Eliminate Demotivational Motivational Content

This article was published on the website of the European Association of Communication Directors (EACD)

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It is all around us. All day, all night (like the song goes…). While our cookies serve us the content we supposedly expect to be served, it is undeniable how the so-called “motivational content” pervades our scrolling thumb, whether it is on Instagram, TikTok or Linkedin. While with different nuances per each platform, the “do more or you’re useless” type of content is omnipresent today.

Leadership, mentoring, getting better, outshining, doing more, sleeping less, making more money. While the business of up-lifting is undebatably positive for society and for individuals, the establishment of impossible vital and human KPIs is seriously creating the opposite effect, hence contributing to creating more anxiety, depression and regret to “scrollers.”

Extremely well curated polished content is not real life, at least not for most of us who can’t afford a graphic designer, a video maker, a make up artist, a social media manager and a PR representative that gets us interviews and gigs to tell the “plebs” how they succeeded and how they should pull themselves up their bootstraps, otherwise they are utter failures.

Picture yourself at the end of the day. You woke up, got dressed, prepped for work, worked hard, ate within a specific interval of time, prepped your work for the next day, commuted, and run to maybe get food for you and your family to finally get home.

Perhaps stressed, perhaps happy, perhaps a little burnt out, perhaps uncaring, you have a peek at your socials to release your mind, just to be reminded that if you haven’t worked out for two hours, run your side-hustle, invested in stocks, generated passive income, regimented your intermittent fasting, gone vegan and got your chakras aligned, you are a miserable failure, and for sure the guy who’s telling you that already knows that you hate your life and you are stuck (contrarily to him) in a place you don’t wanna be.

Funny enough, all of this content is uber popular only in the wealthiest parts of the world where we forget, way too often, how good we have it.

I’ve been in communication analysis for over a decade and I seriously worry of the effects that the supposedly “motivational content” business is doing to us.

What can we do about it?

Go on a break with your phone. I’m currently trying to follow the instructions of the amazing “How to Break Up with Your Phone” guide. There’s seriously nothing good from spending any time linked up to unrealistic motivational entertainment on your latest iPhone. It pollutes your brain and takes time away from people that matter in reality, not virtually. Technology is extremely useful, as long as it serves a purpose, not takes away “life purpose.” Spoiler alert: this is not an easy thing to do when on the other side of the screen you have teams of algorithm specialists that dedicate their working hours to hook you up to your scrolling feed. Therefore, accept that such behavioral change won’t happen overnight, nor easily.

Adjust your feed. “Purpose” is the keyword. Eliminate toxic accounts that produce toxic content from your toxic feed and think carefully about which accounts give you value rather than anxiety. This is very personal advice but you know the answer better than anyone. Spring cleaning your feed is time well-spent.

Accept that resilience is about how you recharge, not how you endure. Working adults have a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be resilient. Yes, resilience involves working hard, but it also requires one to stop, recover, and then begin the hard work again. Recovery is key to maintaining good health, but also preventing lost productivity. Instead of falsely recharge you, binging on motivational content during a burnout will give you more anxiety, fatigue and regret. It will be hard to let that phone go, but it’s crazy worth it.

Redefine purpose. Redefining your life purpose is often a means of redefining your life trajectory. Motivational content is hyper focused on money, assets, performance or impossible aesthetics. While that can work for some incredible individuals, our real purpose is personal, spiritual and tailored to us. You don’t need to fit in the purpose stereotype scale. You need to find your own, in your own personal way.

Life is not linear. We should work, be healthy, keep active, get knowledge as well as loiter a little bit, enjoy what we have, and spend quality time with people that matter to us. We must accept that some days are great, and others aren’t, and not because an “influencer” (I hate this word), that we don’t know tells us otherwise, that we should even care.

To sum up, motivational content is to be taken in drops otherwise it becomes demotivational for no good reason, and in our frenzied times of digital pervasiveness, it’s the last thing we need.

Crisis communication: challenges for strategic communication and possible inter-governmental synergies

The latest Club of Venice plenary took place in Florence at the stunning facilities of the European University Institute. At the event, I had the opportunity to introduce the Migration Capacity Partnerships for the Mediterranean (MCP Med) concept. As an overarching framework that aims to bridge cooperation agendas between Europe and its southern neighbours, MCP Med is as an innovative, scalable and operational capacity framework for migration cooperation for Europe and its Southern Neighbourhood partners. MCP Med aims to fully operationalise the partnership concept, promote cooperation based on equal grounds and following the principal of joint leadership and shared responsibilities, where all parties jointly develop, design and deliver accordingly to their own industry standards and through a bespoke modus operandi approaches and modalities.

Club of Venice meets at the European University Institute

During the plenary I also had the pleasure to moderate a session on communicating climate change and gave a speech about crisis communication and challenges for strategic communication and possible inter-governmental synergies.

