How migration narratives affect partnerships

When it comes to migration narratives today, definitely the most important aspect to consider is avoiding polarisation and not to focus on the extreme cases of migration. While most of the migration flows to Europe are safe, regular and monitored, the entire media attention and most of public perceptions revolve around irregular flows. Therefore, revitalizing migration partnerships needs to start from the promotion of balanced migration narratives that foster effective policy making in this field.

Revitalizing Migration Partnerships in a Post-Pandemic World: the role of narratives and communication

I can fairly say that the Club of Venice annual plenary was one of those events I was really looking forward to attend again in presence. On top of the usual outstanding display of knowledge, insights and experiences in public communication, the possibility to meet colleagues in person from all over the continent, made this short trip to Venice memorable. I could feel a generic shared hunger for networking and informal, free and open expression of thoughts and opinions in a dedicated forum about the future of Europe and the role of communication in shaping it.

We must never forget that migration is not only about challenges but also about opportunities; about labour migration, development, investment or public – private – partnership; about many aspects that enrich our economies, our societies and the lives of our people. Migration partnerships are the most promising way to live up to our joint responsibility to address the challenges and seize the opportunities that migration offers. Policy options and cooperation greatly depend on stakeholders’ ability to drive migration narratives that support and provide space to pursue partnership priorities. Communication needs to form an integral part of any partnership, so that we explain why we engage in various cooperation frameworks with countries of destination, transit and origin.

This year the #ClubofVenice celebrates its 35th anniversary. For the occasion I had the pleasure to write a chapter of their inaugural book “Public communications in Europe” where I discuss communication challenges and evolving narratives in the field of migration.

a societal rather than a technological solution for better migration literacy

Migration is one of the most important political issues in current public debates, frequently connected with highly emotional, sometimes even extreme points of view. it is important that migration narratives and effective communication remain high on the policy making agenda in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. It is fundamental that public communicators, senior officials, academics and practitioners from national governments, local authorities, international organizations, and the media exchange and learn from the latest innovations available on the topic and consolidate a community of practice to promote balanced migration narratives. 

This matter is fundamental at different levels of governance:

  • at the level of cities and local communities, as first respondents to the infinite realities of migration and the most important poles of attraction for people in search of opportunities, employment and inclusion.
  • at the level of governments, in order to contribute to attenuate polarization and generate an enabling environment for migration policy-making.
  • and at the regional level, where it is ever more important to keep working to establish a comprehensive co-operation framework on migration, with a particular focus on strengthening capacity building.

New partnerships are being discussed in the Euro-Mediterranean region, starting with the EU New Pact on Migration and Asylum and the New Agenda for the Mediterranean as part of a renewed partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood. Therefore, communication needs to form an integral part of any partnership, so that we explain why we engage in various cooperation frameworks with countries of destination, transit and origin.

Different political and socio-economic contexts result in diverging migration priorities, opportunities and diverse needs in terms of migration capacities across countries. Capacities are instrumental to bridge diverging political agendas between Europe and its southern neighbours and to deliver practical, operational solutions for migration partnerships.

Policy options and cooperation greatly depend on stakeholders’ ability to drive a narrative on migration that supports and provides the space to pursue partnership priorities. Through strengthening capacities, partnerships can contribute to bringing expectations closer, define shared objectives and devise mutually beneficial results.

Beneath the spread of all misinformation, disinformation and foreign influence lies society’s failure to teach its citizens information literacy: how to think critically about the deluge of information that confronts them in our modern digital age. Instead, society has prioritized speed over accuracy, sharing over reading, commenting over understanding.

Children and adults are taught to regurgitate what others tell them and to rely on digital assistants to curate the world rather than learn to navigate the informational landscape on their own. Schools no longer teach source triangulation, conflict arbitration, separating fact from opinion or even the basic concept of verification and validation. We have stopped teaching society how to think about information, leaving citizens adrift in the digital wilderness.

While technical literacy is a powerful and important skill, it is not the same as information literacy and will not help in the war against “fake news.” To truly solve the issue of disinformation we must blend technological assistance with teaching our citizens to be literate consumers of the world around them.

