Networks and Social Norms in Kenya's VE and CVE Landscape

RUSI partnered with Search for Common Ground and Human Cognition to explore social perceptions and information-sharing networks within communities in Kenya affected by violent extremism.

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Amid widespread criticism of the efficacy of counter-violent extremism (CVE) projects, USAID commissioned RUSI (in partnership with Search for Common Ground and Human Cognition) to conduct a seven-month study into community perceptions and information-sharing networks within four counties in Kenya: Kwale, Mombasa, Nairobi and Nyeri.

Unique social and political dynamics inform how communities respond to violent extremism (VE). Understanding local perceptions of VE and CVE helps strengthen programmes, ensuring that interventions are better targeted and well-designed. It is imperative that we understand what factors influence community attitudes, behaviours and worldviews in response to VE and CVE.

The project sought to identify overlaps between the VE and CVE information-sharing networks. The research interrogated whether those most exposed to VE messaging are being reached by CVE programming and messaging. CVE programmes must consider the unique moral ecologies and information-sharing networks amongst communities they support.

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External project team

Search for Common Ground

Social Network Analysis Lead: Omar Salem (Regional Design, Monitoring & Evaluation Coordinator)

Quality Assurance and Oversight: Adrienne Lemon (Director of Institutional Learning Team)

Field Research Mobilisation: Judy Kimamo (Programme Manager)

Human Cognition

Analysis of Kenya-specific Salafi-Jihadi online material: Dr Nico Prucha and Dr Ali Fisher

Independent Consultants

2 Qualitative Researchers
2 Research Assistants
8 Data collection enumerators
4 Community Entry Facilitators

Aims and objectives

By better understanding how individuals and communities form their perceptions of VE entities, the study makes recommendations for more effective CVE programming. The project’s methodology included a comprehensive interrogation of al-Shabaab propaganda content, qualitative interviews and focus group discussions, as well as social network analysis, in order to achieve three objectives:

  • To understand VE messaging and propaganda, including how this information is shared (both online and offline) and how it shapes values, norms and perceptions.
  • To understand how CVE messaging is shared, and its impact on community perceptions of VE in the target locations.
  • To understand the interrelationships between these two networks: are CVE actors reaching the ‘right’ groups and having the necessary impact?


Given the lack of evidence supporting the efficacy of communications-based CVE interventions and the many problematic assumptions on which such interventions are based, the study also interrogated how individuals form their perceptions and how information becomes ‘socially normative’. CVE practitioners must be more aware of the unique moral ecologies and information-sharing networks that exist amongst the communities in which they work and the public bodies they support.

Project sponsor

The project is funded by USAID. RUSI is subcontracted by ZemiTek.

Project output and impact

A ‘CVE Governance and Communications Strategy Paper’ was produced for USAID. This contained recommendations for programming. In addition, a series of Community Action Strategy documents were generated to provide community-based organisations and community leaders with actionable guidance.

The findings from the study were shared through a series of workshops and briefings with Kenyan public-sector actors and practitioners. RUSI strongly believes that the findings of the research should be shared as widely as possible and adjusted as appropriate for different audiences. This will maximise the potential for the study to impact future CVE interventions.

Research findings:

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