Area-based violence prevention interventions Laboratory: Area Coordination and Multisectoral Partnerships in SPRINT!

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The Safer Places: Resilient Institutions and Neighbourhoods Together (SPRINT) Project was conceptualised in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and is an opportunity to grow capacity in the utilisation of Area Based Violence Prevention Interventions (ABVPI) tools within local government and civil society organizations to respond to the violence prevention challenges in vulnerable communities exacerbated by the pandemic.  The SPRINT Project has two distinct, but inter-related, pathways which work towards the institutionalisation of effective area-based violence and crime prevention approaches integrated into the management of vulnerable, urban communities. By utilising virtual capacity building workshops and learning exchanges, and through the production of learning and advocacy documentation, the SPRINT Project aims to embed area-based integrated violence prevention intervention approaches institutionally within relevant national and provincial government departments, within key municipalities and within civil society organisations.

The Laboratory pathway of the project, lead by Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading (VPUU NPC)  involves 10 teams of municipalities and CSOs across South Africa participating in a capacity-building process focusing on co-designing and implementing practical, area-based violence prevention interventions (VPI). The capacity building process involves an in-depth situational analysis for selected municipalities as well as an on-site mentoring programme in two selected areas.

Through the Laboratory workshops, the participating municipalities and civil society organisations (CSOs) have drawn out many topics for peer learning, including challenges, solutions and further questions. Two of the most common themes throughout the workshops have included area coordination and multi-sectoral partnerships.

The group discussed what makes area coordination for violence prevention work, such as sufficient decision-making time and capacity, as well as the systemic injustices and other challenges that area coordinating teams are up against. These conversations ended on a truly hopeful note, with each team identifying what is most feasible for them to do in the short-term in order to support integrated, area-based management.

The Lab also discussed their partnership experiences and good practices, including what they seek in partners, how they build relationships and what challenges they have. They identified trust and inclusivity as the most important things to focus on in multi-sectoral partnerships. In particular, they honed in on their perceptions of various tools for engaging communities as partners in violence prevention, and their vision for active communities in partnership with municipalities and CSOs.

Area Coordination for Violence Prevention

In the field of urban development, an area-based approach applies to work that is geographically-based in a specific area, engaged in participatory project management methods, multi-sectoral in nature, and with flexible resources (USWG, 2019; Sanderson, 2017; IIED, 2017; Orton et al, 2017; Moya & Yañez, 2017). Practitioners and government officials taking an area-based approach look at realities on the ground, at “the way people live, how we look at the past, where we want to get to in this community” in order to make informed decisions to design, plan, implement and monitor interconnected interventions at a particular scale (Sanderson, 2017). Precinct management, for example, can be done through an area-based approach. These approaches have been used at the neighbourhood scale across multiple continents in the Global South (USWG, 2019).

Within the Laboratory, South African municipalities and CSOs reflected on the advantages of an area-based approach. Participants from the City of Joburg (CoJ) identified their team’s ability to “come up with real workable solutions” at this scale, and those from King Sabata Dalindyebo Municipality (KSD) appreciated its potential for piloting interventions that could be duplicated in other sites following evidence of impact. Participants from the City of uMhlathuze found it useful to dedicate budget and other resources based on the needs of their selected site.

The Lab participants learned about one key vehicle for coordinating an area-based approach, an Area Coordinating Team (ACT). In practice in areas where VPUU works, an ACT is a high-level, integrated management and advisory group and is made up of relevant municipal officials who meet on a monthly basis to cover issues within an identified Safe Neighbourhood. An ACT’s main responsibilities have included strategy, clarifying who could implement various elements of a local development plan, assessing feasibility, securing resources, coordinating and integrating efforts and budgets, clarifying bottlenecks so they could be unblocked, and tracking implementation progress. Other responsibilities could also include ensuring compliance, quality control, financial management, securing adequate financial resources based on financial sustainability plan, Management Agreement issues, strategy and general oversight. VPUU and the City of Cape Town developed ACTs as an approach for multi-sectoral collaboration within a precinct.

An ACT is a high-level, integrated management and advisory group and is made up of relevant municipal officials who meet on a monthly basis to cover issues within an identified Safe Neighbourhood.

The participants found the ACT model relevant to work on their sites because many manage large precincts. In particular, the team from Sol Plaatje Municipality (SPM) drew from a similar model to form the SPM Safer City Committee, which addresses safety in the Kimberley CBD and engages key technical and decision-makers at multiple levels. The committee’s work is enhanced by the diverse “pool of expertise” that exists among its members.

6 Ways to Support an ACT

The Lab participants discussed the key background elements of area coordination that support the work of an ACT. These include:

  1. Strong communication,
  2. Endorsement at the leadership or decision-making level of a municipality,
  3. The presence of key decision-makers in monthly meetings,
  4. Knowledge of various financial timeframes,
  5. Time for the team to coordinate and think deeply together, and
  6. Strong capacity within the team itself – including low staff turnover rates, good facilitation skills and the ability to convene a busy group.

