Evolution of newcomers’ needs for information and advice as they move through stages of settlement and integration - a map developed by CNCE based on work with migrants.

In 2022, MigrationWork, Eurocities, eight European cities (Athens, Bologna, Düsseldorf, Grenoble Alpes Métropole, Oulu, Prague, Zagreb, Zaragoza) as well as the migrant organisations UNITEE and New Women Connectors set to work on the UNITES project – embarking on a journey to promote the use of co-design in the cities’ integration work. Below is a summary of our findings from the research phase of the project, looking into existing co-design practices on a local level. Our research was guided by the ambition to find comprehensive forms of co-design that had shaped comprehensive outcomes rather than just one-off participation or consultation practices. We looked at academic publications, good practice registers and other projects at a global level.

Example 1: Mapping migrant arrival experience in Nantes
One pioneering co-design case that we identified in our research dates back about a decade but continues to be an inspiration. In 2013, Nantes’ migrant council received a mandate from the city council to gather input from migrants on how to improve newcomer reception. The council mapped the trajectories of newcomers in Nantes in the first year after arrival, examining their specific information and support needs. The complex picture that evolved of individual newcomer experiences (which made its way into an equally complex graphic as shown in this blog) led to a comprehensive review of support services, training for service providers and a new reception guide.

Example 2: Our Liverpool Strategy and experts by experience
One of the more recent examples we looked at was the “Our Liverpool Strategy”. Instead of having a separate “migrant group” to feed into the strategy, the city council decided to actively recruit experts by experience for all of its thematic groups – e.g. on asylum, housing, employability and language. Among other things, this led to the development of a training format on the asylum system for council workers that was co-created and implemented with the organisation Refugee Women Connect. It also led to the involvement of professionals with lived migration experience in refugee employment support. Co-designing with migrants was really present in the needs analysis, action planning and delivery.

Example 3: Consulting the community in Mörsil
Another case that inspired us was set in Mörsil, a small town in northern Sweden. The small town faced social tensions when it had to home refugees. Council staff decided to run a ‘citizen dialogue’ and to involve as many residents as possible in finding solutions. City council workers spoke with almost 10% of the population – at their homes, at work, outside the supermarket or at school – on how to improve community life. The results were then discussed in workshops that offered residents a safe space to discuss problems and conflicts. These workshops then led to three practical citizen-led projects to increase community cohesion: opening up schools to become meeting places for residents, a low-threshold “Spring Cleaning” action in the town for everyone to come together and take pride in their local area, and the creation of “Mörsil in the Middle” – an umbrella organisation working for the benefit of the whole community.

Beyond usual participatory frameworks: community researchers and mystery shoppers
During our research on co-design methods used in local integration work, we were particularly impressed by methods that reached beyond the usual frameworks of participation. For instance, In the MiFriendly Cities project in the Midlands, ordinary residents were trained to become community researchers and identify problems from the perspective of members of their communities. Another example was migrants being trained as “mystery shoppers” in London’s East End to evaluate the quality of legal advice services on offer. These examples relied on extensive training of the participants to build their capacity and highlight that involving people who are not used to planning policies demands resources for preparation.

Obstacles for co-design
In spite of these promising examples, we found that co-design is still rarely used in integration policy.
So why don’t policymakers generally think about working with the people benefiting from the policies to develop city integration strategies?

Here are some reasons:

  • First of all, there is a societal bias that perceives integration support as an instrument of control and migrants as “second-class citizens”, so migrant participation is delegitimised. The negative political climate around migration in many places does not help.
  • Secondly, co-design demands more resources – although our city partners argue that these are a form of investment that will be returned in the form of better outcomes.
  • Thirdly, our UNITES city representative said that integration remains a relatively new field and city council workers may lack the know-how to work with co-design. There is an experience gap compared to other areas of city planning, such as urban development.
  • Fourthly, there are also impediments on the side of newcomers, which make involving them in co-design harder, such as being overburdened to find their bearings or a lack of information and language skills.
  • Finally, already established ways of “doing participation” can limit the outcomes. There is perhaps a feeling that “we are doing participation already”, which limits city council workers from climbing further up the ladder of participation and moving from consultation with migrants and other beneficiaries to much deeper involvement. As a result, our ideal in many of the co-design approaches had something missing: a great integration strategy was developed with the strong involvement of migrants, but there was no money to implement it. A great stakeholder coordination body was set up with migrants and other stakeholders but was not linked to a real strategy. It led to “co-design” that does not go all the way towards a meaningful long-term involvement of migrants and other residents.

“The challenges we face are too great – we have to do politics differently!”

But our UNITES-partners are committed to overcoming these obstacles. They told us that they see co-design as a unique way for city officers to understand what is going on in the city, to make policies more effective and legitimate and to create spaces to talk about friction and conflicts. One colleague said that there is simply no alternative to a deeper involvement as we face an urgent need to reinvigorate democracy.

Next steps: Local co-design actions and support for cities outside the project
By summer 2024, each UNITES partner city will have conducted their own co-design pilot experience: they include, for instance, updates of existing strategies with greater involvement of migrants in the evaluation and needs analysis, diversity reviews of city departments and surveys with the migrant communities. In this phase, each city also receives a visit from peers to get input on how to tackle the challenges they face.

UNITES will also provide support to cities that are interested in using co-design in their integration work but are not part of this project. In autumn 2024, Eurocities will present a pilot version of a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on this topic. This will be free to access and the very first of its kind in exploring co-design from a city’s point of view. In addition to this, the cities Bucharest and Pesaro have been selected by Eurocities to receive support from UNITES peers in applying co-design in their own integration work.