Cities need a stronger role in migration governance

Following an intervention at the latest ARLEM Plenary in Barcelona, I would like to spend a few words on a fantastic project I am now working on at the International Centre for Migration and Policy Development (ICMPD)

While the issue of migration management in the Euro-Mediterranean region seemed to have seen a time of reduced salience over the past months, recent events have brought the topic back up on the policy making agenda.

As one of the greatest political challenges of our times, migration is too complex and nuanced to be addressed solely by one nation, one ministry or one city alone. All levels of governance must work together by understanding and accepting the functional part each of them plays. National governments cannot act alone on such a multi-faceted and evolving issue and cities must acknowledge and embrace their own role as necessary active agents in migration governance.

11th ARLEM Plenary, Barcelona, 23/01/2020

Why is this important? It is at the local level that the reality of migration affect peoples’ lives, whether they are newly arrived immigrants or long-term residents of a city. Migration has a direct impact on cities, its administrators and its people. However, cities currently hardly influence the conceptualization and application of migration policies, which are mostly drafted on a national or supranational level. This creates a governance discrepancy between policy-making and policy-implementation.

If this continues, there are serious risks that migration policies will impair the level of social cohesion of the territories and disrupt the quality of life of its inhabitants. Better synergies between cities and governments are necessary across all policy areas such as employment, education and urban planning that have a direct impact on mobility and migration.

This is where the benefit of the MC2CM project is shown at best.

This ICMPD-led project (in partnership with UCLG and UN-Habitat and supported by the EU and Swiss government) helps policy makers bridge this gap and raise awareness, to the most relevant stakeholders, about the challenges, opportunities and needs to address. Migration is a territorial challenge with numerous different traits. It cannot be tackled with a one-size-fit-all type of approach.

MC2CM is building experience and knowledge about migration at the local level and informing stakeholders through our dialogues and practices in the regions. Over the the past five years, the project:

  • Involved 20 cities as active members of its networks in the Euro-Mediterranean.
  • Welcomed over 400 representatives from 100 different local administrations.
  • Published 9 City Migration Profiles in its first phase (Vienna, Amman, Beirut, Lisbon, Lyon, Madrid, Tangier, Tunis, Turin). The second phase of the project already counts 7 profiles under work (Casablanca, Rabat, Oujda, Sousse, Sfax, Seville and Cadiz costal area), and 4 more will follow mid 2020 (Grenoble, Naples, Irbid and Ramallah).
  • Supported cities dialogues and mutual learning across 12 thematic events (on social cohesion; access to education; communication; culture; civil society involvement) and high-level panels.
  • The project allocates 800.000€ grants for local actions in SPCs countries to support migrants’ inclusion and local authorities’ role in migration governance.

Concretely the project advocates for:

  • Supporting the set-up of inter-administrative cooperation and multilevel governance.
  • Developing the knowledge and data sets amassed on local migration contexts to provide a solid evidence-base to future local actions.
  • Promote a diverse economy and support new labour opportunities involving local entrepreneurship, innovative economic sectors and vocational training as efficient tools to foster access to employment.
  • Facilitate dialogue with trade unions and social entities, thus contributing to a proper monitoring of the labour market and avoiding exploitative measures towards migrants.
  • Facilitate qualifications and skills recognition to enable the incorporation of newcomers in the labour market, along with the introduction of new skills and opportunities in local economies.

Further acceptance for immigration and migrants’ rights can only be achieved through policies that ensure that no member of a community feels left behind. We need to address the pressing issue of host communities expressing dissatisfaction with the way migration is playing out in their territories.

Through our project we saw some example of how cities such as Amman, who has seen their population double in less than a decade due to migration and forced displacement, or Vienna, with a third of its population of foreign origin – do not see migration as a problem but as a task of governance they can deal with very successfully.

Partnerships for development 

There is a huge potential for such initiatives that bring together the national level, the city level, the private sector and the people, be they migrants or non-migrants. If any of these are left out, we are likely to failWe need to stop paying lip service to cooperation and start enacting it in practice.

We should keep building strong coalitions among donors, international organizations and government representatives. This includes establishing standing communication lines between the various existing initiatives to avoid duplication and fragmentation, as it is often the case.

ICMPD is fully committed to broadening our support for local and regional authorities in building their capacity to address migration challenges and benefit from migration as a tool for local development. We aspire to accompany national governments, as we do in several Mediterranean countries, in their efforts to embrace comprehensive migration policies.

ARLEM has the mandate to voice the needs of local and regional authorities in the Euro-Mediterranean and influence decentralization frameworks both at EU level and in Southern Partnership Countries (SPCs). This meets the aim of the work we are carrying out in the MC2CM project and the spirit of our promotion of city-to-city cooperation.