Today’s grand challenge of combating “fake news” requires a very human solution. It requires teaching society the basics of information literacy and how to think about the information they consume. It requires navigating the existential contradictions of today’s social media platforms obsessed with velocity and virality against verification and validation.

The only way to truly begin to combat the spread of digital falsehoods is to understand that they represent a societal rather than a technological issue and to return to the early days of the web when institutions, governments and schools taught and encouraged to question what they read online instead of taking it for granted.

This is a serious danger and something that we communicators, government officials, representatives of global organizations have the chance today to reverse. Let us not miss that chance.

All of the above was discussed at the Migration Face to Face event organized in the framework of the Conference on the Future of Europe. You can watch the full event here

Re-defining migration partnerships in the Euro-Mediterranean region: the role of communication and narratives

Governments, international organizations and migration policy actors in the Euro-Mediterranean region are actively seeking a revitalised, comprehensive and holistic approach to migration management after over a year of lockdowns, travel restrictions and a shift in political priorities following the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on societies, economies and diplomacy. New partnerships are discussed and implemented, starting with the European Union’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum and the New Agenda for the Mediterranean as part of a renewed partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood.

Across this topic, ways and means to redefine migration cooperation focusing on capacity development and to strike up truly beneficial and lasting relationships are sought. For this reason, EUROMED Migration V (EMM5) has decided to concentrate the 4th EUROMED Migration Communicators Workshop, which I had the pleasure to run as maître de cérémonie on re-defining migration partnerships, by focusing on the communication skills required to promote balanced migration narratives that enable effective and sustainable migration policy.

The imbalance between perceptions “painted with a large brush” and the infinite realities of migrations flows represents a serious obstacle to effective migration management and hence to building effective cooperation and partnerships in this area. With this in mind, this workshop aims at providing the expertise to gather evidence and bring together fragmented knowledge so far in order to continue to develop cohesive responses to the challenge of communication on migration.

In particular, the workshop focused on:

  • Migration narratives in the Euro-Mediterranean region: challenges and open question
  • Media and migration narratives: how can effective partnerships be established?
  • Communicating migration on social media: latest trends and success stories
  • Migration data visualization: best practices and advice from top experts
  • Public attitudes to migration: the point of view of academia
  • Showcasing best practices in private sector branding and corporate communication. How could this approach be transferable to public communication on migration?

After the workshop, participants were invited to attend a High-Level Event that included a public lecture performed by poet and novelist Hédi Kaddour, followed by an interactive panel discussion among distinguished speakers, namely Catherine Wihtol de Wenden, Director French National Centre for Scientific Research, Stefano Rolando, President Club of Venice and Amal Nader, President For2Med, journalist and professor at the Paris Catholic Institute.

You can re-watch the event below.

Migration and integraton: does the eu live up to its values?

Can the European Union develop a common vision on migration policy? How can it safeguard the “European Way of Life”, act in the interests of citizens and put its values and principles into action?

These were some of the questions addressed at the EU Watch Policy Conference “Migration and integration: Does the EU live up to its values” organised in Brussels last 11 October, which included an impressive line up of speakers such Member of the European Court of Auditors Leo Brincat, famour author Sir Paul Collier, Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri and many more.

In the occasion I had the pleasure to present some of the latest work available on migration narratives such as “Immigration narratives in the Euro-Mediterranean region: what people believe and why” and “What policy communication works for migration? Using values to depolarise“, both authored by James Dennison, Head of the Observatory for Public Attitudes to Migration (OPAM)

In my experience in Europe, when discussing migration narratives either in a specialized or non-specialized environment, it seems quite automatic to associate the word “migration” with the big three topics that overwhelmingly occupy media attention:

  1. Irregular immigration
  2. Asylum seekers
  3. Integration

It seems increasingly harder, even 6 years after the notorious 2015 migration crisis, to address the overall phenomenon of migration as a whole rather than within its most difficult manifestations. The sentiments generated by the migration debate in the old continent are still very polarized and this is why it is fundamental, for analysts, policy makers and communicators to resort to academia and decompose all the elements that build narratives.

