For the last three years, city officers from five European cities have met regularly through the EU-funded CONNECTION project as a community of practice to learn about One Stop Shops.

What is a One Stop Shop?

A ‘One Stop Shop’ is a type of service delivery model based around a welcoming space, where migrants can access multiple specialist services that support integration, all under one roof. These services are often aimed at newcomers

Supported by MigrationWork, Dortmund, Stockholm, Athens, Cluj-Napoca and Sofia have all learned about One Stop Shops by ‘doing’. Over the course of the project, four of the five cities in the Community of Practice opened their own One Stop Shops to better welcome and support migrants. The fifth, Athens, opened their service in 2017 and served as an inspiration.

One Stop Shops are becoming increasingly popular as a service model amongst cities in Europe and there is a lot of interest in how to go about designing effective and successful ones.

At the EU-funded CONNECTION project final meeting in Utrecht members of the community of practice wanted not simply to tell the audience what they learned: they wanted the group to learn by doing, as they had, although in this case, it would be through an immersive theatre game. The aim was for the audience to explore some of the challenges inherent in One Stop Shops, so they might experience good practice and understand what is important when designing a One Stop Shop.

The immersive theatre game

The audience were divided into three groups and given the task to collect five stamps on a little card from different service desks in the One Stop Shop. Each stamp symbolised a step in their integration journey. The goal was to collect five red stamps to complete the game.

1. Welcome desk – providing an appropriate welcome

Our players were off to a bad start. They all descended onto the small welcome desk at the One Stop Shop looking to receive their first stamp. A long queue quickly formed, held up by the fact that the staff only spoke Greek. What’s more, the receptionists weren’t particularly helpful or welcoming. Most people waited patiently while others demanded priority: I’m pregnant someone yelled. I’ll pay for my stamp someone else tried.

Luckily, the overwhelmed staff at the welcome desk eventually thought of a solution and started to hand out little cards with a website address to a digital resource where people could apply for their stamp online and the crowd dispersed to other service desks in search of their next stamp.

What did the players learn here?

  • The right team with good team spirit
    • Pick the right people, who have a true passion and motivation for the work
    • Create a welcoming environment
    • Make use of intercultural mediators who speak community languages.
  • Use digital tools – an online service can complement in person services.
    • Digital services should reflect the context: e.g. if the city is hyper digital, then it’s critical; if the city operates less digitally, it’s less important.
    • Migrant and refugee communities will often suffer from digital exclusion, or a lack of confidence in engaging with digital channels. Digital services should not replace in person provision, and digital training could be offered to support migrants navigating online services.

2. Orientation desk – securing political buy-in

Players in search of their next stamp quickly found the second service desk in the One Stop Shop. Here they came across a fellow city administration colleague in a heated debate with a local politician, trying to convince her to invest in a One Stop Shop. It’s a win-win he cried. It’s such a cost-effective model! It will move migrants towards independence and into the labour force quicker!’ The politician wouldn’t budge. Look the city administration worker said bringing agencies under one roof to develop accessible, cohesive and transparent procedures, strengthens the capacity of private and public institutions.

Our players nodded quietly, collected their second stamp and looked around for the next service desk.

What did they learn here?

Use arguments such as:

  • Communicate the project from newcomers’ perspective – e.g. show how it is a ‘win-win’ situation (Does it create jobs? Does it generate money?)
  • Persistence is key: don’t give up
  • Remind politicians that some migrants are voters.

3. Registration desk – taking an empowerment approach

Once they found their way to the third service desk, our players started to relax. They were greeted by calm and friendly staff who asked them how their day had been. The approach at this desk was to focus on teaching people how to do it themselves, so instead of having their cards stamped for them, staff let them practice on a piece of paper before stamping their own cards. This helped our players understand the different steps they needed to take.

The staff were particularly helpful to some of the players, giving them directions to the Foreigners’ Office which was located outside the One Stop Shop. What happened there we’ll soon find out…

What did the players learn here?

  • Simple and clear processes and use of space enable people to learn to navigate independently.
  • Encouraging people to complete steps themselves, with help available if needed, further fosters independence. Guidebooks can help people navigate forms and activities: e.g. laminated QR codes that link to forms. Having space for visitors to do their own integration work is important: e.g. computers and printers people can use independently.

4. Foreigners’ office – stakeholder management

Things got heated outside the Foreigners’ office. Although it was located away from the main One Stop Shop space – in the hallway of the conference room – players quickly worked out that is where they needed to go for their fourth stamp, and a big crowd formed.

A glum security guard stood by the door, turning people away, checking people’s ID cards and handbags. The audience members tried all sorts of arguments to be let through, but the security guard wouldn’t budge. Only those with appointments were allowed in.

The lucky few emerged confused. Instead of a red stamp, they had been given a black cross. Would that count towards the five stamps they had to collect?

What did the players learn here?

Some organisations, especially larger and more bureaucratic institutions, may struggle to adapt to become part of a new setup. Common challenges include:

  • Partners not adapting to a shared data management system
  • Partners not coming to work under the same roof
  • Partners not understanding the benefit for them of participating.

Potential solutions to this challenge:

  • It takes time to build relationships with partners and to demonstrate to them the value for them in joining your service.
  • The coordinator ideally should have worked with the other partners before, to know how they work, and how cooperation can best take place.

5. Integration desk – adapting fast to crises

When our players arrived at the integration desk, they were asked to form an orderly queue. The queue moved along fine, albeit a little slowly, when suddenly, an alarm went off.

A fire!

Staff quickly found their composure and explained to everyone that this was a crisis situation. They calmly moved everyone to the other side of the room, away from the fire. Once everyone was in a safe place, they handed out pre-stamped cards to the visitors.

What did the players learn here?

  • The large number of Ukrainian refugees arriving in European cities this past year has shone a light on the importance of bureaucratic organisations being prepared for situations and to find solutions swiftly and efficiently.
  • An effective response in crisis is supported by strong pre-existing partnerships, effective data gathering systems, fast access to the right interpreters and flexible crisis funds.

For a step-by-step guide on how to set up a One Stop Shop for migrant integration in your city, head to the EU-funded CONNECTION project website.

The CONNECTION project, led by Eurocities and co-financed by the EU Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, promotes transnational learning about and implementation of integration policies.