The dangers of an uncontrolled online veracity market

I was very pleased to speak at the Club of Venice Plenary to discuss a topic that especially in the modern times of post-truth, false news and high polarization of the institutional and political debate in Europe, is of the utmost importance for communicators, analysts and all those involved in making laws that regulate and protect the information market and the veracity of what billions of people see every day by scrolling their thumb on their phones.
It was important to address this in Venice, a historic crossroads of cultural, religious, trading and intellectual exchange that has been recently unfortunately in the news also for some of disastrous effects of global warming and a city mentioned in Ursula Von Der Leyen’s speech before the European Parliament as a real symbol of European unity and as a symbol of the challenges that we need to face all together as Europeans.
Disinformation is not a new issue but it is certainly an issue that has assumed a new amplitude with the advent of social networks that share information at an unprecedented pace. The issue of disinformation is not merely confined to analyzing the way social networks work. It relates to a discussion that affects how we perceive society and the future of democracy.
Disinformation is a cause of public harm, a threat to democratic policy making and a danger for citizens’ health, security and their environment. It erodes trust in institutions, and it hampers the ability of citizens to take informed decisions. It has polarized most political debates, deepened tensions in society, undermined electoral systems, and has a wider impact on European security that we may tend to think. It impairs freedom of opinion and expression, which is a key principle enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.
Unfortunately, these are indeed times where conspiracy theories ones confined to the fringe, are going mainstream. It is an era where evidential argument seems to be ending and scientific consensus is dismissed. It is an era where nothing generates more engagement than lies, fear and outrage,
A recent Oxford University study found at least 70 countries have launched disinformation campaigns and despite increased efforts by internet platforms to combat disinformation, the use of false news dissemination by governments around the world is growing, We must firstly acknowledge that globally the biggest multipliers of disinformation are mostly governments, mostly not democratic or not accountable legally nor politically for pursuing such society-controlling actions. They either spread disinformation to discredit political opponents or to interfere in foreign affairs and this is concerning for all European elections.
Such online disinformation campaigns can no longer be understood to be the work of “lone hackers, or individual activists, or teenagers in the basement doing things for clickbait.” There is a new professionalism to the activity, with formal organizations that use very powerful and well organized networks to carry out these activities. This cannot be underestimated anymore.
On the other hand, we must keep in mind that access to social media is an actual support for modern day democracy. Any move by authorities to restrict access to, censor or block social media sites should be recognized as an infringement on freedom of speech and our right to information.
The protests in Maidan Square, all the protest movements in Iran’s recent history the current manifestations in Hong Kong have used technology to stay ahead of the authorities and circumvent state-controlled media. Freedom of speech and the right to protest are key elements of democracy and must be protected in order to foster an equal and fair society.
Let us look at this sentence: “In a democracy, I believe people should be able to see for themselves what politicians who they may or may not vote for are saying so they can judge your character for themselves,” Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg is doubling down on his company’s decision to not take down political ads that contain false information. This statement summarizes the core of the whole debate. We cannot have a debate about disinformation without look into this. It is a matter of deontological development of the profession of all political and institutional communicators.
Where do we draw the line? Do we control the media to prevent possible disinformation, ergo somehow allowing government decides what’s true or false or do we let anybody make their decision according to what they see, risking conspiracy theories to take over society? Apart from this existential philosophical debate, what can do done by governments and institutions?

FOSTER COOPERATION BETWEEN TECH COMPANIES AND GOVERNMENTS

As an objective analyst of social platforms and trends around Europe, and as one of the people that almost ten years ago shaped and initiated the way the European Commission monitors social networks, I would like to say that we need to rebalance the narrative on disinformation and tech companies. Contrarily to what is often said, tech companies do not have the interest in spreading misinformation and they do have an interest in cooperating with international organizations and governments.
Fighting disinformation has to be a coordinated effort involving all relevant actors, from institutions to social platforms, from news media to consumers’ associations.
From the side of the institutions, two things can be done:
  1. Increase the technological knowledge of policy makers. There is still an important gap between the institutions’ knowledge of how social media work and the knowledge needed to effectively legislate to regulate the spectrum of action of tech and media companies.
  2. We must not fall into the tempting arms of “fashionable hating” just because it may benefit our image. Many celebrities, including prominent European and American politicians are using Facebook as a scapegoat for their own inability to address the public, labeling it as some sort “disinformation-for-profit machine.” Simply resorting to accusations, that paradoxically are often intended to get likes, views or engagement on the very platforms that are criticized, solves no issues.
What can internet companies do?
If they really want to make a difference, they should hire more monitor and work with anti-disinformation organizations, purge lies and conspiracies from their platforms.
Secondly, they should abide by standards of practice like tv, radio and newspapers do. But this needs to be enforced by institutions and still today more legislative work is needed.
In every industry, a company is liable when their product is defective. In every industry you can be sued for the harm they cause. Government can push to have social networks accountable when this happens, the power is in their hand.

INVEST IN REBUTTAL AND FACT-CHECKING

I feel that today the information vs disinformation battle is not about being smarter but being bigger. The European Commission has done a lot over the past few years and colleagues in the communication departments must continue their work to ensure that communication and monitoring are tier-one priorities rather than something that happens just after policy.

EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS

If we want social networks that grow in line with European values, we need European champions in technology.
There needs to be a European Silicon valley, not necessarily one geographic location, it can be even a digital space, where companies can grow and express their full potential with European brains, instead of let them go to Southern California or China. We are losing innovation attractiveness (the current state of artificial intelligence draws a gloomy picture in this regard) and not nurturing the possibilities we may have in technology altogether to have a real European Facebook, Google, Weibo, Whatsapp or Twitter. The only great exception is Swedish-made Spotify.
As long as we don’t have solid competitors to these information holding giants, built in a European environment, we will always be at the mercy of companies that are not built upon European values and will not be carrier and standard bearers for these values.

INFORMATION LITERACY

Beneath the spread of all “fake news,” misinformation, disinformation, digital falsehoods 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 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.
In conclusion, let me quote from Sacha Baron Cohen’s speech at the Antidefamation League. I don’t agree with everything he said, but I do agree with this:
The next 12 months the role of social media could be determinant: British people will go to the polls soon, while online conspiracists promote the theory of great replacements. Americans will vote for president, while trolls and bots perpetuate the lies of a Hispanic invasion. After years of YouTube videos calling climate change a hoax, the US is on track to withdraw from the Paris accords. Disinformation already highly affects policy-making, and let me add, it affects it in the worst possible way. A sewer of bigotry and conspiracy theories that threaten our democracy and our planet can’t possibly be what the creators of the internet had in mind.
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.

The Dangers of Ineffective Statistics Communication

I was very pleased to be invited at the DIGICOM Final Event – Sharing Landmark Achievements in Communication and Dissemination to discuss a topic that especially in the modern times of post-truth, false news and high polarization of the institutional and political debate in Europe, is of the utmost importance for communicators and all those involved in producing and putting together statistics and official data from public and private organizations.

I myself am not a statistician and certainly I don’t have the level of competence and knowledge most of the people in the room had in this field. I am a communicator and I have helped and coached institutions, politicians and public officials in doing something different than what they did: getting messages across to others.

When I was contacted to give this intervention, the drafted title for this keynote was “Communicating official statistics effectively” and so I started read the relative literature on the topic including for instance the report “Communication of statistics in post-truth society: the good, the bad and the ugly.”

Thus looking at the work of Eurostat and other organizations in the field, I realized that a lot is already available in relation to communicating statistics. What is missing though; apart from some very interesting analyses, mostly from journalists, public speakers and sometimes some very dedicated politicians with a passion for truth and democracy, is a set a serious warnings about the dangers of ineffective communication of statistics, which then became the title of the intervention.

Why the reverse language? Why is it different to address good communication vs the dangers of bad communication? It’s the feeling that this triggers. Sentiments related to fear, concern and worry trump positive emotions and get more attention from any kind of audience. As a political communicator, and an open believer in a “United Europe”, I looked at the challenges that democratic institutions have had to face over the past few years. This is why, at the very last moment I have decided that my intervention should focus on this danger.

Even though, communicators and statisticians, at least in my humble experience, don’t often interact, the collaboration between these two types of professionals is today more important than ever. Some say it is a character difference – statisticians are more interested in things while communicators are more interested in people – but there be more behind that.

With the non-stop proliferation of social networks and digital features that spread information and content at a pace that was just unthinkable a few years ago, there is a strong need for the statistics community to modernize by accepting the importance of effective communication strategies and embody them as an integrated part of the statistical production process. The power of statistics is directly proportionate to the way they are communicated.

The ability of statistics to accurately represent the world is unfortunately in decline. A new age of big data controlled by private companies is taking over and is challenging democracy as well as the value of statistics. In theory, statistics should help settle arguments. They should provide stable reference points that everyone – no matter their politics – can agree on. Yet in recent years, divergent levels of trust in statistics has become one of the key schisms that have opened up in western democracies.

Shortly before the latest American presidential election, a study in the US discovered that 68% of Trump supporters distrusted the economic data published by the federal government. In the UK, a research project by Cambridge University and YouGov looking at conspiracy theories discovered that 55% of the population believes that the government “is hiding the truth about the number of immigrants living there”.

According to the Eurobarometer an absolute majority of European citizens do not trust statistics. These results are critical and follow a continuous declining trend, which, if not reverted, will have significant social consequences, as the gap between citizens and citizens’ trust in public administration and international institutions widens.

This trend is amplified by the deficiency of citizens’ knowledge of basic statistics literacy.

  • 25% of respondents could give a correct answer to the unemployment rate
  • Only 6% of European citizens know the GDP growth rate of their own country
  • none of the respondents were able to give a correct answer to the annual inflation rate of their country.

More worryingly recent reports on the perception of migration in Europe shows a very deep divide between reality and sentiment of society.

It is as if the era of evidential argument is ending and now knowledge is increasingly delegitimized and scientific consensus is dismissed.

The declining authority of statistics – and the experts who analyse them – is at the heart of the crisis that has become known as “post-truth” politics. And in this new situation, attitudes towards quantitative expertise have become increasingly polarized.

On one hand, grounding politics in statistics is elitist, undemocratic and oblivious to people’s emotional investments in their community. It is just one more way that privileged people in Brussels, Washington DC or London seek to impose their worldview on everybody else.

