Proactive communication with public is integral to the success of immigrant integration policy, MPI Europe report finds
BRUSSELS — The way public figures speak about migration and integration has become increasingly important in an era of high polarisation and contentious policy debates. A new Migration Policy Institute Europe report argues that an effective communications strategy, though often not at the top of policymakers’ to-do lists, is integral to the success or failure of integration policies.
Yet government communications related to immigrant integration in the wake of the 2015-2016 refugee crisis have often occurred in ad hoc fashion, clustered around narratives that offer either unabashedly positive views of diversity or fear-mongering about costs, social cohesion and crime resulting from migrant arrivals.
The new report, Communicating Strategically about Immigrant Integration: Policymaker perspectives, synthesises the experiences of officials and other stakeholders from across Europe to examine when communication strategies succeed and when they stumble with messages that inadvertently inflame tensions or that are ignored or misremembered.
Among the key lessons: Messages that are overly positive may be perceived as disingenuous or out of sync with on-the-ground realities, while those that fail to tap into an audience’s lived experiences and emotions or do not come from a trusted messenger are likely to be dismissed.
‘In a media space increasingly characterised by disinformation and sensationalism, every communication initiative counts’, write authors Aliyyah Ahad and Natalia Banulescu-Bogdan. ‘And with trust in government at all-time lows in Europe and support for anti-immigrant populist parties near all-time highs, there is little room for failure’.
The authors offer a range of recommendations to achieve more effective communications, including:
- Reflecting the priorities of the whole community. Campaigns that highlight initiatives to integrate newcomers can leave the wider community feeling excluded or that its needs are secondary to those of the new arrivals. Instead, policymakers may find it more effective to focus public attention on interventions that will have demonstrable benefits for both newcomers and long-standing residents, and those that bring communities together.
- Listening rather than talking. Truly understanding the concerns of one’s constituents and making them feel heard is the most important part of developing successful narratives.
- Acknowledging conflict. To some degree, conflicts are a natural part of integration and other forms of social change. In addition to presenting the benefits of immigration and diversity, governments must be transparent about the challenges if they are to remain credible.
‘Efforts by governments to better understand who their target audiences are, what concerns they have and how they experience different messages is a crucial precondition for ensuring that communications meet their objectives’, the authors conclude.
Read the report here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/communicating-strategically-immigrant-integration.
Later this week, MPI Europe will release a final report in this series from its Integration Futures Working Group, supported by the Robert Bosch Stiftung. The initiative, working to develop a fresh agenda for integration policy in Europe, has brought together policymakers and experts, civil-society officials and private-sector leaders to create a platform for long-term strategic and creative thinking.
Read earlier reports in the series here: www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/integration-futures-working-group.
Aliyyah Ahad is an Associate Policy Analyst with MPI Europe.
Natalia Banulescu-Bogdan is Associate Director for the International Programme at the Migration Policy Institute. She is also a Non-Resident Fellow with MPI Europe.
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MPI Europe provides authoritative research and practical policy design to governmental and non-governmental stakeholders who seek more effective management of immigration, immigrant integration and asylum systems, as well as better outcomes for newcomers, families of immigrant background and receiving communities throughout Europe. MPI Europe also provides a forum for the exchange of information on migration and immigrant integration practices within the European Union and Europe more generally. For more, visit www.mpieurope.org.