It is important to understand the various financial timeframes of different ACT members, and plan accordingly

Systems-scale problems and neighbourhood-scale work

The NGOs and municipalities agreed that even small sites see massive, systems-level challenges manifested in them. These challenges are only more complex due to resource scarcity, in the wake of COVID-19. They discussed tactics within an incremental approach, such as:

  • prioritising interventions in partnership with communities, while acknowledging constraints;
  • identifying strengths and assets that already exist in a community, aligned with Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD); and
  • piloting as a tool for institutionalising experiences.

The Department of Public Safety in the City of Joburg shared that, when using piloting as a tool, it can be challenging to implement because of structural issues. They circled back to integration and mainstreaming safety: it takes many role players at different levels for safety planning, and they have made gains by gathering all these players together under the mandate of the City Manager or the Chief Operating Officer.

Committing to feasible and impactful next steps

At the end of the workshops, participants shared their next integration-orientated steps to address crime and violence in their sites. Incrementalism was the buzzword here, as the group sought feasible quick wins to keep area-based violence prevention processes moving across local government. A few examples of these next steps included:

  • NGOs committed to strengthening or forming partnerships with local government.
  • A municipal official committed to establishing a steering committee or working group of the various stakeholders.
  • Another official committed to developing a plan, based on key challenges of the site and understanding the roles and responsibilities of each stakeholder.
  • A participant committed to arranging a meeting with community stakeholders.
  • Another participant committed to drawing up a list of required stakeholders and role players, as their first step in a stakeholder engagement plan.
  • A third official committed to integrating urban safety elements into area-based management at the site, which is currently service delivery-orientated.

The Lab participants have found that there are some logistical requirements to making integration work, and that when integrated teams prioritise certain steps or interventions in the face of systemic injustice, incremental progress is possible.

What is one small thing you can contribute to area-based management or integration in a site where you are working?

Multisectoral Partnerships

Strongly linked to integration was the topic of multisectoral partnerships. Nearly all participants in the Lab already worked with partners from both municipality and civil society, aside from one NGO which had only engaged outside of the municipality. This made for many lively conversations about what makes multisectoral partnerships work, ways to build relationships, and challenges to / solutions for collaborating across sectors. A golden thread throughout the conversations was the importance of trust.

The group’s positive attitudes about building trusting relationships across sectors often made for a great segue into discussions about partnering specifically with residents, leaders, businesses and other localised stakeholders in a site. With so many rich ideas, meaningful community participation is big enough to be its own blog post topic; therefore, it will be addressed in future reflections from the Lab.

There are many useful resources about collaborating with stakeholders across sectors. One that guides the SPRINT project is the Building Relationships booklet of the Guide to Designing Integrated Violence Prevention Interventions . We found many links between the booklet and participants’ own experiences and wisdom.

What makes a good partnership?

When asked what they seek in partnerships, the various NGOs and municipalities identified the following overarching traits:

  • Collaborative
  • Networked
  • Sustained
  • Cooperative across public and private sectors
  • Functional through planning and management
  • Funded to empower communities

All of these characteristics rely on positive relationships between individuals representing each partner. At the end of the day, it is people who make a partnership work. For this reason, so many participants emphasised the importance of honest, open, regular and accessible communication. Sometimes this includes explaining the difficult things, such as why intervention options are limited by resourcing or land constraints. It also involves refraining from using jargon, and rather meeting people where they are in their understanding of technical language. On the other end, participants discussed the importance of active listening.

The Lab participants also shared their unique tips and tricks to building partnerships. An NGO from Durban explained that meeting partners in places where they feel ownership, before engaging about a programme or intervention, helps to ground thinking and make them feel comfortable. A sprinkling of humor helps too, even if a little of it is at your own expense!

Collaboration: Frustrations and solutions

Participants shared their greatest frustrations in collaborating across sectors. The challenges that stood out most were political agendas or conflicts and difficulty communicating.

When it came to communicating with partners from communities, the private sector and government, the following positive practices were mentioned:

  • Using visual tools to share information;
  • Discussing finances from the beginning;
  • Active listening to end user and service provider perspectives;
  • Integrating municipal and community-based data; and
  • Holding rapid debriefs after learning sessions, in order to onboard thinking and continue shaping programmes.

However, when it came to politics, there were not many positive solutions among participants. The need to cope with gate-keeping and conflicts was an undercurrent in the conversation. Participants did acknowledge that, when Ward Councillors are informed of projects, partners can work together more smoothly. However, in many municipalities, the political situation is too conflictual to only be addressed by this simple step.

Lastly, all of the activities and good practices that the participants discussed were acknowledged as exercises in trust-building towards a common vision. Marjorie Manyathi, of the NGO Open Spaces in Durban, put it best: ” We need news ways of taking all the words and translating these into a platform that allows for us to ‘speak’ around our different fields of expertise but at the end of the day – these need to link into and build a full picture. Individual initiatives, with different owners, working together for a better ‘whole’ community response is a great goal to aim for. This requires better relationship communication with people, but also across metrics.”