Assessing the potential of civil organizations within regions affected by organized crime to hold state institutions to human rights-based development

Lead Research Organisation: University of Aberdeen
Department Name: School of Language and Literature

Abstract

Although scholars and analysts suspect that civil society has the potential to mitigate the effects of criminal violence, few have conducted substantial research on the topic, and they have focused mainly on national (and international) civil organizations. We propose to focus on civil organizations based in the affected regions themselves, specifically within the west-central Mexican states of Michoacán and Jalisco, a region with high levels of criminal violence.

It is increasingly recognized that treating organized crime as a matter of security is insufficient and can even exacerbate the problem, and that organized crime must be addressed through holistic strategies that include development consistent with human rights, providing opportunities for a dignified economic, social and political life outside the sphere of criminal organizations. In the state of Michoacán, for example, after "self-defence" vigilante groups ousted local police accused of serving organized crime in 2014, the federal government established a Commission for Security and Integral Development promising to deliver equitable and participative development to the region.

Yet holistic strategies are notoriously difficult to execute when, as often in Mexico, state institutions in the affected regions are captured, wholly or partially, by the same criminal organizations and their associates. In these contexts, criminal organizations can for example use their hold over local (and state) government to frustrate the designs of national government, as well as of international agencies.

Researchers and policy-makers suspect that civil society has an important role to play in these contexts. Civil society can monitor the actions of state institutions, insist on participating in development projects, resist development that hurts or fails to benefit vulnerable groups, and advocate strategies that do meet the needs of the broader population, thus helping to offset the hold of criminal organizations overhose institutions, as well as creating alternative livelihoods for the population. However, although there have been some studies of the role of national (and international) civil society in holding state institutions to account, the potential role of civil organizations within the regions themselves is little studied. This is our focus.

The few studies conducted, and initial research by the applicants, suggest that civil society organizations are often themselves hemmed in by organized crime, and find it difficult to resist penetration by organized crime, much less to advance an agenda contrary to its interests. This helps to account, indeed, for the reluctance of many researchers to conduct sustained fieldwork in these contexts.

Despite the forbidding panorama, the project will use comparative ethnography, following strict protocols designed to mitigate risk to researchers and research subjects, to identify and explain positive examples of organizations which have played an effective role in holding state institutions to a human rights agenda, and specifically one designed to offset the noxious effects of organized crime activities.

Project outputs will include an academic monograph co-authored by Guerra (CIDE), Maldonado (Colegio de Michoacán) and Stack (Aberdeen), and a volume edited by Stack to include papers from an international conference in London and others chapters co-authored by the applicants with the postdoctoral RAs.

Unusually for an academic research project, we have chosen to put the policy outputs on an equal footing with the academic outputs. To this end, we have incorporated 2 policy analysts Domingo (ODI) and Jesperson (RUSI) as Co-Investigators. We have followed their instructions from the outset to ensure that the data collection and analysis will be adequate to the task of producing a series of well-grounded policy briefs, applicable to other regions of Mexico (and the world) affected by criminal violence.

Planned Impact

The project is geared primarily to benefit a) development actors concerned about the effects of criminal violence on development policies, and b) security actors looking to develop a holistic strategy to address criminal violence. It will also be of benefit to civil organizations a) within regions affected by criminal violence (such as the organizations on which we focus), and b) outside those regions (national and international) but with an interest in supporting the work of organizations within the regions. By benefiting those organizations, it will also benefit Mexican citizens and especially those living within the regions affected by criminal violence, as well as being applicable to the many other regions of the world in which criminal violence is of increasing concern to development and security actors.

In order to achieve this ambitious goal, and unusually for an academic research project, we have chosen to put the policy outputs on an equal footing with the academic outputs. To this end, we have incorporated 2 policy analysts Domingo (ODI) and Jesperson (RUSI) as Co-Investigators. We have followed their instructions from the outset to ensure that the data collection and analysis will be adequate to the task of producing a series of well-grounded policy briefs. The briefs should be applicable not only to the other regions of Mexico affected by criminal violence, but also to the other regions of the world where criminal violence is obstructing the development that is supposed to mitigate it.