When it comes to communicating the current Ukrainian refugee crisis that is putting significant pressure politically, logistically and humanitarianly on the European Union, public communicators need to be ready to explain the situation clearly to citizens and stakeholders. Some of you may remember the intervention of the Polish Ambassador to the UK whom last winter in London at the Club of Venice StratComm meeting talked of “our Ukrainian guests.” While that is certainly a laudable effort, in a recent discussion in an advisory group on migration campaigns run by an international organization, with over 30 experts, there was agreement across the board that “solidarity is high at the beginning of crises but wears out fast.”

One thing that is quite certain is that as long as migration is dealt with as an ad hoc “crisis” rather a continuous phenomenon, policy makers will always be in difficulty in a sort of run to put down a fire after another rather than building a solid and functioning firefighter station. So how can we make this happen?

One of the answers is to move from “capacity building” towards “capacity partnerships.”

In Europe and its neighbourhood, countries have increasingly invested in development of capacities to address challenges, including, but not limited to, irregular migration, reintegration of returning populations and human trafficking. At the same time, cooperation on migration seeks to address expectations for comprehensive partnerships that can deliver benefits in the economy, development, stability and security and among others.

To achieve better partnerships with its Southern neighbourhood, as called for in the new Agenda for the Mediterranean and the EU Pact on Migration and Asylum launched respectively by the EU last year and the year before, the EU needs to meet rising expectations from migration stakeholders and strive for a coordinated approach to migration governance. Migration communications are too often relegated to tactical response to crisis. There is untapped potential for strategic communications to be proactive and pre-emptively pave the way to migration governance actions. Thanks to the work of the Club of Venice to bring together institutional actors from different levels of governance, I am confident that these priorities for public communicators will be addressed within the most appropriate fora.

Communication, narratives and dialogue in migration policy – a focus on youth

Migration is a defining feature of urbanisation. Cities are places where people come together to live, work and find opportunities. It is also in the city where the reality of social and economic accommodation of newcomers and their interaction with host community
takes place. At the Mediterranean Urban Forum in Seville (MUM Forum) in June 2022 I had the pleasure to coordinate a communication workshop that gathered practitioners and experts to engage in an interactive exchange and set of discussions on current migration narratives at the local level which placed a particular focus on communication strategies addressing migrant youth and minors, while addressing challenges such as misinformation, rumours and local migration governance.

In migration policymaking, narratives are regularly mentioned as some of the most important determinants of public attitudes, behaviour and sources of perceptions and misperceptions. Narratives are selective representations of reality across at least two points in time that include a causal claim. They are necessary to decipher, explain and simplify complex realities. A simpler definition would be “how we perceive and speak about migrants and migration.” A fact that may be surprising to readers is that in Europe attitudes to immigration are not becoming more negative. Rather, they are notably stable and, in recent years, have become more positive. The recent outpouring of support to welcome Ukrainian refugees in Europe seems to be a manifestation of these attitudes.

When talking about migration narratives it is possible to identify mainly three levels of governance, often unrelated and hardly communicating with each other: The international, national, and local levels.

The first one pertains to international organisations, important players in the design and implementation of migration policy. What type of narratives do they craft? What are the key elements of such narratives? International organisations, which by definition operate at the intersection of nation-states, tend to reflect their vision on how cross-border or internal mobility should be managed. Their approach to narratives include diverse elements intertwining with each other, such as for instance a positive appreciation of migration as a natural, human, historical phenomenon, the reference to universal principles, namely human rights, and an emphasis on the benefits of migration for both host societies and migrants. In this realm, migration narratives are influenced by the “silos effect” among the internal departments of international organizations (such as directorates working on migration and directorates working in development cooperation), and most controversially “communication bubbles” where like-minded, international staff working in specific neighbourhoods of cities hosting international organizations (i.e. Brussels, Geneva, Washington) create narratives that are somewhat detached to the realities of the majority of citizens and seem unable to analyse, conceive or even acknowledge how alternative narratives develop. Migration is probably one of the most distorted topics affected by the ‘communication bubbles’ effect for two reasons: Firstly, the same implementers of such narratives are usually called “expats” (rather than “migrants”), indicating their non-attachment or temporary attachment to their host cities; secondly, they tend to be people that make the most out of migration, therefore tend to underestimate value-based communication towards audiences that do not share the values of universalism and benevolence and are less equipped to communicate to groups valuing tradition, conformity and security concerns.  

International non-governmental organisations shape migration narratives too, mainly by forging stories whose purpose is combating the securitisation discourse carried out by political movements exploiting the salience of the phenomenon for electoral purposes. This is why such stories, which target the global civil society, somehow represent counter-narratives aiming to challenge the prevailing migration discourse.

