Communication and Open Governance in a Time of Crisis

Credit: https://bit.ly/3wSc9M2

What is the state of play, lessons learned, and future orientations to partnerships in open governance today? This was the question debated at the latest meeting of the Club of Venice in a great event gathering high level experts ready to showcase examples of European cross-border and cross-sectoral cooperation, with the intention to explore how to make the most of partnerships toward stronger democracy and governance practice. Here are my two cents on the matter.

It is quite hard to identify how crises test governments and institutions globally. If we take a step back in order to have a broader vision on this issue, the noun “crisis” comes from the Greek word krisis, meaning “turning point in a disease”, the moment when a sick person could either get better or worse.

It also signifies the obligation of assuming a decision of one alternative over another. For instance, in the Greek New Testament, The Day of Judgement is hemera kriseos – a true crisis for those at risk of damnation and those hoping for redemption.

War or peace, disease or recovery, fortune or ruin. In all these senses a crisis is an intermediate stage leading to something, an outcome[1]. The real dilemma for us institutional communicators is “Is a crisis when we say it is?” – “What defines critical moments” and which indicators, material or abstract, can determine whether an event is indeed a crisis?

Europe has gone through many crises in its history and many more will come. In my field we often deal with the so-called “migration or refugees crisis” that reached its peak in 2015 when over 1 million people (coming from numerous parts of the world) crossed irregularly the Mediterranean to enter Europe. Ex post, several commentators proposed that talking about a ‘migration management crisis[2]’ would have been more appropriate. Let’s talk about it.

In this instance the European Commission, has used the word “crisis” to define a stand-alone and historically unprecedented phenomenon, based on two factors: (i) numbers and (ii) the uncontrolled nature of arrivals. It may be contested but it legitimate. The Commission’s approach gradually morphed from a humanitarian framing (2015-16) into one focused on border management (circa 2017) and cooperation with third countries to manage migration (2018 onwards). In 2019 the Commission declared the ‘crisis’ to be over[3]. I find that a very interesting examples of how “crisis” communication evolved strategically and an example of some very hard work of dialogue and compromise in establishing communication lines.

This opens another large dilemma for communicators when it comes to open governance. Open governance is the concept that citizens have rights to access to information and participation. (Democratic) governments and organizations should have the policy making power to advance transparency, accountability and participation, and make investments to enable these policies and I am confident in saying that it is Europe and the European Union who are leading in the world in this process.

When it comes to cross-border and cross-sectoral cooperation the question to ask is: Can this concept apply everywhere? Does the definition of crisis apply cross-border and cross-sectors?

Let me share a tiny bit of experience from my current role managing the communication of regional projects and dialogues across the Mediterranean.

As I quote a study from the Delors Institute: The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is an illustration of resistance to the global wave of democratization of the past decades, even if the countries’ undemocratic nature and its causes are complex and diverse. This region, key to geopolitical interests throughout the 20th century, is a privileged scene of EU’s external relations, drawn by recent events (such as those related to international terrorism, or the evolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict) and global trends (such as oil dependence, capital flows, or security alliances)[4].

The European Union (with the Barcelona Process) and the United States (most recently, with the Greater Middle East Initiative) are the main promoters of democratization in the region. In the current state of affairs, democracy promotion is a question always present on the international agenda.

Within the EUROMED Migration Programme we aim to establish a comprehensive dialogue on migration, with a specific focus on promoting evidence-based migration policies. Do we have an interest in promoting democracy? It is not within our mandate, to provide platforms for dialogue so that all the partners involved (meaning EU Member States and European Neighbourhood Southern Partner Countries) can freely exchange on their experience, challenges, concerns and priorities about migration policy.

In the implementation of programmes to establish a comprehensive dialogue on key agenda issues , it is by providing platforms for free and safe communication that potentially even actors with an interest in promoting democracy and open governance in the MENA region can benefit from the knowledge, openness and information from partners with different political systems, different levels of literacy, different values, different knowledge of the world, different history and different ambitions.

In particular, in this part of the world, but obviously not solely, external attempts to somehow present a type of government as superior or inevitable or the only possible way to do things, will be rejected and this will cause tensions that are hard to recover from, therefore annulling the dialogue efforts that may have taken years of diplomatic work to build.

It is with a very high level of discretion and diplomacy that we need to act in order to maintain this dialogue on one issue, migration, that more than any other over the past ten years in Europe and the Mediterranean has polarised the political discourse and institutional narratives.