To ensure that the briefs will be applicable elsewhere, and because the chosen region of west-central Mexico is highly diverse, Domingo and Jesperson have asked the academic researchers to compare a significant number of sub-regions within the broader region. This will also help to ensure that the briefs are context-sensitive. The briefs will draw on the comparative data to demonstrate in what ways the potential role of civil organizations can vary even within a single region, and advise development and security actors how to tailor their strategies for civil organizations to specific sub-regional contexts. We have therefore agreed to include 7 sub-regions within the study, to be studied by the applicants Guerra, Maldonado, Stack and 4 postdoctoral RAs.

As well as ensuring that the briefs are applicable, Domingo and Jesperson have set out an agenda for ensuring that the briefs are suitable for and taken up by the relevant development and security actors, as well as the local, national and international civil organizations:
1. We will consult thoroughly on Domingo and Jesperson's drafts of the briefs by a) re-interviewing members of region-based civil organizations to seek their views on the draft briefs, and b) debating the drafts with a range of development actors and civil organizations at a policy-makers' workshop in Mexico City. The prominent Mexican think-tank Fundar, A.C. has expressed an interest in hosting the workshop.
2. We will follow up on the briefs by a) returning to the sub-regions to encourage the civil organizations to consider the final recommendations, and b) Domingo and Jesperson will be responsible for publicizing the briefs to development and security actors, through the channels of their institutions (ODI and RUSI), as well as to national and international civil organizations.

Finally, several of the applicants have experience in writing for media audiences, and all the researchers will be expected to disseminate findings through these channels in 2018. In addition, once the policy briefs have been confirmed, the Aberdeen-based RA will be tasked with setting up a website with social network functionality, gearing the information toward a variety of web audiences.
 
Description 1. New knowledge and questions: We identified and assessed the impact of societal responses to problems related to crime and violence in the heavily affected Mexican state of Michoacán. A key general finding, set out in the practitioner briefs as well as academic volumes, was that few organizations were prepared to treat crime-related issues directly, much less in dialogue with other organizations and officials, which impeded their attempts to understand the problems, identify adequate responses and to collaborate in realizing them. Further, our analysis led us to propose in the ODI practitioner briefs that effective collaboration should minimally a) heighten state officials' sensitivity to the differential effects of crime and violence on rural and marginal urban communities, and b) seek accountability of officials including police, who were on occasion complicit in crime and themselves perpetrate violence. Specifically, based on our observations across the 6 localities, we argued in one of the briefs that officials' sensitivity and accountability could be enhanced through creating local councils bringing together officials, organizations and other citizens to discuss security issues. We found that councils that had representative structures were better able to capture plural experiences and generate legitimacy, which in turn helped actors to demand accountability of officials.
2. Improved methodology: We studied societal responses through conducting ethnography in 6 regions of the same Mexican state, and in the process improved the method of comparative ethnography, of which there are few examples. Ethnographers are highly attuned to context and for that reason reluctant to compare across contexts, but we showed that by comparing contexts that are similar in some respects and thus reducing the variables, it is possible to reach meaningful conclusions. For example, we were able to identify features of effective collaboration by comparing the working of local citizen security councils in 3 regions of the state.
3. New resources: Together with the published academic outputs, practitioner briefs, and video-capsules, we have lodged with UKDS our database of pseudonymized interview transcripts, with full metadata, available (with authorization from the PI) to researchers of societal responses to crime and violence.
4. New collaboration: We developed a collaboration with another ESRC-managed project, led by Jenny Pearce, which complemented our focus on civil organizations with their focus on the use of Human Security Agendas to engage with marginal communities that had trouble organizing in the first place. Together we organized several public forums in Mexico, including in the region of Michoacán where both projects conducted researcher. We have now secured a Newton Fund Impact Scheme grant to develop both projects' impact.
Exploitation Route 1. Researchers can make use of the published academic outputs and the UKDS database to enhance their understanding of and future research on the role of civil organizations in contexts of crime, violence and corruption.
2. Policy makers and practitioners in UK, Mexico and elsewhere can make use of the practitioner briefs and video clips, and other material hosted by our project website, to develop strategies for enhancing responses to crime and violence. For example, our Overseas Development Institute brief "The role and impact of local citizen security councils as a challenge to criminal violence" (and the video clip that accompanies it) details the features that made for more effective collaboration between civil society and government.
Sectors Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Security and Diplomacy