The second level, is the national one. States and national governments are central actors in the storytelling of migration and policy implementation. In this framework, in Europe, migration is mainly depicted as a challenge in response to which quick and practical solutions have to be put forward. In this context we have witnessed recently elements of contrast with regards to two different types of migration influxes. For instance, a number of political leaders have tried to capitalise on the emotional feature of the discourse of migration related to Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East by fuelling anti-migrant narratives, in particular at the very outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, many commentators are discussing how the same actors are openly doing the very opposite towards the narratives of million of Ukrainians fleeing into neighbouring countries. As Marta Foresti and Kathryn Nwajiaku-Dahou from ODI pointed out “It was encouraging to see EU countries come to unprecedented agreement to lift visa restrictions for Ukrainian refugees and in this crisis. And it is disheartening to see that that despite public opinion and condemnation by the international community, the hostile environment in the UK is still alive and kicking, even with inevitable U-turns in sight, that we’ve all gotten so used to in recent times.”

The salience of migration in political discussions contributes to such emotional activation. This is why state narratives tend to be securitarian which tend to be shaped by irregular (uncontrolled) immigration, not by migration as such. The more distorted and the more unbalanced the narrative is, the more states corner themselves deeper into a cul-de-sac, where they no longer dictate how the narrative frames their policies, but rather it becomes the narrative which drives them and dictates their policies.

And what about the local level, when it comes to the storytelling of migration? What is the role of cities in forging migration narratives? Is it possible to scale-up local narratives, by giving them prominence at the international level? Cities, due to their proximity to citizens, are in a unique position to foster a pragmatic, evidence-based and rights-based debate on migration, which is imperative not only to raise awareness in local communities but also to adopt effective inclusion policies. Local initiatives can successfully resonate at the international level, and the expertise of cities can bring added value for all.

Speaking with one voice

There are many issues at stake when it comes to the impact of migration narratives on policy-making. And one of these is the cleavage between the international, national, and local level of governance, which translates into a fragmented and multifaceted discourse. Specific attention should be given to this fragmentation, in order to foster fruitful discussions among the different actors involved in the storytelling of migration.

How can this be done? Firstly, by promoting investments in thematic research, specifically focusing on how different levels of governance craft migration narratives and interact. Secondly, by promoting fora with the aim of enhancing common understanding between the actors at stake while improving multi-level governance, mainly through the design of common strategic plans to implement. Thirdly, these joint efforts should be monitored, evaluated and revised to align with current realities.

The current Ukrainian refugee crisis has triggered a remarkable and unprecedented outpouring of support. In fact, the attitudes and actions towards Ukrainians fleeing the war appear to be somehow aligned, both at the international and at the national and local levels. Even media coverage seems to put across a different nuance, compared to the one which has been used to report on other refugee crisis over the last years. It is also true these attitudes will necessarily remain stable, since European hospitality may wear out over time, and tensions could arise. This is why promoting a solid understanding between the actors involved in the storytelling of migration, as well as developing a common knowledge about the diverse implications and effects of migration narratives on policy-making, must be encouraged and pursued at all levels of governance.  

Storytelling,narratives andconnections for policy entrepreneurs

On 3 June 2022, I had the pleasure to host a lecture on Storytelling, narratives and connections for policy entrepreneurs at the School of Transnational Governance of the European University Institute.

Nothing makes you more formidable than verbal competence, to be able to articulate and marshal your arguments. Get everything in order, get your information straight, to go to war with words.

A number of authors interested in how to translate evidence into policy identify the importance of policy narrative and argue that advocates of scientific evidence need to tell good stories to grab the attention and appeal to the emotions of policymakers. Yet, this general call for better narratives is incomplete without concrete examples and evidence of their effectiveness. To ensure research findings are taken up into policy, scientists and social researchers need a sophisticated understanding of policymaker psychology and the role of factors such as group dynamics and the rules that people follow within organizations.

While many policy studies take into account how and why people make decisions, individually and within the complex systems of government, few go a step further to offer advice on how those who wish to influence policy should act.

There is a large body of grey literature that does focus on providing practical guidance for those seeking to ensure uptake of evidence into policy. This literature draws on a range of insights from the world of academia, but also from practical lessons gained from years of trial and error within the field of policy advocacy.

I thank the School of Transnational Governance for giving me the opportunity to present my findings to some absolutely brilliant attendees from all over Europe.

EACD APPOINTS MARCO RICORDA as country leader for malta

The European Association of Communication Directors (EACD) has appointed me as country leader for Malta to expand its network on this fast-growing, innovative, and technology-rich Mediterranean island.

