UNIC4ER: How to Connect Policymakers with Society?

Insights from the Workshop "Engaged Students for Inclusive Cities"

Author: Eline Teunissen

How do we bring the local knowledge of the people in superdiverse cities to decision-makers? This was one of the key questions discussed in the international workshop, Engaged Students for Inclusive Cities. Through this workshop the Rotterdam Inclusivity Project joined forces with the Centre for Ethnic and Migration Studies (CEDEM) of the University of Liege (ULiège). The senior researchers, students and alumni discussed the topic of engaged research on migrant exclusion and inclusive policymaking with the municipality of Rotterdam and antidiscrimination agency RADAR.

The event was led by Asya Pisarevskaya, Assistant Professor of Migration and Diversity Governance at Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR), who received a UNIC4ER Seed Fund for the support of collaborations between partners of European University Alliance UNIC.

Overview of the day

The day started with presentations from the alumni of the EUR Master’s Degree in Governance of Migration and Diversity. Three EUR students presented their findings and recommendations of their master’s theses. First, Francesca Celenta’s presentation was about the implementation challenges of the Dutch New Integration Act for frontline workers. Secondly, Bo van Ek talked about the benefits and frictions in approaches of interactive governance on antidiscrimination, like the involvement of social organizations in policy making. As last, José Miguel de la Maza Díaz discussed the role of shelters in tackling victimization of irregular male migrants in Rotterdam.

The second part of the workshop consisted of a round table. Discussions arose about the role of student-researchers in engaged research. In both the Governance of Migration and Diversity master’s program (at EUR) and the Immigration Studies master’s program (at CEDEM, ULiège) students are encouraged to do their research projects in and about the cities through close collaboration with societal partners. The students got recommendations on how to access state actors and grassroots organizations to collect data for their research projects. It was also discussed how they can best be engaged between the participants of their research and themself as a researcher. Asya Pisarevskaya, the convenor of the event, emphasizes this: "I would really recommend students to stay in touch with the people they interview. Building long term relationship and trust between your interviewees and yourself is one of the most important steps you could take as a researcher." A clear example that came to topic about getting the right knowledge and to build trusting relationships was that sometimes a researcher could benefit by deviating from a script of questions. This can create a space in which core issues are discussed that would otherwise remain unmentioned.

The unused potential of local knowledge

A lot of opportunities for research and policy lie in the rich experience of the common Rotterdammer. These experiences are not always widely known or being used effectively by policy-makers that take decisions for the city. Remco Liu-van Dorp, team coordinator ‘Inclusief Samenleven’ for the Rotterdam municipality, concurs: "I believe we should not overlook the experiential knowledge within the city. We need to actively involve and consider this wealth of knowledge in our research endeavors and policy making." Through the presentations and the following discussions in this workshop the social and municipal representatives from the city of Rotterdam obtained valuable insights into their challenges in migration and diversity governance. Close listening and co-creation between societal organizations, universities and municipalities was mentioned to play an important part in effective interorganizational collaboration.

Academic students play a crucial role in bridging this gap between local insights, academic knowledge and the communication of knowledge to decision-makers. They often conduct qualitative research in which they obtain local knowledge. Through writing a thesis and sometimes a policy brief, local knowledge is funneled and analyzed with existing academic knowledge. They ensure that decision-makers are informed about the opportunities and challenges faced by communities and can act on it through fitting policy. This makes students the catalysts for more inclusive policies that more effectively address needs of all Rotterdammers. Bridging the gap between local governments and academic insights is also the goal of the Rotterdam Inclusivity Project, the initiator of this workshop. By creating a space to discuss the findings of research, the partners of collaboration can understand each other's perspectives better and align expectations. Which, in turn, improves the next rounds of engaged research, conducted as part of the project. This way, policy can be based on local and academic knowledge to have it fit better with the needs of broader society.

In conclusion, students that conduct engaged research serve as important conduits for the experiential knowledge that lies with the locals in a city. Workshops like these create spaces in which collaboration is enabled between students from universities, social organizations and municipalities. The different narratives from these organizations give valuable insights in how to improve policy. This workshop is preferably the beginning of installing longer term co-creation to connect policy makers with society.

The workshop Engaged Students for Inclusive Cities took place on the 12th of December, 2023. Learn more about this through our UNIC Seed Fund showcase here

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