On the other hand, statistics are quite the opposite of elitist. They enable journalists, citizens and politicians to discuss society as a whole, not on the basis of anecdote, sentiment or prejudice, but in ways that can be validated. The alternative to quantitative expertise is less likely to be democracy than an unleashing of tabloid editors and demagogues to provide their own “truth” of what is going on across society.

Is there a way out of this polarisation? Must we simply choose between a politics of facts and one of emotions, or is there another way of looking at this situation?

Over the past few years, especially when it comes to understanding some pretty exceptional events, communication experts have often discussed and raised the issue of the power of emotions and the facts vs feelings dichotomy. Sentiment, perceptions, attitudes, unorthodox claims not based on actual numbers, play a bigger role than statistics in both politics and policy making.

While I accept it for politics, accommodating or appeasing electoral tendencies via the implementation of sentiment-based, rather than evidence-based policy making, is destructive, and as a pro-European, I don’t find myself particularly proud or at ease with recent policy actions undertook by a number of European governments in managing the economy, climate change or migration.

But now let’s talk communication. What seems to be clear from some of the most recent challenges for the European Union, the economic crisis, Brexit, migration, the current state of “evidence-based only” public communication is not working.

This doesn’t mean suggesting the dissemination of lies or half-truths, but it means to consider 4 macro factors:

  1. The power of emotions
  2. The need for statisticians to be empowered
  3. Understand your audience
  4. Invest in rebuttal and fact-checking

THE POWER OF EMOTIONS

Facts don’t speak for themselves. Framing, metaphors and narratives need to be used responsibly if evidence is to be heard and understood.

We can’t separate emotion from reason. Better information about citizens’ emotions and greater emotional literacy could improve policymaking. Values and Identities drive political behaviour but are not properly understood, debated or considered. Before a set of statistics can be used, it must be made understandable to people who are not familiar with statistics.

The key to the persuasive use of statistics is extracting meaning and patterns from raw data in a way that is logical and easy to demonstrate to an audience.

Let me give you a couple of examples of people that took the visualization of relations and meaning to the next level.

Hans Rosling, was a Swedish physician, academic, and public speaker. He was the Professor of International Health and co-founder of the Gapminder Foundation, which developed the Trendalyzer software system. He held presentations around the world, including several TED Talks in which he promoted the use of data to explore development issues. He is the author of international best-seller Factfulness.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_QrIapiNOw

Geoff Ainscow, one of the leaders of the Beyond War movement in the 1980s, gave talks trying to raise awareness of the dangers of nuclear weapons. He wanted to show that the US and the USSR possessed weapons capable of destroying the earth several times over.

But simply quoting figures of nuclear weapons stockpiles was not a way to make the message stick. So, after setting the scene, Ainscow would take a BB pellet and drop it into a steel bucket where it would make a loud noise. The pellet represented the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. Ainscow would then describe the devastation at Hiroshima.

Next, he would take 10 pellets and drop them in the bucket where they made 10 times as much noise. They represented the nuclear firepower on a single nuclear submarine. Finally, he poured 5,000 pellets into the bucket, one for each nuclear warhead in the world. When the noise finally subsided, his audience sat in dead silence.

That is how you put statistics into context and trigger emotions.

FEEL EMPOWERED

Statisticians deserve a lot of credit, but before convincing other people to acknowledge that, they have to do it themselves first.

In my experience in coaching scientists on performing effective communication, I often felt there was a lack of self-acknowledgement. As a statistician you’re not simply putting data together, you are shaping society, and you are making people realize things.

Safeguarding the facts and figures and facilitate the use of good quality statistics for evidence-based policy making contributes to sound and sustainable policies for the collective benefits of citizens.

Self-reward and empowerment must start from you. Acknowledge your role and be proud of what you bring to society.

UNDERSTAND YOUR AUDIENCE

One of the biggest challenges faced by any collaborative statistician is communicating statistical information to those with less knowledge of statistics. As statistics is a core ingredient of transparency and accountability of institutions, it needs to be proactively rendered to citizens with quality and understandability.

When it comes to communication to different audiences, sometimes we are too fast at agreeing and patting each other on the back in a closed room full of experts but we tend to focus on communicating to the very few rather than the vast majority. I have certainly been a culprit of that.

We are so used to resorting to statistics that we tend to bombard our audiences with too many mind-numbing numbers. Statistics are rarely meaningful in and of themselves. Statistics will, and should, almost always be used to illustrate a relationship. It’s more important for people to remember the relationship than the number.

Audiences are not a monolith but mostly a conglomerate of infinite sub-audiences. Look at how they behave, where they are and consume content.

INVEST IN REBUTTAL AND FACT-CHECKING

Your work doesn’t end with the publication of your data-sets. Keep monitoring what people say about the data you publish, make sure, if you can, that no misinformation is spread and if not, rebut.

Many ask me in my intervention to provide solution against disinformation. It doesn’t get any easier than that and it’s up to institutions to decide how much budget and resources to dedicate to that.