This year, through the EACD overall network, I will organize an inaugural event to present the work of the organization here. Malta thrives with a vibrant community of professionals working in gaming, artificial intelligence, crypto, metaverse and financial services. It is certainly a great (and all-year sunny!) hub of tech and communication talent. Exploring the role of communication in promoting innovative policy for Europe will be both challenging and rewarding. I look forward to including new members and aficionados to this network over the next months.

Migration narratives across three levels of governance

This article was originally published in the ICMPD Policy Blog

Narratives are among the most important determinants of public attitudes and behaviour – and a powerful source of (mis)perceptions. Migration narratives are shaped mainly at three levels of governance: international, national, and local. This article, introduces the concept of “governance of migration narratives”, examining three key questions: How do actors operating at the different levels craft and disseminate migration narratives?; How do these actors interact with one another?; and How does this interaction impact policymaking?

During his recent visit to Malta, Pope Francis spoke in favour of migrants and in particular encouraged Europe’s embrace of Ukrainian refugees. Drawing a comparison with Saint Paul’s shipwreck on the island in 60 A.D., in his visit at the Ħal Far’s Peace Lab the Pontiff said “… we see another kind of shipwreck taking place: the shipwreck of civilisation, which threatens not only migrants but us all. How can we save ourselves from this shipwreck which risks sinking the ship of our civilisation? By conducting ourselves with kindness and humanity. By regarding people not merely as statistics […but] for what they really are: people, men and women, brothers and sisters, each with his or her own life story.” In this evocative address, the Pope highlighted a very important element of migration policymaking: migration narratives, communication and related storytelling.

Drawing on its depth of projects across multiple world regions, ICMPD has been carrying out ground-breaking analysis of migration narratives – their development, evolution and impact on policymaking. In particular, cooperation between the EUROMED Migration programme and the Observatory on Public Attitudes to Migration (OPAM) has resulted in a wealth of new knowledge on the impact that narratives have on policymaking, political systems and elections. Therefore, let me introduce the concept of the “governance of migration narratives,” which may attract a great deal more attention in the future.

What are narratives and why do they matter?

In the world of migration policymaking, narratives are among the most important determinants of public attitudes and behaviour, and powerful shapers of (mis)perceptions. Narratives can be defined as selective representations of reality across at least two points in time that include a causal claim. They are necessary to decipher, explain and simplify complex realities. A simpler definition might be “how migrants and migration are perceived and spoken about.”

A fact that may surprise readers is that, in Europe, attitudes to immigration are not becoming more negative. Rather, they are notably stable and, in recent years, have actually become more positive. The recent outpouring of support for Ukrainian refugees in Europe seems to be a clear manifestation of these more compassionate attitudes.

Narratives are complex, relational and multifaceted. They can be produced and reproduced, crafted and revised. They can include assumptions about causality, good and bad, responsibility and consequences.

But who is constructing the migration narratives that prevail?

How do state and non-state actors take part in their crafting and dissemination?  

Different actors send different messages

Although often unrelated or lacking in intercommunication, three levels of governance shape migration narratives: the international, the national, the local.

The international level

International organisations are important players in the design and implementation of migration policy. But what type of narratives do they craft? And what are the key elements of such narratives?

International organisations, operating at the intersection of nation states, tend to reflect their vision of how cross-border or internal mobility should be managed. Their approach to narratives includes diverse, intertwining elements, such as, for instance, a positive appreciation of migration as a natural, human, historical phenomenon; reference to universal principles (namely, human rights); and an emphasis on the benefits of migration for both host societies and migrants.

In this realm, migration narratives are often strongly influenced by the “silo effect” present within international organisations (such as among directorates working on migration or development cooperation). More controversially, narratives may stem from “communication bubbles” where like-minded, international staff working in specific neighbourhoods of certain cities hosting IOs (Brussels, Geneva, Washington) create narratives that may be detached from the realities of the majority and seem unable to analyse, conceive or even acknowledge how alternative narratives develop.

In my view, there are two main reasons why the migration field is so susceptible to communication bubble distortion. Firstly, the non-attachment or temporary attachment felt by the implementers of such narratives to their host cities (frequently espousing the label “expat” rather than “migrant”); secondly, this group tends to have been given the opportunity to make the most out of migration, and therefore may underestimate value-based communication with audiences that do not share their values of universalism and benevolence and are less equipped to communicate with groups valuing tradition, conformity and security concerns.  

International non-governmental organisations also shape migration narratives, mainly by forging stories aimed toward combating the securitisation discourse of political actors exploiting the salience of the phenomenon, mostly for electoral purposes. This is why such stories, which target global civil society, somehow represent counternarratives that attempt to challenge the prevailing migration discourse. This is, for instance, the case for SINGA, an international community that refuses to view migration as solely a humanitarian or security issue but rather as an opportunity to meet new people and enrich host societies while producing economic benefit and innovation.