Narratives are increasingly cited by international organisations, NGOs and governments as one of the most important topics in migration policymaking today. Narratives are assumed to strongly affect public opinion and behaviour. The concept of narratives is typically underspecified, with relatively little known about why some narratives become popular and what narratives people actually believe.

Narratives can be defined as selective depictions of reality across at least two points in time that include a causal claim. Furthermore, narratives are:

  • Necessary for humans to make sense of and give meaning to complex reality;v
  • Generalisable and applicable to multiple situations, unlike specific stories
  • Distinct from related concepts such as frames and discourses
  • Implicitly or explicitly normative, in terms of efficacy or justice
  • Essentially limitless but only a small number gain popularity.

How can we then apply our knowledge on narratives to our knowledge on the power of values. Throughout the twentieth century, psychologists made numerous attempts to classify human ‘values. While the importance of values as predictors of human attitudes and activity was noted at least as early as 1961, the use of values in communication is highly debated, but it remains a poorly or understudied field of expertise.

Perhaps the most eminent and broadly utilized of these values schema is Schwartz’s theory of basic personal values Schwartz, one of the most important social psychologist, cross-cultural researcher of our times defines values as:

“Cognitive representations of broad motivational goals, rather than attitudes towards particular situations, and as stable metrics of the guiding principles in individuals’ lives”. (Schwartz, 1992)

Schwartz shows that there are ten essential values and within each of these are multiple ‘motivational goals’ with accompanying evolutionary causal mechanisms. These values are shown to be consistent across cultures. Values come from numerous psycological and societal factors, from family upbringing to education, from religious attachment to the history of a person’s territory.

As you can see in the table below they are associated with basic motivational goals and specific goal examples.

Schwartz shows that these values can be arranged in relation to each other on two dimensions (on one axis self-transcendence vs. self-enhancement and, second, conservation vs. openness to change). This arrangement shows how some values share commonalties with others, and are thus placed side-by-side, whereas others are highly dissimilar and thus placed in direct opposition to each other.

The two values of ‘universalism’ and ‘benevolence’ increase positivity to immigration, whereas the three values of ‘security’, ‘conformity’ and ‘tradition’—together making up the ‘conservation’ higher order value—decrease positivity to immigration.

Strongly anti-immigration Europeans tend to value conformity, security, tradition and power above the European average. Conversely, they are far less likely to value universalism, benevolence, self-direction, stimulation or hedonism.

Europeans strongly pro-immigration tend to have the opposite value orientation, but far more magnified. They have the most skewed value orientation of any group and, above all, value universalism highly and undervalue security and conformity.

Having defined values and demonstrated their relationship with attitudes to immigration, we now turn to considering how to use this information to persuasively communicate on immigration using values.

Overall, based on the report, we can deduce that messaging is most likely to elicit sympathy when the values it contains are concordant with those of recipient. In other words: Recipients will be sympathetic to a message when its values align with their own and they will be antipathetic to a message when its values diverge from their own.

Narratives are an inescapable part of humanity’s attempts to understand their own reality. As such, policymakers and communicators must prioritize the effective use of narratives in their work to be both understood and believed.

As demand for understanding an issue increases, multiple, competing narratives may simultaneously become popular. As such, the popularity of narratives must be used as a gauge of public opinion with extreme caution.

Promoting balanced migration narratives at local level

Due to their size and proximity to citizens, cities are in a unique position to foster social cohesion and encourage data-driven migration narratives. How are local governments in the Euro-Mediterranean region taking action to promote a fair discourse on migration and unlock its full potential? How are cities tackling misguided and ill-informed public perceptions on the migration phenomenon? The topic of balanced migration narratives at local level was the one addressed by the Thematic Session that took place on September 23, in the framework of the MC2CM Days, an event organized by the Mediterranean City-to-City Migration project under the co-patronage of the European Committee of the Regions, which I had the pleasure to moderate.

Event Photography by Dani Oshi. MC2CM Days – Day 4 for ICMPD. Thursday, September 23, 2021. Brussels, Belgium.

The panel discussion featured introductory remarks by Ian Barber, Director for Communication at the European Committee of the Regions. Representatives of local governments as well as from international organisations and NGOs, took part in the discussion.