I feel that today the information vs disinformation battle is not about being smarter but being bigger. We (Europeans and euro bubblers) often self-flagellate for our alleged inability to communicate. I think it’s time to stop this narrative.

THINK ON THE LONG TERM

Contrarily to the current perception of things, the construction of visibility, relations, brand is a long-term game and the underestimation of this (thinking that is a short-term game) is in 99% of cases the reason for public communication failure.

Do not overestimate what you can do in six months and don’t underestimate what you can do in three years.

A post-statistical society is a potentially frightening proposition, not because it would lack any forms of truth or expertise altogether, but because it would drastically privatise them. Statistics are one of many pillars of democracy.

I still believe that democracy needs evidence-based policy making. I still believe that independent statistics are at the heart of evidence-based policy making and I still believe that Europe is and will always be the cradle of democracy no matter that challenges that lie ahead. And the implementation of democracy requires independent statistics.

The experts who produce and use them have become painted as arrogant and oblivious to the emotional and local dimensions of government. No doubt there are ways in which data collection could be adapted to reflect lived experiences better. But the battle that will need to be waged in the long term is not between an elite-led politics of facts versus a populist politics of feeling. It is between those still committed to public knowledge and public argument and those who profit from the ongoing disintegration of those things.

This is a serious danger and something that you have the chance today to reverse. Don’t miss that chance.

Do you want to crash your political opponents on social media? Less curation and more volume

Until not so long ago, Facebook was still the overall place where everybody could communicate to multiple audiences through a very powerful targeting system. Over the past few months though, the power of pages dropped significantly for a few reasons: the Facebook algorithm is going back to its original model where profiles (actual people) have a higher priority in timelines versus pages. Secondly, people, especially younger people, are moving away from Facebook and moving to Instagram, even though controversially, Facebook’s user basis has just constantly grown somehow 🤔.

For a politician the challenge is then “Where do you talk about policy”?

On Instagram? No. Instagram is a place where users don’t expect policy-related content. Certainly, it is a place to increase your brand overall but not to discuss policy.

Snapchat? Don’t even go there.

Linkedin? Sure, but not many voters are there and political content doesn’t score high on timelines.

Twitter? Sure, but not in depth.

Blog? Sure, but people still hardly consume content directly on Medium or WordPress unless they are shared on other social networks.

Pretty much, the solution is “volume”. The maximization of volume you can reach on as many social networks as possible through one or a set of political events, debates or similar activities. Let me explain.

What do politicians do mostly? They give speeches, they attend debates, they go on TV or radio. Let’s say you are giving a 10 minutes speech.

Are there capacities to launch this speech live on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Instagram? If so, you already have four active platforms and related pieces of content.

It’s not live? Get the video file. With that you can publish the full speech on Facebook, Twitter, IGTV, Linkedin and YouTube. Plus you can cut out 2 or 3 shorter video bits, between 20 and 60 seconds, that can reposted as Facebook posts, Facebook stories, tweets, Insta stories, Linkedin posts and snaps. These video bits can be turned into visual quotes (best quality possible of the background photo) which can be published in al the above-mentioned places and through different times (not necessarily all at once). The video file can uploaded directly as a podcast on whatever platform you like be it Soundcloud, Anchor, Streaker or whatever. The podcast can then be reshared later on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin.

Got photos from the event? Do everything you did with the video. Got the speech text? Publish it as a Facebook note, a blog on Medium, an article on Linkedin. Furthermore, how about a summary of the event? Maybe two or three paragraphs about what happened, who was there and the goal of the occasion.

Were other politicians or celebrities there? Ask for collabs. Take a photo with them, share them, tag them and ask to do the same. Like their posts and comment on them with a thank you message or do a snap video asking them a question and post it cross-platform.

Sounds like a lot of work, right? But in a few lines I have showed you how you can create basically over 50 pieces of content off just one event. Do that daily and see how much volume you can create. This is where an ambitious communicator needs to go. Less curation, more volume. Execute, execute and execute daily. This is the recipe for seriously growing a digital brand today in politics. There is no shortcut.

I believe in the power of good ideas but in the digital communication battle field today I would not sacrifice volume accuracy or daily massive execution over one potentially excellent idea.

In fitness and communication don’t pay peanuts to get monkeys

EXPENSIVE OR CHEAP CONSULTING? Let’s talk about it…
Lately I’m getting a lot of requests via Instagram to provide some advice and consultation on fitness. How can I lose weight? What should I eat? What supplements should I take? And so on…

This is pretty flattering but no matter how many of such requests I get, I prefer to recommend people to “real” professionals in this field and to people who can dedicate an appropriate amount of time to clients who really want to improve their physical skills. Why do I do that?
1. I am aware I don’t have the expertise, nor the knowledge, nor the time to help a person through this very encompassing path. I acknowledge it and I would be a fraud if I did.
2. I would damage the market at expenses of “actual” PTs, nutritionists and trainers.

The same thing happens often in communication and digital marketing but getting cheap consultation is more expensive than getting proper plans of action.