The national level

States and national governments are central actors in the storytelling on migration and policy implementation. Within this frame, migration in Europe is mainly depicted as a challenge – in response to which quick and practical solutions must be put forward. This dynamic has allowed a marked contrast to be observed in regard to two recent migration influxes.

A number of political leaders looked to capitalise on the emotional aspect of the migration discourse in relation to sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East to fuel anti-migrant narratives, particularly at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in speaking of Ukrainians fleeing that country, many of these actors employ a narrative that is essentially the polar opposite of their stance towards migration from other regions. As Marta Foresti and Kathryn Nwajiaku-Dahou from ODI point out, “It was encouraging to see EU countries come to unprecedented agreement to lift visa restrictions for Ukrainian refugees and for once act as one, and swiftly, in this crisis. And it is disheartening to see that that despite public opinion and condemnation by the international community, the hostile environment in the UK is still alive and kicking, even with inevitable U-turns in sight, that we’ve all gotten so used to in recent times.”

The increased salience of migration in political discussions is contributing to such emotional activation. And this is why state narratives tend to be securitarian, which has of course a very specific impact on policy. Security narratives tend to be shaped by irregular (uncontrolled) migration, not by migration as such. The more distorted and polarised the narrative, the deeper policymakers back themselves into a cul-de-sac, where they no longer dictate how the narrative frames their policies, but rather it becomes the narrative that is driving them and dictating their policies.

Faced with a gloomy demographic future, continuously presenting migration as an existential threat creates a context wherein reversing such an approach (and attracting migrants) with each day becomes more complicated, and the sheer scale of the task a deterrent in itself – posing as it does short-term risks that are too high, long-term political benefits that are too distant, etc.

The local level

What is the role of cities in forging migration narratives? Is it possible to scale-up local narratives by giving them prominence at the international level?

Local authorities can actively contribute to reducing the gap between perceptions and reality. Cities, due to their proximity to citizens, are in a unique position to foster a pragmatic, evidence- and rights-based debate on migration – imperative not only to raising local awareness but also to adopting effective inclusion policies. Local initiatives can successfully resonate at the international level, and the expertise of cities can bring added value for all.

An interesting example of local-level engagement is the #ItTakesACommunity campaign, launched in 2020 by the Global Forum on Migration & Development. The campaign brings together national governments, cities, businesses, civil society and international organisations to promote balanced narratives on all forms of human mobility by sharing stories about social cohesion and the positive impact that migration and diversity can have on communities. Launched in response to the inaccurate and damaging stories about migrants that have proliferated around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic, the campaign raises awareness on local initiatives by showcasing them at the international level. And this is precisely how the local level can inspire and inform the international level.

ANVITA, a French association gathering local authorities and elected representatives, stands as another good example of how local initiatives can transcend borders. The objective of the initiative is to help inform national policies, mainly by jointly promoting a discourse at the national level while showcasing the added value of in-the-field experiences of cities.

Speaking with one voice

A multitude of issues impact migration narratives on policymaking, one central issue being the problematic cleavage between the international, national and local levels of governance, making for a fragmented and multifaceted discourse where stakeholders talk past each other. This is why specific attention should be paid to this matter, fostering fruitful discussions among the different actors involved in telling the migration story.

How can this be done? Firstly, spur investment in thematic research specifically focused on how different levels of governance craft migration narratives and interact. Secondly, promote fora with the aim of enhancing common understanding among the actors involved while improving multi-level governance, mainly through designing common strategic plans. Thirdly, monitor, evaluate and revise joint efforts according to current events.

The ongoing Ukrainian refugee crisis has triggered an unprecedented outpouring of support among European policymakers and citizens alike. Indeed, the palette of attitudes and tones used in relation to Ukrainians fleeing the war appears to be somewhat aligned across the international, national and local levels. Even mainstream media coverage seems to have adopted a different nuance than that employed when reporting on other recent refugee crises. However, this does not mean that positive attitudes are guaranteed to prevail, since European hospitality may wear out over time, and tensions may arise. This is all the more reason why promoting solid understanding among the actors involved in migration storytelling, as well as developing a common knowledge framework on the diverse implications and effects of migration narratives on policymaking, must be encouraged and pursued at all levels of governance.  

A chat with the Migration & Diaspora Podcast

Delighted to talk to Loksan Harley of the Migration & Diaspora Podcast. In our far-ranging conversation, we talk of #migrationcommunications challenges, from how #narratives on migration are formed, how they’re influenced, and how international organisations working in the field of migration can communicate better with their stakeholders. Check this out Spotify below.

Enjoy!

https://lnkd.in/dsB4Vtmd

Social media : analysing governments’ and institutions’ capacities and engagement and the added value of an enhanced technological landscape

Last 31 March, I had the pleasure to attend the Club of Venice 5th Stratcom Seminar “Professionalizing Strategic Communication to tackle social and technological challenges.”

