Countering Violent Extremism in the Nordics: A Question of Collaboration

Multiagency collaboration structures are given a central role in preventing the recruitment of youth to extremism. In this study of Nordic policies developed to counter extremism and prevent crime, we have mapped and compared how multiagency collaboration is to be organized, what practices that are to be utilized and the legal frameworks that guides information sharing practices in collaborative work. The findings entail previously unknown discrepancies, similarities and differences between the Nordic countries that can help to inform a sometimes heated and polarized debate on how extremism is being handled. 

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Multiagency collaborative structures that brings together different professional disciplines seems to be a common approach for handling extremism in the Nordic region. By combining professional expertise from schools, police, social services and other health care organizations, actions to battle extremism and radicalization can be organized and coordinated more holistically. The newly published report Mixing Logics: Multiagency Approaches for Countering Extremism summarizes the first part of the research project Nordic Multiagency Approaches to Handling Extremism: Policy, Perceptions and Practices, a three-year research project funded by Nordforsk. The Nordic research team is coordinated by C-REX. The report focuses on national and regional policies governing the multiagency work. Its explicit aim is to address: 1) the organizational structures of the Nordic collaboration models; 2) the recommended practices and how these practices are advocated by policy and 3) the possibilities and obstacles for sharing information between and within agencies.

The Nordic context: similarities and differences

Nordic countries are founded upon common values, share a strong tradition of democratic governance, and collaborate on multiple areas, including the prevention of violent extremism. Still, many differences exist in how each country approaches this issue. For instance, the use of multiagency approaches is standing on a firm, more institutionalized ground in Norway and Denmark, while this has only recently become mandatory in Finland. In Sweden, multiagency approaches are used more scarcely and with higher micro-level variance, potentially due to the lack of a central governing body. The use of existing structures and organizations, as in Denmark and Norway, is convenient and allows the utilization of established routines for assessment, reporting and following up individuals who cause concern or are regarded as being at risk of radicalization. The multiagency organizations in Denmark and Norway are in most cases dedicated to general issues and interventions in criminal or delinquent behavior, and radicalization becomes an additional area of work as part of these structures.

Organizational structures in multiagency work – a comparative analysis



Three-tier organizational structures: governance, coordination and operational units

Who establishes multiagency efforts? Police in Finland and Denmark, local agreements in Norway and Sweden

Coordinators: specialized, personalized functions that are to coordinate the work

What agencies are in charge? Police in Denmark and Finland, Norway have a cooperative approach with emphasis on the municipal actors, and in Sweden the social services

Incorporating civil society: depending on local conditions but also national availability and suitability (e.g. EXIT-programs can be included in Multi Agency-policy)

Existing or new structures? Denmark, Norway (more institutionalized) Finland inspired by these and Sweden (less institutionalized),

Local understanding : Multi agency work is based on local assessments as a starting point for dealing with local problems

What agencies are incorporated? Schools, social services and Police pillars in Denmark, Norway  and Sweden. Sweden also include leisure time actors (fritid). Finland uses its psychiatric care in the Anchor teams


Additional expertise: Kunskapshus and CVE-coordinators (Sweden), Info-houses (Denmark), Radicalization Contacts (Norway), Capital region hub (Finland)

Bridging the logics of societal security and social care

The theoretical point of departure in the report is a critical policy analysis combining institutional theory and discourse analysis. In this framework, multiagency collaboration structures are conceptualized as “hybrid spaces” where two different institutional logics are competing, mixing and co-existing on a daily basis. These logics are identified as a societal security logic (SSL) and a social care logic (SCL). This framework generates a new way of understanding and conceptualizing different institutional approaches to Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) and explains why multiagency collaboration may sometimes cause inter-organizational struggles. The table below summarizes our findings and is structured in accordance with Thornton, Ocasio and Lounsbury’s (2012) foundational theoretical work on institutional logics. An institutional logic helps an individual actor to understand which type of collective he/she belongs to, what that type of collective is striving to achieve, which problems/situations to focus on, which strategies and tools that are appropriate to apply in relation to the problem/situation, and where the authority to decide what type of action that is appropriate lies.

Institutional logics in work to counter violent extremism

Societal security logic

Social care logic

Collective identity

Police, security police, security managers, etc.

Teachers, social workers, youth workers, mental health workers, etc.


1. The physical safety of citizens, employees and public facilities

2. Order and law abiding

1. The well-being of pupils/clients

2. Safe-guard individuals

3. Ensure that the rights of pupils/clients are protected


Authoritarian/repressive: prevent, detect, protect, surveil, arrest, incapacitate

Relational: prevent, detect, protect, support, strengthen, emancipate

Ground for attention

Cases of (potential) rule-breaking behaviour

Cases of social/psychological/ physical concern

Ground for authority

Chain of command, centralized decision-making

Autonomous, decentralized decision-making

Possibilities and obstacles for sharing information

A hot potato in the Nordic CVE debate has been the legal possibilities for government agencies to share information about individuals of concern. Starting with the similarities, a general possibility, found in all Nordic countries, is that information can be shared if consent is given by the individual (or guardian) who is the object of concern. Another commonality is that “superior interests” and/or “dangers to life and health” are possible grounds for derogating from secrecy rules. In the case of imminent terror attacks or plots, these rules would be applicable. Regarding differences, Danish authorities have the most extensive possibilities for information sharing, in particular with reference to §115 in the Administration of Justice Act (Retsplejeloven). Sweden has a similar section, Chapter 10 §18a in the Public Access to Information and Secrecy Act (Offentlighets- och sekretesslagstiftningen), but it is not utilized in relation to CVE due to the risk of violating personal integrity. Hence, the same type of regulations exists, but the interpretation of these are different depending on which institutional logic that is (more) dominant. Such differences also have effects on the organizational designs of the multiagency approaches. For example, the social services are responsible for initiating and coordinating teams for handling individual cases in Sweden, while the police has a higher degree of responsibility in the other Nordic countries.

The figure below summarizes and compares the different approaches to counter violent extremism in the Nordic countries.

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Different approaches to counter violent extremism in the Nordic countries

Also, and aligning with the above findings, there are clear juridical incentives for police engagement in preventive work in the Danish and Norwegian police acts, as they extensively formulate the crime preventive task and the importance of collaboration. Of course, the Swedish and Finnish police act also put emphasis on the importance of preventing crime, though the Swedish police act is especially focusing collaborating with the social services when it comes to youth.

The Finnish model is the one standing the furthest away from a SCL logic as it is giving little attention to the importance of schools, youth centers and other organizations concerned with social work and young people. Also, the emphasis on inclusion of psychiatric expertise indicates that the problem with extremism is believed to have psychological explanations. Differences such as these indicates that there different discursive explanations to the problem with violent extremism in the Nordic countries.


The study shows that recommended practices and advocations for multiagency collaboration are centered around the importance of mutual trust between official agencies and clients, but also to a large extent on trust between practitioners within the multiagency teams. Mutual trust is supposed to lower the threshold for sharing information between involved practitioners and trust can be used as a resource to informally bypass legal obstacles. This is an indication of how new organizational arenas, such as the hybrid space emerging from cross disciplinary collaboration, can create new informal practices as the Societal Security Logics (SSL) and Social Care Logic (SCL) mix in everyday work.

You can read more about the project here.

The complete study is accessible here.

Tags: Violent Extremism, Nordic countries, societal security, societal care By Robin Andersson Malmros, Jennie Sivenbring
Published Mar. 17, 2020 10:45 AM - Last modified Mar. 8, 2021 1:40 PM


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