If you are faced with the choice of spending your budget, for whatever purpose, between a lot of cheap service or a few good services, my advice is to always focus on quality, not quantity!

Shaping attitudes on social media

With a changing Facebook algorithm and a continuous battle for attention on social networks, I’m often asked “how can we shape attitudes on social media.” More recently, at the European Digital Advocacy Summit I had to present my thoughts on the topic.

Let’s try not to make this the usual useless social media presentation where some highly paid communication consultants say buzzwords like “engagement”, “strategic” and “motivation”, gets an applause and then audience goes home and their like “what happened?” I already see too many in my business. Let’s keep our eyes on this very topic.

Shaping: to give a particular shape or form to, determine the nature of, have a great influence on, make (something) fit the form of something else.

Attitude: a settled way of thinking or feeling about something

There’s a number of ways to do that depending on who you’re talking to more than which format or channels or register:

  • One person separately. Typical of lobbying and public affairs. My advice is “forget about your goal” and focus on “yourself.” If you are in Public Affairs, firstly focus on the way people think about you. You are an ambassador of whatever your company or organization is trying to sell, represents and stands for. If they like you they will listen even if they disagree or dislike your cause. Show them you’re up to the task and use social media as a hook for human interactions. You might not still shape their attitude towards your business’ cause, but at least that door was open. If they don’t like as an ambassador, that chance is already closed from the start. Take the case with celebrity as “digital ambassadors” (or even just ambassadors per se): If people like the celebrity, they will like the cause.
  • A segment of society; The reptilian brain, controls the body’s vital functions such as heart rate, breathing, body temperature and balance. Our reptilian brainincludes the main structures found in a reptile’s brain: the brainstem and the cerebellum. This vital body part is hard wired to inputs of food (the need of assuming calories to provide energy for our body), sex (sexual impulse of attraction and primary nature of procreation) and danger (alert, perception of imminent threat). Hardly, I believe you can use food and sex in public affairs, politics and the likes. But what about fear?  Watch this video and see what I’m talking about.

ADDENDUM: Think of the long shot. There isn’t that one thing, tool, trick that is gonna make your campaign work and whoever tells you otherwise is lying to you. Lack of patience is your and your company’s worst enemy when it comes to shaping attitudes.

How have you shaped someone or some community’s attitude? Let me know in the comments section

 

The value of social networks in the Eurobubble

Twitter and Facebook remain steadily within the “media diet” of influencers and stakeholders in the European Union. But how influential are they?
As properly summed up by Value Relations, last 6 July, the new edition of #EUmediapoll, a research carried out by ComRes e Burson Marsteller, was presented with the aim of identifying what EU Influencers care about when it comes to information input. The sample used consisted of 230 subjects divided into three categories: MEPs, EU staff and opinion leaders.
The most popular social media is Facebook followed by Twitter, Youtube, LinkedIn and Instagram. Not much changed from the 2016 report, however so small differences can be noticed in the daily use of social media

Twitter and Youtube, albeit little, increased their level of engagement compared to 2016 Facebook loses nearly 10%, despite its steady increase in active users (an impressive 2 billion today).

The most significant fact is the level of influence of individual social media. Apparently, there is no direct correlation with the percentage of usage. Indeed, data confirms the fame of Twitter, considered as the “place to be” for pro Eurobubblers. Despite being used less than Facebook, Twitter appears to be the most influential network with about 21% of survey respondents who consider it “very influent.”

Lesson from the Inka: simple comms is better comms

The Inka are responsible for a significant number of practices that are now well-spread all over the world, from culinary habits to sports and to communications.

The Inka never developed a writing system. Instead, officials used “khipu.” Devices made of coloured strings knotted in various ways. Khipu were used to record census data, the movements of people and goods throughout thr empire and religious and military information. The officials who managed the khipu were known as khipucamayuc.

Data gathering, sharing and storing was already an issue back then and they managed to master it with knots and ropes. A reminder that in comms management, simplicity remains key to sustainability and effectiveness.

How to effectively communicate and coordinate agricultural communication

I was thrilled to give the keynote speech at the COPA-COGECA Seminar “Coordinated and effective communication for assuring a viable and sustainable EU agriculture sector and Common Agricultural Policy.” Being this a key theme of Expo 2015 Milano where I was in charge of Digital Communication for the European Union pavilion, I was excited to have another opportunity, two years after the Expo, to reiterate the importance of bringing about a solid dialogue and a concrete set of policies to face the challenge of feeding the planet with 9 billion people expected in 2050. Here are my words at the event. What do you think is key in promoting solid agricultural communication? Let me know in the comment section below.

The EU Common Agriculture Policy has been a cornerstone of EU integration. Upon its construction, development and management depend so many other policies and political circumstances that need to be analysed separately in terms of impact but also holistically in terms of the ramifications that these policies bring into Europe and the world.

When we talk about communicating on CAP and agriculture at large we do not only talk about farming. Agricultural communication also addresses all subject areas related to the complex enterprises of the food-feed chain. We talk about food safety, animal welfare, rural issues, natural resources management from water to solar power, we talk about jobs, science, research and funds, renewable energy and we discuss issues that have an impact at the local level but that affect policies and politics globally.

