Takeaways on the role of Communities of Practice in more inclusive and evidence-informed integration policy and practice, from a workshop held in the framework of the SPRING project on 14 September 2022.

In the past years and decades Europe has seen an intensification and upscaling of existing integration practices, as well as increased mainstreaming of integration into standard social services. This year authorities, civil society, the private sector, and individuals mobilised an amazing level of support for people fleeing war in Ukraine. New actors and initiatives emerged in major destination countries - many with relatively limited knowledge and experience in integration until now.

On 14 September 2022, ICMPD, as part of the SPRING project, brought together 34 participants in a virtual workshop on the role of communities of practice and cooperation networks in contributing to more inclusive and evidence-informed integration policy and practice. This workshop brought together researchers and practitioners who explored how cooperation networks and communities of practice can connect research, policy and practice and make diverse voices heard – ultimately contributing to improved integration outcomes.

The six main takeaways featured below provide a snapshot of the discussion.

1. Integration practitioners face complex and interconnected challenges

The integration field is complex, cutting across different disciplines, levels of governance and stakeholders. It is characterised by constant shifts, for example through changes in the target groups or in political leadership and policy goals, which make it difficult to set long-term objectives and measure impact. This is particularly true when integration policies are developed during crises, with limited time and resources available to map out the most suitable approach.

Integration practitioners often face challenges related to overlaps in competencies between national, regional, local authorities and parallel structures that lead to a patchwork of services – not sufficiently reflecting the fact that integration takes place at the local level and integration frameworks need to be tailored to local needs. This situation is often exacerbated by a lack of continuity in the integration infrastructure due to a lack of a long-term vision and funding.

2. A multi-stakeholder approach is needed throughout the integration policy cycle – including grassroots organisations, migrants and refugees

The complexity and interconnectedness of issues in the integration sphere can only be addressed by bringing diverse integration stakeholders and their perspectives to the table. The resulting coordination efforts and multi-stakeholder partnerships can create synergies, address the inconsistencies between different levels of governance and ultimately allow for achieving greater impact.

In practice, however, those most affected by integration policies: migrants, refugees and grassroots organisations, are rarely actively involved in the integration policy cycle. Yet, for integration policies to be successful and sustainable, it is essential to include the voices of the target group – not only to learn about needs and approaches but also to create ownership for this group in the integration process.

3. Functioning integration policies need to be evidence-informed

An evidence culture in migrant integration can help to overcome gaps between evidence and the actual policy response and ensure cost-effectiveness and accountability in integration practice. Such evidence culture requires strong bonds between integration practitioners and researchers that facilitate mutual exchange of knowledge and evidence, as well as easily accessible evidence infrastructures, for example supported by peer-learning platforms and other spaces for discussion. An evidence culture also builds on evaluations, requiring a holistic approach that focuses both on quantitative and qualitative indicators. Summaries of evaluation tools and methodologies as well as examples of indicators can support integration stakeholders in their evaluation efforts.

Researchers take the role of generating evidence and contributing to sense-making, for example by documenting and systematising practitioners´ experiences, collecting practices and assessing their sustainability and transferability. However, fragmentation of integration research into different disciplines makes it difficult to bring knowledge and evidence together in systematic ways.

4. Evidence must be accessible and relevant for policy-makers and practitioners

The uptake of evidence by policy-makers and practitioners is influenced by a range of factors, such as limited awareness or accessibility of the existing evidence or uncertainty on how to translate it into their work. To support the uptake of results, research has to be relevant for those working on or affected by the issue. This relevance can best be ensured by including practitioners in the co-design, implementation and dissemination of research projects and their results.

Tailoring the language and formats to the audience and translating research into local languages can also be a means for making the available evidence more easily accessible for practitioners. Adequate formats include, for example, infographics, webinars, and podcasts instead of academic reports. Furthermore, databases can enhance the accessibility of evidence.

5. Political buy-in and sufficient resources are needed for successful and sustainable integration efforts

Maintaining integration infrastructures requires political buy-in and long-term commitment and funding. To avoid that changing political leadership and policy goals interfere with a long-term approach to integration it is fundamental to ensure the ongoing participation of integration stakeholders in the political debate at different levels.

In case that new immigration flows or changing migration patterns require the development of new or the adaptation of existing approaches to integration, pilot projects can enhance the chances for political buy-in by demonstrating the value of integration initiatives and their results in terms of (cost) effectiveness, accountability and mutual learning. In this context, it is crucial to allocate budgets for follow-up projects already at the beginning, in order to ensure that pilots are scaled up once evidence proves their efficiency and effectiveness.

6. Cooperation networks and communities of practice facilitate cooperation, enable knowledge exchange and advocate for improved integration policies             

Cooperation networks and communities of practice have a paramount role in facilitating cooperation as they bring together researchers and practitioners and promote the active participation of those working on and affected by integration measures in the co-design of research projects. They play an important role in enabling the transfer of good practices and knowledge exchange more broadly, especially by helping to interpret knowledge in the members´ specific contexts and by facilitating sense-making.

And finally, cooperation networks and communities of practice can facilitate the participation of integration stakeholders in the political debate at different levels, by providing a platform for integration stakeholders to advocate (at national and at EU level) for improved integration policies and for the allocation of resources to initiatives intersecting policy, research and practice.

The workshop took place as part of the Sustainable Practices of Integration (SPRING) project, which is funded by Horizon 2020 and gathers available research and evidence on integration in the context of the large-scale movements of refugees and other migrants to Europe since 2014.