Club of Venice Seminar – Challenges for government communication in times of crisis: capacity building, delivering, interacting and inclusiveness

The Seminar on “Challenges for government communication in times of crisis: capacity building, delivering, interacting and inclusiveness” organised by the Club of Venice and Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU on 14 October 2022 was a great opportunity to discuss ways how governments and institutions are organised with regards to crisis management, integrating #crisiscommunication as a key component. A vast array of best practices of crisis management strategies and tools, and possibilities for cross-border cooperation at various levels was presented to an active audience of European public communicators in the astonishing setting of the Liechtenstein Palace.

A particular focus that triggered my interest as a passionate analyst of public engagement, was given on the issue of young people and citizens’ inclusion within the context of the European Year of Youth and implementation of the Conference on the Future of Europe (COFE). Participation of citizens, especially young people, in public deliberations and decision-making process of the European Union has been a long debate, probably dating back to the foundation of the European Community, and it is true that more recently the rapid advance of innovative and community-based communication has created certainly new incredible opportunities for engagement as well as challenges for public communicators such as the application and control of social media platforms algorythms, privacy, disinformation and a reduced attention spam of information consumers. Therefore, it was quite interesting to see and discuss the specifics of communication to different target groups and within different media and platforms while drawing practical lessons learnt from COFE events that have taken place so far.

As part of most of the recent Club of Venice meetings, the seminar also covered issues related to the communication of the European and global response to the war in Ukraine. This is a very important and current topic for which the Club is an extraordinary ambassador. Other parts of the seminar covered ways to communicate the implementation of the resilience and recovery plans for Europe following the economic consequences of the cornova virus pandemic and the current European recession and high inflation. As part of a wide-ranging response, the aim of the Recovery and Resilience Facility is to mitigate the economic and social impact of the coronavirus pandemic and make European economies and societies more sustainable, resilient and better prepared for the challenges and opportunities of the green and digital transitions. This included analyses on how to communicate directly with citizens affected by rising energy prices and on how to ease the related tensions in the public opinion on major issues.

As it seems that Europe and most Western democracy are experiencing periods of high polarisation, the Club of Venice keeps offering extremely valuable opportunities to acquire important knowledge and skills that enable public communicators, and not only, to pursue their mandate at best. For this reason, I thank Secretary General Vincenzo Le Voci for his strenuous dedication and coordination of such a remarkable network of professionals.

An evening at frekwenzi

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited by my friend Mark Azzopardi to be a guest on Frekwenzi, a great talk show hosted on NET TV to discuss current events and debates in Malta. In the episode we discussed one of the most talked about topics in this small and beautiful Mediterranean island: the relationship between foreigners and locals. In the show I was accompanied by three other guests: Lorena from Mexico, Annija from Latvia and Jason from the UK. On top of sharing our thoughts on the issue, I was pleased to bring to the table some broader discussions about migration narratives, public attitudes, perceptions and attitudes which I have been working on over the past few years.

In particular, a point I wanted to get across is that certain phenomena of uneasiness or fear of something new when welcoming a sudden influx of newcomers is common to most places. Back in 2005 I lived in Ireland for a period of time and I could still see back then some of the same rhetoric I see, read and listen to in Malta today. This is pretty customary to any country that experiences fast economic growth thus becoming attractive to a wider variety of people from different parts of the world. It is therefore fundamental to work to understand what draws evolving public attitudes and how to drive narratives that foster policy making to the benefit of all.

When it comes to my experience, it seems (based on the show and on my exchange with peers) that I am living an unusual, maybe even exceptional situation. I feel fully integrated in Malta and into Maltese society. I live in a relatively rural area where very few foreigners live and where my wife and I feel extremely well-received by the locals. I go to the most local and iconic gym on the island: the unmissable Bertu’s Gym where mostly old-school weightlifter and body-building enthusiasts go. I took Maltese lessons, although I am still significantly far away from actually speaking this beautiful yet very difficult language, I play 5 a side once a week with a group of Maltese-only friends from the gym, who are all super cool, friendly and welcoming.

When I explain my experience here in Malta, many, if not most expats watch me in disbelief, but I’m sure that with time there is going to be more and more interest among locals who need to understand, accept and conceive the many changes that the island is going through economically, infrastructurally and culturally.

Semantically, there was a specific point that raised André’s (the co-host) attention. The “overpopulation” matter. I worked a lot on this point as I strongly believe that words still matter, in a world where meaning seems something more and more malleable. If you say that a country is “overpopulated”, you must have the intellectual honesty to be able to draw a red line on where exactly something becomes “over” or “under.” Often Malta is described as overpopulated but I find this semantically, ideologically and politically wrong unless it is backed up by an exact estimate of how many people can be received in the country or in a region or a city.

Let me give you an example, overpopulated is a common term to describe reception centrse for migrants and refugees such as that of Lampedusa or Lesvos. In this case, a  reception centre has a specific capacity. When that capacity is reached and more people are received, than we can say that the centre is over-populated. However, the point I raised in the show is that overpopulation is always about infrastructure more than people. If a country, island or city is infrastructurally unequipped to receive new tenants, than yes it will get overpopulated as a specific capacity to reception is identified by, for example, the amount of houses, rooms, kitchens, toilets available in that very moment. Henceforth, I explained how Malta currently has a significant infrastructural issue which manifest itself in the form of very heavy traffic, very high cost of housing (considering local salaries) and great need for specific working profiles (such as healthcare professionals) which are not present on site and that take years to train.

While I explained this principle in the case of Malta, I made it clear that this applies to any place facing the same circumstances (high GDP growth, scarcity of housing, scarcity of specialized workers, sudden influx of people, unequipped infrastructure) and it is not in any way a Maltese unicum. Certainly, being Malta a very small country, the situation is highly exacerbated in terms of perceptions since population distribution occurs across a small territory.

Apart from what I shared above, it was a real pleasure to talk to Mark and the other invitees about their Maltese story and I hope the show was of interest to the audience.

Eliminate Demotivational Motivational Content

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

Shutterstock https://bit.ly/3BiBN0W

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.