This year’s seminar focused on shaping meaningful and coordinated communication strategies to be applied in times of crisis especially in relation to the current war in Ukraine, its tragic impact on the citizens’ lives and on the dramatic problem of the refugees across the border, as well as on democratic values and on the country’s structures, economy and survival. We heard direct testimonies from specialists on the ground, from governmental voices and from international organisations, including from media specialists, on the impact of the conflict on communication and on the challenges for the media. The aim was to check the state of play and explore possible roads to increase mutual cooperation in resilience building; how to cope with the different challenges for communications and the media by adopting a multi-channel approach reinforcing the necessary dynamics.

On personal note, I had the pleasure to moderate the session on “Social media : analysing governments’ and institutions’ capacities and engagement and the added value of an enhanced technological landscape.”This session elaborated on the impact of social media in the communication strategies carried out by European governments and institutions. New players, increased participation, need for increased competencies, the difficult role of moderators, risks and opportunities for those who are elaborating strategies and seeking higher participation and involvement from the audiences, disinformation threats but also an enormous chance for increasing outreach and productive cooperation with civil society (an incredible multiplying factor for the benefit of large audiences).

We heard from national authorities (digital coordinators, social media experts and strategic comms advisors) how their respective organisations are organised and how best they see handling the balance between governance efficiency and public participation.

Once again I thank Alex Aiken, UK Executive Director for Government Communication, and Vincenzo Le Voci, Secretary General of the Club of Venice for the excellent organization and remarkable opportunity to exchange with fellow communicators from all around Europe.

Citizenship, migration and participation in territories: the role of local public communication in EU Member States

On 16 and 17 February 2022, on behalf of the MC2CM project, I took part in the Cap’Com International Seminar Citizenship and civic participation in the territories:  the role of local public communication in European Union’s countries, in Toulouse.

The objective of our participation was to present to a great network of European institutional communicators, the policy recommendations of our project in relation to communicating migration at the local level as a tool to improve local migration governance.

REBALANCING THE NARRATIVE TO STRENGTHEN LOCAL GOVERNANCE

Migration is a natural phenomenon that has shaped the cities and territories of Europe along history for many centuries. Migration makes European cities, diverse places, very dynamic places and spaces where opportunity meets freedom. This brings a potential advantage in terms of innovation and development, but it also brings the need for significant resources to ensure social inclusion, integration, urban development and housing for all.

Unfortunately, though, the prevailing narratives around migration are very polarized and produce a debate that underestimates the complexity of human mobility and is neither pragmatic nor moored in evidence. While representing a small share of the infinite realities of migration, irregular migration flows receive a large share of the media attention and forms part of the general perception and narrative surrounding migration. The success of migration policies hinges in large part on the ability of local authorities to rebalance these narratives because it is at the local level that the reality of migration plays out and affects peoples’ lives.

Over the past 10 years, we have seen several events shaping migration in the region: The European debt crisis; social tensions in North Africa and the Middle East; violent armed conflicts; poverty; and these past two years, the coronavirus pandemic, which adds new health-related concerns to migration management. While the essential contributions by migrant communities working at the forefront of the pandemic were acknowledged, migrants are still disproportionately affected by such crises.

While the politics of migration often appear volatile, public attitudes in Europe are actually stable. The volatility can be found in public opinion, which unlike underlying attitudes, shifts in response to short term events. This volatility is exacerbated by narratives that appeal to values and identities and generate emotional reactions. As the perceived importance of immigration and irregular migration have risen in recent years, the fringes of the migration debate have occupied the public discourse, polarizing public opinion.

This is a vicious circle where migration is frequently presented as “out of control.” Irregular migration, which makes up a tiny proportion of actual mobility and has been in decline in the European Union for the last six years, still dominates the discussion, despite the downward trend in overall asylum applications in comparison to the peak of migration pressure. The notion of migration perceived as a threat to host communities and cities and has become the norm across much of the region. The absence of real, majority, lived experience of human mobility distorts the narrative and policy responses on an issue that affects millions of people.

Due to their proximity to citizens and voters, local officials might be tempted to avoid communicating on such heated issues. However, communication is unavoidable and understanding perceptions and ways to address these, can help avoid conflict and unlock the full potential of migration at local level.

Most authoritative pan‑European surveys (e.g. European Social Survey (ESS) between 2002 and 2018) show that attitudes towards all types of immigration in most European countries have actually become markedly more positive, or at least less negative, in recent years. This also holds for a range of attitudinal types, including preferences to types of immigration, perceived effects of migration, and desired migration policy.

So the question is “Why does the political discourse around migration appear volatile when underlying attitudes are stable?”