Furthermore, the range of action of agricultural communicators  spans all participants, from scientists to consumers – which makes their job hard in facing challenge one: “WHEN YOU COMMUNICATE TO EVERYBODY , YOU COMMUNICATE TO NOBODY”

When we talk about coordinated and effective communication to ensure a viable and sustainable EU agriculture, the first question to answer is “who are we talking to?” Is it going to be consumers, producers, distributors, lobbies, groups of interests, retailers or policy makers? Whatever the answer, be assured there is no overall valid communication strategy and approach that can be applied to all these audiences. To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.

There are different ways you can communicate issues related to agriculture. You can do it in a soft way. Showing photos of happy cows, producing milk for babies or another family out on a pic-nic, biting an apple in order to educate people towards a more healthy lifestyle…You can do it more aggressively, for instance by highlighting the challenges and dangers of not implementing a sustainable global strategy to feed the projected 9 billion people expected to inhabit the planet in the year 2050. You can do it more institutionally, by informing systematically about all laws, directives and regulations published by the institutions. You can do it more strategically, by shedding light on the fact that even though more and more people are getting out the threshold of poverty over the past 20 years (largely thanks to the stronger economy of China), the gap between malnutrition and obesity is getting wider, highlighting the necessary need to not only focus on resources, distribution and funds but especially on education towards a healthier and more sustainable diet and awareness about intensive production of foods that could have significant impact on the way we can feed the planet in the near future.

Certainly something you cannot do is to communicate passively, which means shooting out information and hoping that “somehow” by some sort of act of faith, your stakeholders will read it, share it or comment about it or simply click on the “Read more” link… You gotta go get those likes, shares and followers through engaging and targeted content. You have to learn how to use hooks in a thumb scrolling society. Success in management requires learning as fast as the world is changing.

As digital strategist for the European Union at Expo Milano 2015, the biggest ever event on food and nutrition which welcomed over 20 million visitors in 6 months, we had a number of challenges which affected the way we communicated and managed the brand of the European Union.

As a global player in the debate on food and sustainability, the European Union (EU) should seek to reinforce its position, highlight its achievements and, most importantly, take this opportunity to work towards finding common solutions to these issues with other international organisations, countries and private stakeholders. The EU leads the way in terms of promoting quality food and ensuring food security and safety and environmental sustainability.

Indeed, with over 800 million people facing hunger in less economically developed countries and high and increasing levels of obesity and non-communicable diseases in developed countries, now is the moment to act. Ill-informed food choices, dwindling natural resources, climate change and threats to the world’s biodiversity are all issues that need to be tackled urgently. Expo Milano 2015 focused the World’s attention on addressing these challenges and provided a platform to deliberate on these pressing issues.

What is needed is the intelligent management of Earth’s resources. If we really wish to put an end to our ongoing international and social problems, we must eventually declare Earth and all of its resources as the common heritage of all the world’s people.

The coordination challenge: You should not sacrifice efficiency for the sake of over inclusiveness. You want to listen to everybody but it is up to you to make decisions and be held accountable. Establish a chain of command meaning that give everybody the chance to contribute but as communication manager don’t feel necessarily obliged to make everybody happy or visible. If you are the communication manager, be the manager. Make decisions.

When you coordinate a varied communication project, you will be under pressure to make some content or activity more visible than others. Keep the vision of your target audience, your brand, your mission statement clear in mind so that you know how to make holistic decisions that will affect your final goals. Plato used to say that “Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.” As a manager you will have to make that distinction.

Our task is very hard as communicators because most communication consumers think they can be communication producers, not because you know how to eat that means that you know how to cook. Meaning that not because you can read, or because you use Facebook and Twitter or because you watch videos on YouTube you are a communication expert and the expertise required to make content attractive and engaging is the product of years of work, not the improvisation of skills. As communication professionals there is a risk in selling ourselves short for the sake of accommodating non-experts in our field.

Be confident of your communication skills. Be confident of your experience and the science you apply when communicating to your audience and be confident as a manager, because you are accountable for the results you will or will not obtain.
As communicators for create global causes you should feel as both managers and leaders. Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. And you have the chance to do both.
 

 

 

The communication of the European Union pavilion at Expo 2015 Milano

Two years after the most incredible experience that the city of Milan had ever witnessed, and personally the best professional time of my life, I was asked to present some insights about the communication of the European Union pavilion at Expo Milano 2015. Exactly in a time where “communicating Europe successfully” seems a make or break topic to decide the future of the Union, I was happy to take a step back and think about what was great, and what could be improved about our efforts at this world stage event which welcomed over 21 million visitors in 184 days.

This content is drawn from the evaluation report that the European union task force produced (by an independent contractor) after the event and it will be presented at an event in Milano about the heritage of Expo in April 2017. I always welcome feedback and thoughts on everything I write, so feel free to contact me!

