Stakeholder engagement: from dissemination to co-creation of knowledge
Once upon a time, not so long ago, stakeholder engagement by scholars involved waiting until the end of a project, writing up an easy-to-read flyer, pouring out an op-ed in the paper and possibly organizing a dissemination workshop. Our stakeholder meeting at the 2018 Fundamental Rights Forum showed how times have changed. Over thirty activists, policy-makers, politicians have reflected upon our first insights, comparing them against their experiences, critically adding to them and thus crucially strengthening our research.
On the one hand, this comes with our research topic. The role of human rights in how cities receive and integrate refugees is simply too urgent, too topical, with too much happening to wait five years to share results. We want to make a difference in, and to local authorities as they struggle with these issues on a daily basis. But there is a second reason for our early and ongoing outreach to those with a stake in our findings. We, as researchers, have to learn from true dialogue with those ‘out there in the arena’ – migrants, mayors, municipal workers.
Of course, it is our job to see the big picture. To read through the piles of existing literature on the ‘local turn’ in migration management, the localization of human rights and its relevance to refugee reception and integration. To question existing and draw up new theories, formulate hypotheses, painstakingly gather data to only then draw out conclusions. In all these phases, however, there is so much to learn from those in the heat of things. Not as respondents, but as fellow researchers. People who also ponder upon why cities offer refuge, or refuse to do so, and what the role of human rights can be.
This is the reason why we have our much-appreciated stakeholder board with representatives of the human rights institutes, refugees, mayors, the EU research board and Fundamental Rights Agency to discuss findings every year. It was Friso Roscam Abbing, of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, who proposed the wonderful idea of meeting at the Fundamental Rights Forum, appropriately themed “Connect, Reflect, Act”.
Here, the question is not so much what insights we shared (on why local authorities differ, what discourses prevail pertaining to refugees, what role there is for networks). Rather, it is what insights we gained. Let’s give three. First, we witness a very high degree of interest in the role of local authorities in furthering human rights. Not only was the turn-out at our session relatively high, this applied to all the other sessions on local action for fundamental rights grouped under the hashtag #sharedneighbourhoods. Second, there is the role of narratives. All stakeholders actively search for a story to tell on human rights that can cross political divides and that serves as an umbrella for local inclusion. Finally, there is the importance of sharing stories, best practices and permanently reflecting on what works and why, with the inclusion of the people that the policies are aimed to help. Participatory and inclusive policy-making, including the voice of refugees, migrants and other disadvantaged groups has been a recurring theme among recommendations from our workshop participants. Here, we will continue to play a role. Not only for, but also with our stakeholders. Or should it be stakescholars?
Barbara Oomen & Sara Miellet
On Tuesday the 10 of October, after 208 days of negotiation, the new Dutch government presented its policy agreement for the coming four years: “Confidence in the Future”. If anything is apparent in reading the 70-page document, it is that this confidence hardly applies to migrants in general, and asylum seekers in particular. Neither, clearly, is there much confidence between the four parties in the new governmental coalition: they dedicate 10 % of all text to setting out the agreements in the field of migration. In contrast, for instance, there is only half a page dedicated to culture.
Before turning to these measures, let’s recapitulate what happened since the last Dutch elections in March. These left a highly fragmented political landscape, with the Liberal Democrats (VVD) obtaining 21 % of the votes, Wilders’ PVV 13 %, the Christian Democrats (CDA) and the Democrats 66 (D66) both 12 %, the Green Left and the Socialists SP each 9 % and the Social Democrats (PvdA) down from 25 % to 6 %. The initial round of negotiations, with the VVD, CDA, D66 and the Green Left already showed the degree to which migration has become one of the main markers of political difference. Whilst parties had already agreed on a type of ‘Turkey-deal’ with North-African countries, the Green Left’s insistence that refugees should always retain the right to claim asylum in Europe lead to an implosion of the negotiations.
It took the next set of actors - VVD, CDA, D66 and the Christian Union (3 % of the votes) - nearly six months to come to the agreement presented earlier this week. In it, the fault lines between premier Rutte’s VVD and the Christian Democrats (that both campaigned with an anti-migration agenda) and D66 and the Christian Union (whose agenda could be characterised as more internationalist and humanitarian) are still clearly visible. Out of the wide range of issues relating to migration, asylum and integration policy presented under the heading of an ‘effective and dignified migration policy’, the key points could be summarized as follows:
Parts of the agreement were characterized as a ‘bitter pill’ by coalition partner Christian Union and civil society, like the lack of a ‘Children's’ Amnesty’ for undocumented migrant children who had been in the Netherlands for a long time. The legality and the actual impact of many of the other measures proposed are still unclear. In this light the first sentence of the coalition agreement ‘Confidence in the Future’ is telling. It states how ‘In the Netherlands individual freedoms and a close collective go hand in hand. Everyone can have the ambition to jump over the highest fence, in the knowledge that there is a safety net to catch them if needed’. All the is clear here is that the degree to which truly everyone in the Netherlands can be confident that this sentence also applies to their future is far from certain.