The factors that condition attitudes toward migration are complex, but understandable. They include four broad categories: psychological, socialization, attitudinal and contextual. The first of these relates to personal foundations, such as values and morality. But the last of these is particularly relevant to local and regional government actors as factors include: neighborhood safety, contact with immigrants, media influence, local immigration rates, perception of immigrant levels.

4 CHALLENGES IN COMMUNICATING ON MIGRATION AT LOCAL LEVEL

As explained in the MC2CM thematic Learning Report “COMMUNICATION ON MIGRATION: REBALANCING THE NARRATIVE TO STRENGTHEN LOCAL GOVERNANCE“, Migration can appear daunting as a topic for local authorities to address. The challenges cut both ways: there are capacity limits on the side of authorities and access issues for migrants themselves. Resources and capacity vary enormously across the Euro‑Mediterranean region. But communication is unavoidable and understanding mechanisms and perceptions can avoid conflict and prevent negative impacts on social cohesion, while unlocking the undoubted benefits of migration.

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LIMITED CAPACITY AND EXPERTISE

  • Working on communication on migration benefits strongly from specialised input, knowledge and skill sets that city authorities do not always have.
  • The basis for good decisions are good data. Cities across the region do not have uniform access to up‑to‑date information on the migration context. This is essentially a tools issue.
  • A shortage of resources and capacity can hinder the development of effective communication strategies, some of which require the commitment of time and financial investment.

LACK OF ACCESS TO ESSENTIAL INFORMATION

Migrants, and in particular new arrivals, do not always know how to access information that might help them adapt even when it is available. This is especially true for vulnerable groups who do not share a language with the host community, or who have irregular status and may therefore be wary of attempting to access services. This is in part a knock‑on effect of the shortage of capacity identified previously, which complicates the design of relevant services for immigrants.

DISINFORMATION

Local governments face organised, motivated opposition to an evidence‑based rebalancing of the migration narrative. The COVID-19 crisis has seen an acceleration of disinformation that has come to be known as the “infodemic.” The purpose of such disinformation is to sow panic and distrust. There is fertile ground around the migration debate for stoking both panic and distrust. Malicious anti‑migrant rhetoric has long been a central theme within extremist mobilisation globally and a mainstay of disinformation campaigns. Anti‑migrant and far‑right networks in the Euro‑Mediterranean region and beyond are exploiting the COVID-19 situation, as they would do with any type of crisis, to spread disinformation targeting migrants, refugees and other vulnerable populations on and offline. The pandemic has seen migrants falsely cast as a threat to public health.

POLITICS AND PRIORITIES

Communication requires resources that were already scarce before the challenges the pandemic has presented. The allocation of scarce resources may see local authorities choose to invest in other needs or de‑prioritize communication. National debates on migration can often ignore the realities that cities already face. The denial of services to irregular migrants may be popular at the national level, while the consequences are keenly felt in municipalities where these people continue to reside.

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LOCAL CHALLENGES AND APPROACHES

In recent decades, cities have become more active in migration policy, developing their own philosophy and spreading awareness that effective inclusion is critical to their viability as communities. Cities are the places where migrants develop social networks, start families, find jobs, access services. They are also the places where negative consequences of mismanaged integration can be concretely felt.

This greater activism has seen cities advocate before national governments but also reach beyond the national arena to become part of networks with other cities and international organisations. For instance, cities have developed specific working areas on migration within the existing networks (e.g. UCLG and Eurocities) in order to exchange know‑how, and to lobby supra‑national institutions, such as the European Union or the United Nations;

The increased activism and the accompanying network effect of cities talking to each other means there is an emerging playbook of effective approaches. All of them rely on shifting from reactive to strategic communication at the local level. A strategy that determines how the city communicates internally (within the administration and vertically with all levels of government) and externally (to the general public and target groups).

6 RECOMMENDATIONS TO HELP LOCAL AUTHORITIES IMPROVE COMMUNICATION ON MIGRATION

Diverse and inclusive cities are also successful and attractive cities. The force underpinning this diversity is migration. Cities need to take on the challenge of communication in order to fulfil these potentials as drivers of economic development.

Local contexts differ sharply in European cities. Some cities face a generational shift from points of departure, while other are places of transit or hosting. Some cities face unemployment crises, while others face acute skills shortages. Some municipalities find their positions on migration closely aligned with national governments, while others conflict.

Even before the arrival of the COVID-19, there were clear signs that perceptions of migration had become dangerously detached from the evidence base of its real impacts.

1. Build an evidence base: Collect data to inform and depict an accurate picture of your local migration context. When recent data is unavailable, include stakeholders with deep knowledge of local migration history and precedents.

