On 9th of June 2021, the SPRING virtual exchange “Sustainable and Innovative – Communities of Practice as Drivers of a new Agenda on Integration” brought together 65 stakeholders engaged in Communities of Practice from research, policy and practice working on the integration of newly arrived migrants and refugees at local, national and regional levels, bridging perspectives from different localities, such as urban or rural areas.

The event responded to the large number of initiatives that have been launched since 2015/16 which aim to provide integration services for those newly arrived, both in “old” and “new” EU countries of immigration. This led to an intensification and upscaling of already existing practices, and to various innovations, including new tools and approaches.

The virtual exchange was a first attempt to engage relevant communities of practice and foster exchange on successful and sustainable practices as well as to identify concrete needs for and obstacles in accessing information on relevant research results and evidence on sustainable and effective integration policy practices. Stakeholders discussed their priorities, needs, gaps and good practices in accessing knowledge and evidence, focusing on the four integration areas covered by the SPRING project, namely housing and settlement, employment, education and training, and access to services.

Participants agreed that better access to (validated) knowledge, information and useable evidence is among the main priorities for more sustainable integration practices, which would also imply the translation of academic and policy jargon. Furthermore, knowledge and experiences should be contextualised by reflecting the (local, national, thematic) specificities of the respective practices and approaches, taking into account the different approaches and concepts of integration employed by stakeholders.

In order to make integration practices sustainable, co-designing, co-evaluating and co-implementing integration policies and practices together with migrant and refugee actors already is a key priority for stakeholders across all integration dimensions and enhanced sharing of information is needed in this regard. Participating representatives of migrant and refugee-led Communities of Practice underlined that they want to be perceived as partners, not as passive receivers or merely beneficiaries of integration, which will in the end also enhance the success of integration practices.

Participants also presented initiatives, especially with regard to labour market integration and skills development, that were born out of new opportunities driven by digitalisation. Digital tools and virtual spaces also allowed for new opportunities for mobilisation of volunteers, participatory approaches and self-empowerment of certain groups which would not be visible without digital tools.

And lastly, Communities of Practice facilitate connections between different stakeholders and provide good opportunities to analyse in-depth specific integration challenges and address them through different sectors and partners involved, and, as such, contribute to close the gap between academia, policymakers and practitioners.

The SPRING project team thanks all participants for their valuable contributions and is looking forward to continue the discussion on sustainable and innovative integration practices.