The trust in local and regional authorities is on the rise, according to Barber, who launched the discussion stating that “local and regional politicians are the ones people will trust the most, to hear about migration”. Along the same lines, “the ability to communicate should be a priority for municipalities – stated Abdeslam Amakhtari, President of ASTICUDE –. The topic of migration is a complex one, but cities cannot avoid communicating on it, since communication is necessary for a proper perception of all the issues intertwined with such a phenomenon”. Amakhtari, who has been involved in a range of projects implemented in the framework of MC2CM aiming to enhance the capacities of local media professionals, suggested that communication efforts should be part of a wider territorial plan. “Municipalities should have a migration profile – he continued –, which would help them to gain a clear overview of the actors in place at local level, in order to foster synergies and mobilise capabilities”.

Apart from limited financial resources, which is an element that was also raised by Akram Dribika, Elected Member of the Municipality of Tripoli, cities have often to face the lack of reliable data, according to Waad Bouzidi, City Councillor of the Municipality of Raoued, and this can have a considerable impact on the implementation of evidence-based communication strategies. The regular connection that local authorities entertain with their territories, as well as the thorough knowledge of local contexts and attitudes, place though cities in a privileged position to unlock the potential of migration. “We need to make sure that the whole population can live together, and this is why we promote social mixing” continued Bouzidi, who also mentioned a range of initiatives carried out by the Municipality to this end, such as information outlets for migrants, artistic events, and food festivals.
Promoting balanced migration narratives also requires addressing disinformation and misinformation at the local level, since these phenomena are barriers for local authorities to capitalise on migration opportunities. In this respect, what arose during the discussion, is that partnerships with media should be fostered. “We should encourage media to have a more positive and proactive approach to this matter – stressed Souhaieb Khayati, Migration and Media expert –. We need to stimulate quality coverage and provide media with the necessary means to shift the trend”. “We need to find the frame that can speak to each individual or each group of population – concluded Violeta Wagner, ICMPD Regional Portfolio Manager for Eastern Europe and Central Asia –. The same message, the same framing can have different effects. We have to find different frames to respond to different values and concerns of the population. And municipalities are in the best position to understand their audience”.

Migrazioni, Europa e territorio: sfide per il futuro

Da anni la questione migratoria e il rapporto fra Italia e Unione europea sono argomenti di grande discussione e accesi dibattiti anche a livello locale. Mentre molte notizie girano, spesso incontrollate, e la battaglia degli slogan sul futuro dell’Europa continua imperterrita, è di interesse per tutti informarsi e discutere apertamente delle tematiche correnti più significative.

A tal scopo lo scorso 15 luglio nella bellissima cornice del Palacongressi di Salsomaggiore ho avuto il piacere di discutere di migrazioni, Europa e territorio con il Professor Trevisan, rettore della Facoltà di Agraria dell’Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, nonchè vice-sindaco della città. È sempre bello poter confrontarsi e ascoltare i cittadini sulle tematiche d’attualità.

Grazie all’Associazione Salotto Illuminato per l’ottima organizzazione e per i continui sforzi nel mantenere la cittadinanza salsese attiva culturalmente.

Intervento a #MINDEducation

Fantastico lavoro svolto da #MINDEducation, il programma ideato con l’obiettivo di coinvolgere i ragazzi nella progettazione di MIND Milano Innovation District, stimolando la nascita di idee per progettare e realizzare le città e le comunità del futuro. giunto alla sua quarta edizione!

Grazie alla collega Rossella Speroni del Centro Comune di Ricerca della Commissione europea per l’invito e per aver potuto ascoltare le esperienze, preoccupazioni e sogni di tanti ragazzi che si avvicinano al modo dell’università e del lavoro.

Nella sessione ho potuto consigliare come sempre di:
• Tenere gli occhi aperti sul mondo, rimanendo informati sugli affari internazionali
• Monitorare gli investimenti in R&D dei grandi gruppi di innovazione nei settori del bio-medico, farmaceutica, comunicazione digitale, sostenibilità
• Essere pazienti rispetto al voler “incassare” su investimenti in esperienze accademiche, lavorative e di networking.

Spero l’intervento possa essere d’aiuto a giovani che si avvicinano a scelte importanti.