When it comes to cross-border and cross-sectoral cooperation listening is a lot harder than expressing positions, and I think that’s the right approach to maintain especially when communicating to audiences (whether they are restricted or open) that have different views of the world from the ones an institution may decide to promote.


[1] The Vocabularist: Where did the word ‘crisis’ come from? https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-magazine-monitor-34154767

[2] https://www.epc.eu/en/closed-projects/EPC-in-the-refugee-crisis-deba~10f3d8#page-2

[3] Katharina Bamberg, Moving beyond the ‘crisis’: Recommendations for the European Commission’s communication on migration

[4] Cristina Barrios, Promoting democracy in the Middle East and North Africa region

Six recommendations to promote a balanced migration narrative

A few weeks ago I talked to The MARSA project about recommendations to promote balanced migration narratives. This interview draws on the finding and research carried out by EUROMED Migration V, a programme funded by the EU and implemented by the ICMPD. It supports EU Member States and the European Neighbourhood Instrument Southern Partner Countries (ENI SPCs) in establishing a comprehensive, constructive and operational dialogue and co-operation framework on migration, with a particular focus on reinforcing instruments and capacities to develop and implement evidence-based migration policies.

The issue of migration has over the past years taken centre stage in European, North African and Middle Eastern media. Conflicts in Syria and Libya coupled with political and economic instability in several countries in the Mediterranean, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East have resulted in large scale movement of migrants and refugees throughout the Euro-Mediterranean region.

We have all seen the stark images depicted in the media of migrants and asylum seekers packed aboard vessels of questionable seaworthiness, risking life and limb to make the treacherous journey across the sea in search of a safe haven and a better future.

As well, we have witnessed a range of different approaches to covering migration. Numerous ICMPD reports have drawn to the fact that the migration narrative in the region is characterized by a strong polarization. Such a divided and confrontational public discourse is often devoid of a wider understanding of migration.

In the age of disinformation, it is even harder to achieve a balanced public discussion that is functional rather than antagonistic to effective governance, that reconciles evidence with the need for emotional resonance, and that achieves a greater understanding of migration. An important step needed is for governments, institutions, news sources, civil society and big digital platforms to work together to promote authoritative sources. Otherwise misleading narratives take root and develop a life of their own. That was true before the COVID-19 pandemic and so-called “infodemic”. It is even truer, now as certain categories of migrants, such as irregular migrants in the Mediterranean, are particularly affected by COVID-19-related disinformation and misinformation since they are already subject to overly simplistic media framing.

I believe that a fair and balanced view of migration in the media is an essential stepping stone towards developing a more nuanced understanding of migration among the general public as well as contributing to drafting and implementing migration policies that work.

So what would be the practical recommendations to foster a balanced migration narrative? Among the many let me focus on six.

Reinforcing positive examples and approaches

To promote existing best practice examples and to encourage use of available information and data.

  1. In particular, efforts could be made to examine whether national initiatives, such as the Charter of Rome in Italy and the Greek Charter of Idomeni, can be applied in other countries throughout the region;
  2. Promote exchange of media best practices from countries where the migration crisis is most acute, such as Lebanon and Jordan and other Southern Mediterranean countries;
  3. Encourage journalists, media support groups and media organisations to develop regional and sub-regional initiatives to improve migration reporting;

Training

To develop comprehensive training programmes for media and journalists to encourage ethical reporting with a focus on:

  • Use of correct terminology
  • Understanding international law and legal rights of migrants, refugees and asylum seek­ers
  • Avoiding hate-speech and political bias in reporting of migration concerns
  • Providing balanced coverage from the standpoints of receiving host communi­ties
  • Developing diversity in sources of information.

Media Action

To develop support programmes for media organisa­tions and to strengthen their capacity to report on migration issues. In particular, by:

  • The appointment of specialist migration correspon­dents in all newsrooms
  • Promoting national media partnerships for coverage of migration
  • Providing special information resources for dis­placed people from war-zones to help them keep in touch with their home communities
  • Most importantly, encouraging newsrooms to move beyond coverage of the migration “crisis” and move into coverage of issues of integration that will assist normalisation of migrants in the public sphere.

Supporting policy makers

To encourage policymakers, community and civil society leaders to play a more active role in creating space dialogue about migration. In particular,

  • Policymakers should examine how they can fund and support better journalism without compromis­ing the editorial independence of the media;
  • All officials and agencies providing information to the media should check facts and verify information thereby assisting the media to prepare balanced reports.

