Exclusion, violence, and community responses in Central American cities

Research focus

This project will explore why urban communities with similar conditions of social exclusion experience different levels of violence. Research will be conducted in six medium- to large-sized cities in Costa Rica and El Salvador to test whether the capacity of communities to initiate and sustain collective action affects the level of violence.

The challenge 

Although all countries in the region share a high perception of citizen insecurity, they experience different levels of violence, state response, and rule of law. For example, in El Salvador, high levels of social and criminal violence interact with weak institutions and the militarization of civil security. On the other hand, Costa Rica’s high levels of violence are met by stronger state response and rule of law.

The research will provide evidence on how community strategies have affected poor communities’ vulnerability in the face of rapid urbanization and high homicide rates.

The research

A multisectoral research approach will help policymakers, national and local authorities, multilateral agencies, and civil society organizations to better understand their roles in overcoming violence in vulnerable contexts. It also offers a unique opportunity to review existing evidence, analyze the success or failure of past interventions, and provide concrete recommendations aimed at enhancing public policies concerned with reducing urban violence.

The research aims to contribute high-quality evidence and inspire a shift in how community-based strategies to reduce violence are perceived and incorporated into public policy initiatives. Through dissemination of findings, the project team will:

  • strengthen the organizational capacity of local communities to respond collectively to violence
  • improve and expand the academic research agenda by supporting postgraduate studies in this theme
  • provide decision-makers with evidence on the benefits of active and engaged communities and the importance of a strong state presence in areas affected by urban violence.

Expected outcomes

A key feature of this project is that outcomes and outputs are expected to meaningfully target three distinct audiences: the academic community, policymakers, and the local communities directly affected by violence and exclusion. Expected project outputs include:

  • a consolidated report including qualitative and quantitative data; two papers to be published in scientific reviews
  • strategies designed to combat violence, integrating community perspectives. This will be accompanied by an operational “tool kit” to help civil society actors and local authorities identify and analyze these strategies
  • dissemination articles showcasing early research results to be shared and discussed with the communities involved in the study
  • a book detailing the results of the project.

Project ID


Project status


Start Date

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

End Date

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


28 months

IDRC Officer

Florencio Ceballos

Total funding

CA$ 498,000


Latin America, Costa Rica, Central America

Project Leader

Juan Pablo Pérez Sáinz


Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences

Institution Country

Costa Rica

Institution Website