2. Build capacity: Effective communication on migration requires specialist skills. Communication capacity can lag as a priority, especially during times of acute crisis such as the pandemic. Make the argument for its importance. Cities remain the ideal platform for communicating success stories that will attract future resources and opportunities to exchange and grow.

3. Build alliances: Look beyond the national arena to international and supranational networks of cities, which are building effective alliances. These are also a repository of an increasing wealth of knowledge on best practices. Allies can be found among civil society organisations both as local implementing partners and force multipliers whose own networks and channels can provide crucial entry points to vulnerable or hard to reach groups.

4. Beware of disinformation: The joint crises in public health and the economy create fertile ground for malicious narratives, which seek to scapegoat migrants. The consequences of the “infodemic” can be as serious as those of the pandemic itself.

5. Build bridges: Various formulations have been established to express the division of opinion on migration (haters/ambivalents/lovers) and suggest a concentration on the largest group, the middle category of “ambivalents”. Effective narratives will understand the anxieties of ambivalents and build positive associations between diversity and areas such as tradition and security. Identify shared local identities that speak to these concerns and emphasise common ground.

6. Build for the long term: Migration is not a crisis, it is a human condition. Ad hoc responses to issues such as disinformation may be necessary, but do not replace the need for a coherent plan. Think strategically about building internal capacity and, where possible, diversity in municipal teams. Train staff, practitioners and the media on the benefits of migration. Cultivate relationships with local media who are often the gateway to national coverage. Incorporate migration as a component in strategic plans on areas from jobs to education and culture.

Empower migrants and societies to realize full inclusion and social cohesion

Last 8 February, I had the pleasure to speak on behalf of the MC2CM project to present our findings and recommendations at the very interesting webinar “GCM Objective 16: Empower migrants and societies to realize full inclusion and social cohesion” organized by Cross Regional Center for Refugees and Migrants (CCRM), the Global Research Forum on Diaspora and Transnationalism (GRFDT), the International Institute of Migration and Development (IIMAD), Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA) and Metropolis Asia – Pacific.

The panel also included Sharmarke Dubow, Councillor of the City of Victoria (Canada) and Dr Kennedy Achakoma, Labour Economist at the African Trade Union Migration Network (Ghana) and was moderated by Paddy Siyanga Knudsen, Vice President at GRFDT, and saw the participation of over 150 people from all over the world.

You may see a full recording of the session here below.

The Commitment text for GCM 16 from the compact reads: “We commit to foster inclusive and cohesive societies by empowering migrants to become active members of society and promoting the reciprocal engagement of receiving communities and migrants in the exercise of their rights and obligations towards each other, including observance of national laws and respect for customs of the country of destination. We further commit to strengthen the welfare of all members of societies by minimizing disparities, avoiding polarization and increasing public confidence in policies and institutions related to migration, in line with the acknowledgement that fully integrated migrants are better positioned to contribute to prosperity. 

Social cohesion is based on the ability of individuals of a society to intermingle with others and provide the society with benefits. From a local government perspective, ensuring social cohesion may involve elements like providing basic access to services and rights. European institutions have always advocated for integration and inclusion, as they are a sustainable solution to guarantee the long term well-being of societies, on a social and economic level.

In particular, the European Commission’s Action Plan on Integration and Inclusion 2021-2027 states that if we aim to have thriving societies, we should look at integration as being both a “right and a duty for all”. Along these lines, this concept has been advocated for fervently within MC2CM activities and publications.

The MC2CM project has promoted the concept of local inclusive citizenship, which “contributes to tackling inequalities at the local level, rendering public services accessible for everyone regardless of their legal status” and eventually ensuring social cohesion and inclusion, as cities are the primary instance where public and collective realities unfold. It held a virtual peer-learning-event held in Grenoble in March 2021 on the topic.

The notion of local citizenship grants rights on the basis of residency, rather than legal status, while bridging administrative status gaps and ensuring social cohesion and inclusion.

The MC2CM policy recommendations highlight the importance of supporting migrants’ inclusion in the city through the provision of welcome instruments, access to basic services, access to labour market, access to political participation, as well as guaranteeing adequate urban planning and proper housing.

 MC2CM has concretely translated the concept of inclusion of social cohesion through many actions on the ground. Namely, through its actions in Moroccan cities (Tetouan, Larache, Alcazar-Quivir), where it strived to build cities through social cohesion, through training educators and agents on the different approaches of migrants’ social inclusion. It also developed a neighbourhood intervention plan to tackle vulnerabilities.

In Sfax, Tunisia, it aimed to establish coordination mechanisms between local authorities and civil society to strengthen capacities and improve access to basic rights.

In Zarqa, Jordan, it strived to improve a safe and inclusive access to the public space to pave the way for cultural exchange, tolerance and dialogue between local community and Syrian refugees.

In relation to the above, we recommend the following publications and content: