On Thursday 22 October, The Hague institute hosted the Roundtable ‘City of the Hague in Conflict Prevention within the Metropolitan Area – from Expectations to Actionable Measures”. The event was part of a pilot project by the Conflict Prevention team, which seeks to examine the role of different stakeholders at the city level in conflict prevention and peacebuilding. The project began in March 2015 and has so far included a series of consultations with representatives of the municipality, the police, health experts, the private sector, civil society, and academia, among other stakeholders. The first roundtable, hosted in June, was designed to discuss the main manifestations of violent conflict at the city level, and to identify priorities and best practices in the city, as well as the main challenges for conflict prevention. During the summer, participants established working groups based on their professional roles, which focused on their unique contributions to conflict prevention, the challenges, and the priorities at the city and community levels, and attendant measures and approaches.
The roundtable on 22nd October provided an opportunity to build upon these consultations and discussions by comparing perspectives and to test where there was agreement and constructive differences in terms of priorities, challenges and policy measures.
The discussion proved rich given the range of expertise and perspectives among the participants. After the working groups summarized their main findings, the participants formed mixed groups to discuss and compare ideas and to see if they could formulate concrete recommendations.
Overall, the participants affirmed the need to recognize the profound roles played by institutions, organizations and individuals within the city and its communities, and to understand better the complexity of their interactions and overlaps. There was consensus that youth, in particular, should have a more active voice in shaping policy responses, and not simply be considered victims or sources of violent conflict. Exclusion and marginalization of institutions or individuals was perceived to be a threat to social cohesion and stability. Participants recognized that it was not only the responsibility of authorities but also of civil society to promote inclusion, open debate, and the exchange of ideas across groups. This was seen to be crucial in the case of schools, which should provide a safe space for debate, as well as support and socialization.
There was emphasis on focusing more at the community level in order to ensure a better understanding of local dynamics and to empower all actors. ‘Local solutions’, tailored to local means and expertise should be preferred, to ensure increased ownership and responsibility. At the same time, coordination and the exchange of best practices among different actors was considered vital in strengthening social cohesion.
Further, it was recognized that communication has an important role in shaping attitudes and determining perceptions. Participants reflected that the use of social media and the choice of language in framing conflict issues and responses must be carefully taken into account by all. In this sense, the media impacts on people’s perceptions of others and over time can reinforce or reduce social tensions.
Last, the roundtable participants agreed that there is a need for a new mindset and greater awareness on the potential that each stakeholder can create in ensuring the stability and peace of his/her community. In that respect, creating networks of confidence and trust, and enhancing dialogue, as this project is trying to do, is of paramount importance.