research methodologies to reduce student susceptibility to the allure of extremism. The second stream, media and messaging, explored the utility of developing alternative narratives that do not directly counter terrorist narratives. The third stream, community engagement, examined effective approaches for building community resiliency and addressing community traumas that can cultivate violent extremism.


The report offers several recommendations for project design, content development, and recruitment to aid funders and implementers of CVE capacity-strengthening programming. A summary of selected recommendations follows.

    Project Design

  • Funders and implementers should spend time formulating a strong theory of change to provide clear and cohesive conceptual definitions, goals, and objectives for their project. This will allow practitioners to effectively communicate issues encountered during project implementation.
  • Projects should have a monitoring and evaluation component dedicated to continually assessing the project’s implementation and outcomes. This will help funders and implementers determine which methods and trainings are successfully contributing to a project’s theory of change.

Content Development

  • Peacebuilding efforts can provide a framework that is relevant to CVE capacity-building. Therefore, new and existing CVE projects should draw on the skills and experiences of peacebuilding experts when developing trainings and other content.
  • Projects should incorporate content that balances prevention, mitigation, and countering techniques and skills so that participants are better equipped to address a broad array of issues and contexts related to violent extremism.
  • Practitioners should include content that articulates the risks associated with CVE programming and teach participants how to carefully frame project language to invoke better community support and participation to reduce those risks.


  • Practitioners should develop a recruitment strategy that brings in participants from communities who are close to one another in order to build local networks and facilitate new CVE partnerships with actionable plans capable of addressing local contexts.
  • Projects should look for participants who have the capacity and influence to implement the skills and knowledge acquired from the project, but they should avoid strictly limiting participation to government actors. Local CSOs may have a better opportunity to affect change in local contexts and should be looked to for project involvement. Recruiting both government and local CSOs will provide a diverse participant pool capable of tackling multiple issues related to CVE development.

NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).

Lessons from Strengthening Capacity in Countering Violent Extremism

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