URL https://cisrul.blog/research-projects/michoacan/
 
Description Through ethnographic engagement with regional stakeholders, the project identified small-scale societal responses to combat crime-related violence. During 2017 and 2018, the team employed a series of ethnographic techniques such as structured interviews, direct observation in meetings and assemblies, to understand and evaluate activists' initiatives. The choice of an ethnographic approach allowed the team to develop a deep knowledge of local power brokers; enabling understanding of formal mechanisms that shape legal, governmentally-driven responses to security, and the informal rules governing complex layers of bureaucracy. For example, by actively participating in local citizen security councils, as well as generating a series of public forums, our team of 'high-risk' situational experts have introduced new concepts and frameworks for understanding 'security' that have been adopted by members of civil organizations. The project has helped to created a broader, more consistent platform for local people to campaign for change in regional governance. By encouraging the sharing of civilian led security goals with local officials - such as politicians, the police and religious leaders - we are enabling a common set of strategies to be employed that collectively empower local people to combat crime related violence. The team has introduced new conceptual frameworks for understanding crime and violence in Michoacán, as well as strengthening stakeholder networks for intervention and has achieved impacts well beyond the Michoacán state boundary. The team has been active in publishing its findings in academic volumes, practitioner briefs, public forums, and through interview transcripts via the UK Data Service. Other findings (conference papers and video capsules) have been published online. The project shared lessons of the research and the resulting collaborations through a forum for policy experts at the Overseas Development Institute in 2018, attendees included a government lead on Serious Organised Crime, and representatives of international development organizations. A set of practitioner briefs tailored for national and international development actors has been published by the ODI and Stack has been invited to join the advisory board of a DfID-funded project to create Rapid Evidence Assessments on Serious and Organised Crime.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Participation in "Support Group for Peace-Building in Mexico", Institute for Integral Transitions
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
URL https://www.ifit-transitions.org/countries/mexico
 
Description Enhancing collaboration between state, civil society and community in the face of crime and chronic violence in Mexico
Amount £197,236 (GBP)
Organisation Newton Fund 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2020 
End 04/2022
 
Description Etnografía del disenso. Actuar frente al crimen organizado en Michoacán y Guerrero
Amount $240,000 (MXN)
Organisation College of Mexico 
Sector Academic/University
Country Mexico
Start 10/2019 
End 10/2020
 
Title Activism in regions of crime-related violence and corruption, 2017-2019 
Description The database consist of 95 interviews with members of civil society organizations in Michoacan, Mexico. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Once deposit of the database with UKDS is finalized, the database will be made available to researchers, subject to authorization from the PI, in 2020. After that point, we will be able to report on any impact. 
URL https://www.ukdataservice.ac.uk/
 
