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 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.

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.

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.

Is it all a matter of vision?

Have you read Mark Zuckerberg’s Building Global Community? From the title, you may think that “Global Community” is a new product…otherwise he would have used the phrase “Building a Global Community” or “Building Global Communities.” It’s not a product, it’s his vision. Zuckerberg is creating his own vision about where he wants the world to be in the future and how he sees Facebook as being part of that world. This is an excellent way of thinking ahead as it provides people (Facebook users, Facebook employees, Facebook stakeholders..) with a vision, with an idea of what these actors can do to make a favourable circumstance happen.

This is a time when many of us around the world are reflecting on how we can have the most positive impact. I am reminded of my favorite saying about technology: “We always overestimate what we can do in two years, and we underestimate what we can do in ten years.”

This is where now political institutions in Europe (mainly referring to governments of various levels of governance) tend to fail: lack of vision. Lacking vision means providing lack of certainty and this is the key variable to keep analysing when working towards getting people’s trust.

Photo: Unsplash http://bit.ly/2mrDf7j

The electorate is volatile and it is the responsibility of governments and “political managers” (I love this word and I will talk more about it in the future”) to make sure that decisions and policies serve “a vision” instead of a temporary set of desires.

Brexit is one of the most evident case of the theory I explain above. 52% of the people in the United Kingdom voted “Leave” and they day after “What is the EU” was among the most looked for items in Google in the UK. Still, nowadays we see how that decision was made out of complete lack of vision. This 52% just wanted out without knowing “how” to get out and what exactly they were getting out from. At this regard, I invite you to read this beautiful piece by Andy Bodle 68 dumb-f**k reasons for leaving the EU.

Now, why am I making this comparison? Because big tech successful companies like Facebook, Google or Tesla are instilling trust in people simply by providing a vision. It is that simple. But then, how do they go about making that vision a reality? They create that vision and play all the necessary scenarios backwards in order to see which are the necessary steps to make it happen. This is actually the very core of successful entrepreneurship, but why is it so hard to apply this (in theory) simple principle to politics? A couple of visionary leaders in these terms can be seen in specific business-hubs like Dubai, Singapore and Shanghai. Of course, these cities are not a leading examples in the field of human rights and democracy however they created wealth out of nothing simply by playing this “backwards-scenario game.”

Another writer I particularly appreciate in this field of work is Dan Sobovitz, whom in his most recent article he says “..popular trust in digital service providers and #BigData is higher than the current trust in political institutions (which is dangerously low), sometimes even higher than our trust in our own cognitive ability.” I agree with this statement. Politics is bound to make people happy, but people want everything now. This goes into contrast with building and providing society with a vision on the long term.

Moderate politics in Europe is failing in this game, which is causing an absurd rise in populism. The basis of populism, as recent history teaches us, is the exploitation of people’s uncertainty. The idea of a united, free and prosperous Europe is a solid vision and it is the categorical imperative of the European union to provide this vision against the destruction that populism and short term nationalism is bringing.

Recently, I called EU communicators to stand their ground and I want to reiterate this invite by advocating the defense of this vision of Europe, which remains the most ambitious political project in human history and a Union of benefits for its citizens when they stand together.

It’s crazy to think that big tech companies are achieving this trust from the people, but I see no shame in taking inspiration from it and apply these principles to the political domain.

 

 

 

Takeaways from “Politicians in a communication storm”

Over the past couple of days, I attended “Politicians in a communication storm, an event organized by the Media Directorate of the European Parliament focusing on recent communication issues, in particular:

  • Social media and trust: how to overcome myths and propaganda
  • What we’ve learnt from the US elections, Brexit and the peace process in Colombia
  • Politics and millennials

Apart from the outstanding networking opportunity (the attendance list was both huge and very diverse) it was good to make the point of the situation in European communication, challenges following Brexit, the (highly unexpected) Trump election and the current political crisis Europe is stuck in. The main lessons from the day:

“Brussels comms” is a bubble and doesn’t want to change: Autumn is “Comms Conf Season” in Brussels: EuroPCom, NATO SMIO, media4Democracy just to mention a few. Out of all the people in the panels I attended, there was neither a Brexit campaign manager, nor a Trump communication advisor or similar. These are huge conferences, but only displaying people that think “in the box” or “in the bubble.” That was a big let-down. The communication of EU institutions, whether we like it or not, is stuck in its own arrogance and instead of learning from winners, these gathering of communication professionals are more keen on listening to those who lost massively (in this case we had speakers from the Guardian and the Washington Post who supported Bremain and Clinton), whose only arguments are hypothetical scenarios (“If millennials had turned up to vote, if Florida voted differently, if Wales voted differently etc…). All these speculations are pretty useless and feed the bubbleS (whether we are talking about Brussels, London or Washington) with their own pleasing content. Talking about echo chambers….