The communication of the European Union pavilion at Expo 2015 Milano

‘Communication impact’ can be conceptualised as the capacity of a given communication initiative to reach the target group and produce an ‘effect’ on its attitudes, beliefs and/or behaviours. This section examines the extent to which the EU succeeded in reaching the targeted audiences and whether the visitor experience contributed to improving their knowledge and perception of the EU pavilion at Expo 2015 Milano.

The EU aimed to use its presence at Expo Milano as an opportunity to communicate with EU (and non-EU) citizens showing them a friendly face of the EU and getting closer to their hearts. This differed from the more ‘formal’ and ‘institutional’ participation of the EU in past Expos and in massive communication activities in general. Therefore, the pavilion’s main attraction (visitor experience) was designed to reach all kinds of visitors, but especially families with children and young people, and involve them in an entertaining and emotional experience that talked about the EU and its food-related policies. The expected result was that people emerged from the visit with a more positive attitude towards the EU and greater awareness of its actions in the food and nutrition realm.

Most articles saw the pavilion as part of the EU’s new communication strategy; an attempt to bring a sense of closeness and unity between European institutions and citizens. At the same time, it was described as trying to raise awareness of EU policies. Moreover, the pavilion was described as different from other Expo structures, which tended to focus more on architectural design rather than depth of content. The EU pavilion’s ‘unexpected’ message of hope and cooperation, symbolised by bread and Alex and Sylvia’s story, was seen as a refreshing alternative from the ‘Europe of the bureaucrats’, a much needed reminder of the institution’s original mission and aims.

The aim of focusing on families with children and youngsters was grounded in the idea that many of the younger generations take the EU ‘for granted’ and, to some extent, are indifferent towards it. During the preparation phase, it was understood that the Expo offered a unique opportunity to communicate with this type of audiences and show them how the EU is present in their daily lives and what are the values it promotes. This approach was in line with the political guidelines for the Commission 2010-2014, where President Barroso recognised that there was a need to rekindle “a passion for Europe, a new pride and feeling of connection between the EU and its citizens”. This understanding continued under the next Presidency when Jean-Claude Juncker emphasised that trust in the European project was at a historic low and that it was critical to rebuild bridges in Europe to restore European citizens’ confidence.

The EU pavilion showed an important capacity to attract ‘spontaneous’ visitors (about two thirds of visitors) i.e. people who had not planned to visit the pavilion in advance, and this was partly due to the promotional actions by volunteers. In effect, according to the survey of visitors, almost 15% of total visitors went to the pavilion because of the work of volunteers, which were deemed by the pavilion as their key on-site ambassadors. The volunteer programme was an important topic of discussion in national and local media. The high number of applications to the programme (which doubled the number of posts available) and the interest among young people received particular attention. In fact, young people in general, and volunteers therein, were described as the true protagonists of the EU participation at Expo.

Visitors registered and recall the main messages conveyed in the EU pavilion, in particular those of ‘cooperation’ and ‘working together’. The EU pavilion also generated an interest in the EU and conveyed positive feelings about it, especially among visitors with pre-existing ‘fairly’ positive and ‘neutral’ views of the EU. But the pavilion did not necessarily provide visitors with an increased understanding of EU policies and how it realises the goals/values promoted in the pavilion (cooperation, peace, teamwork, etc.).

A central element of the EU presence at Expo Milano was the media strategy, which involved the development of the EU pavilion’s online presence (social media and website) and relations with the press. The objective of this was that the EU presence in Milan obtained high level coverage in online and traditional media and therefore reached visitors to the Expo, but also those who could not attend the exhibition. The EU pavilion had, in particular, a strong social media performance that contributed to creating a ‘buzz’ around the EU presence at the Expo, as well as develop a ‘digital food hub’ i.e. a digital community of people interested in following / discussing food policy with the EU. Throughout the duration of the Expo, the communication team was not only capable of developing this community, but also maintained a growing interest towards the EU’s social media activities.

On Facebook, the EU’s pavilion profile was not only the most followed one during the whole duration of the Expo (with even more followers than Italy and Germany, which received the award for “Best Pavilion”),but also worked as a platform to communicate on food policy by various EU institutions. The EU pavilion’s Twitter account was very successful too, reaching also the top 10 of best performing pavilions (in May and June 2015 it was the second most followed account, after the Italian pavilion one). On Instagram, the EU pavilion reached foodies and graphics’ enthusiasts and engage them in photo-based calls to action. For the communication team, this was the most successful social media platform, which reached the initial target of 2,000 followers very quickly (end-June 2015) and grew outstandingly till the end of the Expo.

Media coverage was especially high prior to the Expo opening on 1 May 2015, but continued to be relatively good during the next six months. The EU pavilion’s preparation phase received extensive press coverage in the Italian printed press, online newspapers and blogs, and in national radio and TV programmes. Repercussions obtained in the press were mostly positive, with articles focusing on the EU’s ‘innovative’ communication strategy, the educational content of the EU pavilion, and the EU’s attempt to increase dialogue with citizens. The scientific/policy events and the volunteer programmes also received satisfactory levels of media coverage.