Description Civil Society and Community Participation in Responses to Chronic Violence and Security Provision in Michoacan: Stack/Pearce Newton Awards Collaboration 
Organisation London School of Economics and Political Science (University of London)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Dr Trevor Stack and Professor Jenny Pearce have both been working in Michoacan, Mexico, as part of their separate Newton Awards. Stack's project focussed on civil society participation and Pearce's on community participation. Both PI's saw the benefit of collaboration, both in terms of mutual learning about the contributions that civil society organisations and communities can play in responding to chronic violence and building new ideas around security. The collaboration began in 2018 when Pearce attended the Citizen's Security Council in Zamora, with whom Stack was working, and used the participatory methodology of Pearce's team with communities in Zamora. In October 2018, we organised Forums in Mexico City and in Morelia with our field researchers and academic partners and civil society and key public policy actors in Michoacan, with the aim of enhancing the impact of our research. In November, Abello attended a workshop organized by Stack's team at the Overseas Development Institute, and then Pearce presented her team's work at Stack's Citizen Participation workshop in Aberdeen. In 2019, Pearce and Stack organised a joint panel at the Latin American Studies Association Conference in Boston: Rethinking Citizen Participation in the Construction and Implementation of of Security and Justice Public Policies. In October, Pearce and Stack went to Mexico City and to Apatzingán and Morelia in Michoacan. Stack attended the launch of Pearce's team's book in Mexico City and Apatzingán, and we held meetings to discuss the findings of our projects with municipal authorities, community actors and civil society groups. In Morelia we held a meeting with civil society groups and policy actors to both feed back our research, to develop new ideas for enhancing the impact of both our projects, and to prepare a bid for a Newton Fund Impact Scheme grant.
Collaborator Contribution Pearce was able to bring to the discussions, the fieldwork experiences and interactions with communities that had been the main focus of her Newton Project. This created a dialogue with Stack's project on civil society participation, that enable us to build bridges between work on the shared themes with communities and how civil society groups could enhance their work on violence and security by connecting at the grass roots level. We also were able to share our varied connections at all levels of social action up to the municipal, state and national levels. This knowledge exchange enabled us to communicate empirically grounded evidence to public policy actors in the forums, discussions, and research feedback sessions which we co-hosted in Michoacan. In order to further develop this work, we have submitted a grant application to the Newton Fund Impact Scheme and are awaiting their decision.
Impact The main outcome is to enhance the debate amongst and between community, civil society groups, policy actors and academics in Michoacan about new approaches to security that reduce violences. In this very difficult environment we have inputted new ideas about security policy and the involvement of non state actors. The grant if successful would enable us to continue this collaboration.
Start Year 2018
 
Description Activismo, violencia y fragilidad institucional: Repensando el papel de la sociedad civil y la ciudadanía frente a la violencia. (Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas, Sede Santa Fe) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact The main purpose of the meeting was to rethink about the main problems of the discourse and the practice of the civil society and the citizenship in contexts of violence and institutional fragility. There were presented the results of two research projects that address this problematic: "Assess the potential of civil organizations within the regions affected by criminal violence so that state institutions meet the goal of development based on human rights" and "Co" The construction of security provisions in Mexico: a methodology and a plan of action of the communities to the state ".
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Blog article "Why 'macho culture' is not to blame for violence against women in Mexico" by postdoctoral researcher Catherine Whittaker 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Blog piece published in The Conversation, drawing on fieldwork conducted for the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://theconversation.com/why-macho-culture-is-not-to-blame-for-violence-against-women-in-mexico-1...
 
Description Citizen Participation in Contexts of Crime-Related Violence and Institutional Fragility 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The workshop was held at the University of Aberdeen in November 2018. The objective was to present research on citizen participation within regions characterized by violence and fragile institutions, especially where related to organized crime.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Foro Interdisciplinario: Para pensar el futuro de México 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Participation in the panel "Human Rights, Violence, Insecurity and Justice System" to discuss challenges and opportunities in the development of this topics to national level. There was a debate between experts in the security and human rights and developed proposed to changes in public policies.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Hacia la justicia cuando escasean las garantías: el activismo en contextos de violencia y fragilidad institucional 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The event was an international conference on a topic related to the project. I was invited to give paper in a session on the topic.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.colmich.edu.mx/coloquioXXXIX/
 
Description Hacía la justicia cuando escasean las garantías 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Presented at Coloquio de El Colegio de Michoacán, Zamora, México.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Institute of Latin American Studies blog post "How might citizens fight criminal violence in Michoacán, Mexico? 3 Lessons from the Activism in Regions of Violence Project" by Catherine Whittaker 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Institute of Latin American Studies blog post "How might citizens fight criminal violence in Michoacán, Mexico? 3 Lessons from the Activism in Regions of Violence Project"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://latinamericandiaries.blogs.sas.ac.uk/2020/02/19/societal-responses-to-crime-and-violence-in-...
 