Look East: For decades, Europe looked at itself as the second best in digital communication after the US. Well, it’s time to think again. South East Asia, the Middle East and South American institutions are using social media way more strategically and way more audaciously than in the old continent ( as presentations by Nestor Eduardo Chiliquinga Mazón, Secretary-General of the Andean Parliament and especially by Hiren Joshi, Social Media Advisor to India’s Prime Minister showed).  Especially the work of PM Narendra Modi ahead of his latest election has been absolutely outstanding and daring…and most importantly, successful. EU comms is too stuck into its own communication protocol, but this approach is making Europe lag behind in the latest communication trends in times where we need to urgently get closer to the citizens, not further. East Asian governments seem to set the bar very high in disruptive communication. Lots of things to learn from them.

Feed your attendees…and give them objects to engage: The most shared photos of the event were of the beautiful and delicious cupcakes, the organizers were distributing to participants. You may think this doesn’t really relate to the event, but guess what? The event’s hashtag #PICsocial trended in Belgium, Spain and Sweden. The end justifies the means and using hooks to raise visibility always pays off.

Cupcakes_European_Parliament

Kudos to the colleagues at the Parliament for organizing this. I hope the experience will be repeated in the future.

Kevin Levrone and the “no excuses” theory

The 2016 Mr. Olympia was a terrific bodybuilding contest, definitely the best in years. Not only because of the insane line-up of athletes who walked the stage in Vegas but also for the overall media attention (which grows significantly every year) and a huge drama element. Two top competitors (Dennis Wolf and Kai Greene) dropped out last moment for different reasons and Kevin Levrone, one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time, came back from retirement…at age 52, after 13 years of inactivity and after going through a number of complicated surgeries.

Now, this is not the first time a famous athlete comes back from retirement. We have seen this in football (Paul Scholes), basketball (Michael Jordan), rugby (Andy Goode), swimming (Michael Phelps) and others… if it wasn’t for the way Mr. Levrone came back. Firstly, we are talking about 13 years of inactivity, not a few months. Secondly, we are talking about a 52-year-old man competing against athletes half his age. Thirdly, the marketing and communication around the comeback was spot on.

Kevin Levrone has been incredibly smart, subtle and humble in his communication, in a way that, no matter his ranking on stage, he would come out as a winner. At the end of the day, he shone through (deservably) as an absolute legend, and a true inspiration for us all. I met him at FIBO 2016 and told him “Thank you for the inspiration you’re giving to athletes who love this sport” and he replied “Thank you Sir.” It’s that modesty that made me realize what kind of value I was witnessing.

He kept humble. Kevin has been very active in his social media during the build up to the Mr. Olympia. Still, he never, or hardly ever, showed his condition and progress. We had to wait until 10 days before the show to see his arms and only the day before the contest he showed his torso and legs. He worked in the dark and shone when it mattered.

kevin
Photo Credit: The Official Kevin Levrone Facebook page http://bit.ly/2fMdmzQ

He honoured his commitment. There’s a place in life to think about your purpose and your goals. But this time doesn’t count for anything unless you get things done. Only after the show, Kevin talked about all the insane physical issues and injuries he went through in preparation to the contest. He had no excuses, nor he tried to lower expectations to the fans. So many athletes blame injuries for mediocre performances and career drawbacks but Mr. Levrone didn’t and talked about his tough time only after competing and in a very composed and objective manner. Injuries and accidents happen to everybody but it is the way you manage these difficulties that define whether you are making a great career or not. I believe this applies to all aspects of life. See below what he posted:

I’m posting this pic because it shows the date and time I had my 2 PRP knee treatment. Bottom line is I committed to competing before I started training hardcore. As my training progress I found it was impossible to squat due to quadricep tendinitis in my left knee. So I trained around it the best was I could. Everyone knows you need squats to build the mass. By the time I had my first and second treatment we were within 9-7 weeks from the Olympia. 2 choices I had one to give up and use this as an excuse or stay committed like a man not complain and do my best no matter what they say about me. Well I feel I made the right choice and will never regret going onstage because I’m not a quitter at heart. Good thing is it’s going to get better and eventually I’ll be back 100%. If you guys are suffering from tendon pain look into this treatment it works. Looking forward to my recovery. I’m confident enough that if I walk on stage 100% or 50% I am still Kevin Levrone. You have to experience it all, your failures and your triumphs is what produces the character to NEVER GIVE UP. Stay tuned SHAAAA BOOM!

This is truly inspirational and it’s hardly about the sport of bodybuilding. It’s about building a legacy, a career and an example. What he showed can be applied to all careers and goals we want to set. Head down and working towards your commitments is what makes people of value.

Meeting the #DigitalCamp students

It was fantastic to meet the guys at the Digital Camp programme in Varese (Italy) yesterday. The formation is organized by Varese News an incredible local media outlet that every year organizes the Italian Festival of Digital Journalism. We talked about the European Commission’s social media activity with a focus on the Joint Research Centre, the challenges of science and institutional communication and bridging the gap between citizens and policy makers through social media.

These “kids” have incredible talent and will certainly go places. I was happy to see that these students want to make a difference at the local level, in a country where (including myself) everybody is leaving to international business and politics hubs to build a career. This is a good and positive spirit with our local authorities should invest in.

hh3

Continue reading “Meeting the #DigitalCamp students”