Building Dialogues: Understanding Migration and a Culture of Civil Discourse

To promote the sharing of information and experience between countries and regional dialogue frameworks by:

  • Organising national workshops with journalists on the challenges of covering migration, to share experiences and identify possible joint programmes;
  • Organising regional media “summits” to exchange information on the challenges facing journalists and media in different countries;
  • Promoting a common approach to:
  • Combat hate-speech, stereotyping and misinfor­mation in public discourse
  • Understanding migration as a process with historical roots in all com­munities.
  • Valuing independent and inclusive me­dia coverage to creating peace and stability.

Research the role of values in policy communication

Throughout the twentieth century, psychologists made numerous attempts to classify human values. While the importance of values as predictors of human attitudes dates back to the 1960s, the use of values in communication is highly debated, but it remains a very poorly defined and understudied field.

  • Values come from numerous psycological and societal factors, from family upbringing to education, from religious attachment to the history of a person’s territory. One of the biggest mistakes that a recent ICMPD report highlights, is to delegitimize a community’s value (or a value shared by a specific target audience) as not acceptable or illegitimate. 
  • After defining values and demonstrating their relationship with attitudes to immigration, we can deduce that messaging with a value-basis that is concordant with that of its audience is likely to elicit sympathy, whereas that which is discordant with the values of its audience is more likely to elicit antipathy. Given the value-balanced orientations of those with moderate attitudes to immigration, persuasive migration messaging should attempt to mobilise values of its opposition;
  • Specifically to the case of migration, and following on from the review on the relationship between values and attitudes to immigration, when migration messaging is framed in values of self-transcendence (universalism and benevolence) or openness to change (self-direction, stimulation, hedonism) it is more likely to be supported by those already favouring immigration.
  • When migration messaging is framed in values of conservation (security, tradition or conformity) or self-enhancement (power and to a lesser extent achievement) it is more likely to be supported by those already opposing immigration. To be most effective, messaging should use the opposite values of those already associated with its argument.
  • This is a highly debated but poorly known field of sociology and communication that can definitely represent a turning point in reversing a communication trend where polarization and sensationalism are somehow monopolizing the migration debate in a way that does not benefit neither migrants nor hosting communities and make the work of migration policy makers harder than ever.

These are six recommendations on promoting a balanced migration narrative in the Euro-mediterranean region and beyond.

Interview with Ronnie Goldberg on labour migration and COVID19

A few days ago I had the pleasure to interview Ronnie Goldberg, Senior Counsel at the United States Council for International Business, Chair of the International Organisation of Employers and representative for the Global Forum for Migration Development. We discussed global labour migration trends and the effects of the COVID 19 pandemic. This interview is one episode of the EUROMED Migration Talks, a set of interviews launched by EUROMED Migration V.

Do you identify as European?

A few days ago I had the pleasure to be interviewed for the Europe’s Stories series, a new research project of the Dahrendorf programme of the University of Oxford.

Between Brexit, populism, Eurozone tensions and divided European reactions to Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, many wonder if Europe has lost the plot. Some argue that, aside from actual policies, there is a burning need for a new narrative for the European project. 

How should it (or they) be told? By whom, for whom and, not least, by what means? In the digital age, with young Europeans growing up in the online world of social media, what are the best forms for making this story (or stories) accessible and attractive? Can one realise the European ideal of ‘unity in diversity’ in narrative/s?

This new research project of the Dahrendorf programme seeks to explore these and other questions, starting by asking what stories Europe – in all its multiple meanings, by no means confined to the institutions of the EU – does currently tell. We held a major international, interdisciplinary conference in Oxford in May 2019, to mark the 10th anniversary of the Dahrendorf Programme. We are working with polling groups such as the eupinions project. An innovative website has been launched – europeanmoments.com – containing interviews with around 100 Europeans on their formative, best and worst European moments, as well as in-depth interviews with leading Europeans and interesting findings from public opinion surveys. Podcasts created in the context of the Europe’s Stories project are available here

The project is directed by Professor Timothy Garton Ash and the Research Manager is Selma Kropp. An advisory committee consists of leading Oxford academics: Professor Paul BettsDr Jonathan BrightProfessor Faisal DevjiProfessor Carolin DuttlingerProfessor Robert GildeaProfessor Ruth HarrisDr Sudhir HazareesinghProfessor Andrew HurrellDr Hartmut Mayer, Professor Kalypso Nicolaidis, Professor Rasmus Nielsen and Professor David Priestland.

The project is generously funded by the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung für die Freiheit, the ZEIT-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius and Stiftung Mercator.