Description La capacidad de la sociedad civil para construir justicia en contexto de violencia en México 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Conference conducted in the framework of the "Ciclo de Seminarios sobre Antropología Jurídica" organized by the "Grup de Recerca en Antropología Jurídica (GRAJ)". This helped us to spread advances of the field work and to fed back.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Public forum "¿Cómo mejorar nuestra colaboración frente al crimen y la violencia crónica? Experiencias comparadas" in Veracruz, Mexico (Sep 2019) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact The forum was intended to share project findings with civil society organizations in Veracruz, and to invite them to share their own experiences on the topic. Some of the organizations joined our successful bid for a Newton Fund Impact Scheme grant, which will enable us to collaborate from 2020-22.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Public forum "¿Cómo organizarse frente a la inseguridad? Comparando experiencias de Michoacán y Jalisco Foro para investigadores, activistas, funcionarios y público", Guadalajara, Mexico (May 2019) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact The forum was intended to share project findings with civil society organizations in the Mexican state of Jalisco. The organizations were invited to share their own experiences on the topic. Subsequently several organizations joined our successful bid to the Newton Fund Impact Scheme, and we will collaborate in 2020-22.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Public forum "¿Cómo organizarse frente a la inseguridad? Experiencias michoacanas" in Michoacan, Mexico (May 2019) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact The forum was intended to share project findings with civil society organizations in the region of Zamora, Michoacan, Mexico. The organizations were invited to share their own experiences on the topic. Subsequently several organizations joined our successful bid to the Newton Fund Impact Scheme, and we will collaborate in 2020-22.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Public forums "¿Cómo mejorar nuestra colaboración frente a la inseguridad?" in Apatzingan, Mexico (Oct 2019) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact This was a series of forums intended to share project findings with civil society organizations in Apatzingan, Michoacan, including those who participated in our project and in the Newton project led by Jenny Pearce. In all the forums, we also invited organizations and other attendees to share their own experiences on the topic. Some of the organizations joined our successful bid for a Newton Fund Impact Scheme grant, which will enable us to collaborate from 2020-22.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Repensando la participación ciudadana en la construcción de políticas públicas de seguridad y justicia: foro para organizaciones, funcionarios y público en general (Morelia, Michoacán) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Forum of analysis and reflection on the terms of citizen participation in the construction of public security and justice policies,
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Repensando la participación y colaboración ciudadana en la seguridad pública y la impartición de justicia: foro para organizaciones, actores gubernamentales e investigadores. (Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas, Sede Santa Fe) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The objective of the forum is twofold: on the one hand, how the concepts "Citizen Security" and "Human Security" are integrated into the public debate, especially in contexts of distrust towards institutions and social responsibility. Here, we could ask ourselves what are the limits and limits that exist between perspectives and how to apply participatory processes to define models of public security? For: the other, to discuss the role of civil society and citizens in contexts of violence and institutional fragility and to problematize definitions of common sense: what kind of citizen initiatives? How is civil society understood and organized?
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Roundtable: Societal responses to violence in contexts of organised crime, conflict and institutional fragility (Overseas Development Institute) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The Roundtable on "Societal responses to violence in contexts of organised crime, conflict and institutional fragility" was held at the Overseas Development Institute in November 2018.

It had 3 objectives:
1. To share evidence on societal responses to different forms of violence in different contexts in pursuit of: protection/safety, accountability, redress, visibility, services or rights protection
2. To facilitate dialogue across two broad families of literature on violence, which are currently siloed. These include violence that is conflict related or political; and violence that is associated with different forms of organised crime. Of course, this binary distinction oversimplifies the breadth of scholarship and evidence on social, political and economic drivers and consequences of different forms of violence.
3. To consider recommendations for practice on supporting societal responses to violence.

The roundtable considered 4 types of activism: legal mobilisation, ccommunity committees and self-defence groups, religious organisations, and artistic expression and cultural policy.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Seeking Justice in Difficult Contexts 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Presented at Aberdeen University Hispanic Society
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Seeking justice in difficult contexts: comparing pro-justice initiatives across the state of Michoacán, Mexico 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Invited to give talk in weekly research seminar of Institute for the Americas at Universit College London.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.ucl.ac.uk/americas/ia-events/archive2017-18/activism-violence-michoacan
 
Description Talk at Secretariat of Gender Equality of the Chiapas state government, sharing experiences and findings of access to justice in areas of violence 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Postdoctoral reseacher Iran Guerrero shared experiences and findings of access to justice in areas of violence, emphasizing the achievements of the groups that fight gender violence in Michoacán, and experiences that can be drawn from the follow-up they have given to the Gender Violence Alert Against Women. The presentation was attended by officials of the government of the state of Chiapas.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019