City-to-City Talks with Imene Ouardani – Vice-Mayor of the City of Sousse

Mobilising stakeholders and CSOs, cooperating with central authorities to develop response plans, making information more accessible. In the framework of the initiative City-to-City Migration Talks featured by Mediterranean City-to-City Migration (MC2CM), project funded by the European Union and co-funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, we have interviewed Imen Ouardani, Vice Mayor of the City of Sousse, to showcase the City’s response to COVID-19 pandemic.

The municipality of Sousse was both active and proactive when dealing with the pandemic by taking counter measures against the virus before the central government had even acted” said Ouardani, who is also the President of the Commission for Equality and Equal Opportunities between Men and Women. Finding quick and appropriate solutions for its residents has been the priority for the City of Sousse, which has cooperated side by side with regional directorates and local residents to implement measures addressing migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Coping with an outbreak, in fact, requires both quickness and agility, and this is even more true when vulnerable groups are in danger.

Fine-tuning with the local committee providing social assistance to these publics has been of paramount importance to contain the impact of the pandemic on communities treacherously affected by such a crisis. “In order to protect vulnerable communities, the City of Sousse has launched a comprehensive support programme in synergy with various stakeholders in the region, with the aim of coordinating efforts with the local committee providing social assistance to migrants, refugees and asylum seekers – adds Ouardani –. This committee has pooled its resources to respond to their pressing needs under the slogan Supportive Sousse”. Food packages, financial support, medical and psychological care have been amongst the main measures undertaken.

A considerable effort has been made also in terms of communication. The City of Sousse has chosen not only to publish all relevant information both in French and Arabic, but also to work in synergy with organisations interacting with migrant communities on a daily basis, to overcome language barriers and make information on the COVID-19 crisis more accessible. “Migrants place more trust in their own community, whether that’s in real life or virtually”, suggested Ouardani.

Sousse has been able to mobilise stakeholders and CSOs to meet the needs of migrants but also help in other relevant domains such as the health sector, as well as in monitoring compliance with measures implemented by cities and municipalities. “Demand on health and social services has exceeded their limits, thus jeopardising their ability to provide basic services to vulnerable groups – declared Ouardani –. Associations have played a key role in ensuring our efforts were a success”.

Many lessons learnt, and many projects on the table for the coming months. The City of Sousse would like now to establish an office to welcome and provide information and guidance to migrant communities. To foster cooperation, amongst the initiatives that Sousse would implement there is also a migration monitoring centre, which could gather all active local stakeholders working with migrants. Misinformation and discrimination require a special consideration too, according to Ouardani, as well as “preparing an economic integration strategy for migrants and notably illegal workers” and advocating to find a solution to regularise their residency status in order to enable them to fully integrate into local economic life.

Exchanging and sharing expertise and know-how with other cities of the network has been of the utmost importance to better frame these actions. “The MC2CM project – added Ouardani – has enabled us to enhance and boost communication between cities by sharing good practices and by strengthening our multilevel communication skills, whether vertically or horizontally”.  

Interview with Nina Grigori, Executive Director of EASO

For the Euromed MIgration Talks series, I had the pleasure to interview Nina Gregori – Executive Director of the European Asylum Support Office – EASO to discuss the main challenges faced by the agency in terms of communication while providing an overview of the state of play of the narrative on asylum in Europe, and explains how asylum narratives can have an impact on policy-making.

Interview with Aline Sara, CEO at NaTakallam

EUROMED Migration Talks is an initiative featured by EUROMED Migration IV, programme funded by the European Union and implemented by the International Centre for Migration Policy Development. Aline Sara, Co-Founder and CEO at NaTakallam, speaks about the idea behind NaTakallam, start-up providing income opportunities for displaced persons, and explains how technology can play a key role in accelerating the inclusion of vulnerable groups.

Interview to Thomas Erikson, author of “Surrounded by idiots”

Within the framework of “EUROMED Migration Talks” I had the absolute pleasure to interview Thomas Erikson, bestselling author and communication expert, discusses how to effectively communicate to the four types of human behaviour he has identified in his book “Surrounded by Idiots”, explaining how these personality types would react to media coverage on migration issues.

Nominated #EUinfluencer on migration

Yesterday I was nominated in #EUinfluencer for the third time and first time as top influencer on “migration”. Thanks to ZN for organizing this great event online and thanks to my new colleagues at International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) for giving me the opportunity to explore the world of migration narratives, policy and governance. There is still a lot of work to do!

Find here the panel I had the pleasure to share with Pablo Perez and Jennifer Baker.