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Bridging the GapsLinking Research to Public Debates and Policy Making on Migration and Integration$

Martin Ruhs, Kristof Tamas, and Joakim Palme

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780198834557

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198834557.001.0001

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Making Linkages Between Research, Public Debates, and Policies on International Migration and Integration

(p.1) 1 Introduction
Bridging the Gaps

Martin Ruhs

Kristof Tamas

Joakim Palme

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

International migration and integration are among the most important and controversial public policy issues of our time. The disconnect between migration policy debates and migration realities has prompted a quest for more ‘evidence-based’ debates and policy-making. This introductory chapter gives the background and explains the rationale, aims, and key contributions of the book Bridging the Gaps: Linking Research to Public Debates and Policy-Making on International Migration and Integration. It provides a basic conceptual framework for the theoretical and empirical analysis in the subsequent chapters, focusing on the triangular relationships between research, public debates, and policy-making. The chapter also includes an overview of the key insights and arguments of the theoretical reflections, case studies, and policy analyses in the book.

Keywords:   research, public debates, policies, migration, integration

Evidence-based Policy-making versus Post-truth Politics?

International migration and integration are among the most important and controversial public policy issues in many high-income countries. The global economic downturn in the late 2000s and the sharp increase in the number of refugees and other migrants making their way to Europe in 2015 have intensified what, in many countries, were already highly charged debates about the impacts of immigration on the host economy and society. Concern about immigration has been a major driver of the rise of Donald Trump in the United States, Britain’s referendum vote to leave the European Union, and the growing support for right-wing populist parties across various European countries.

Public debates and policy-making on migration and integration are often ill-informed and based on myths, rather than facts. The common lack of evidence in debates and policy-making is frequently lamented, but not particularly surprising. Personal beliefs and public opinion on migrants and refugees can clearly be shaped by a range of different factors that have little or nothing to do with facts, data, and evidence, such as the frequency of actual contact with migrants, perceived competition and threats from immigration, education, age, and the media (e.g. OECD 2010; Blinder 2011). Similarly, policy-making on migration can be influenced by a range of interests, institutions, and ideas which may or may not be based on realities of the scale, processes, causes, and effects of migration (e.g. Boswell et al. 2011; Hampshire 2013). Third, while (p.2) advances in measurement and research have generated important insights about migration and integration, there are important limits to the existing data and analyses. The available ‘evidence base’ is characterized by considerable gaps and mixed results around key migration issues (such as the impact of immigration on diversity and solidarity among residents of the host country—see, e.g., Demireva 2015). All this means that there are many reasons why facts, data, and research may—and, in practice, often do—play a relatively minor role in public debates and policy-making on migration and integration.

The disconnect between migration policy debates and migration realities has encouraged many people, including policy-makers in many countries, to advocate more ‘evidence-based’ debates and policy-making. This approach stresses the need for ‘rational’ and ‘depoliticized’ migration and integration policies that are based on data and knowledge, rather than on anecdotes, fears, and misperceptions about migration and integration. A wide range of initiatives have been launched in different countries, including ‘independent expert committees’ that provide policy advice and recommendations to governments (see, e.g., Martin and Ruhs 2011) and ‘fact-checkers’—that is, individuals or organizations that check the factual accuracy of, for example, media reports and/or politicians’ speeches on migration and integration (see, e.g., Graves and Cherubini 2016). While the impacts and effectiveness of these initiatives have varied, it is clear that, since the turn of the millennium, their presence has grown in many countries. Until recently, it seemed, at least superficially, that a desire for more evidence-based policy-making had become the norm in many countries.

Recent political events and developments have complicated this picture—for example, the sense of ‘crisis’ in many European countries sparked by the inflows of refugees and other migrants since 2015, the UK’s referendum vote to exit the European Union, and the election of Donald Trump as US President. Many populist parties that have grown in strength across Europe in recent years have been openly critical of the roles of evidence and ‘experts’, who are often portrayed as representing elite views rather than the interests of ‘the people’ (see Boswell 2018). In the UK, high-profile figures of the campaign to leave the European Union (‘Vote Leave’) explicitly rejected the usefulness of ‘experts’ in public policy debates and policy-making. In early June 2016, Michael Gove, a Conservative Cabinet Minister at the time, declared that ‘people in this country have had enough of experts’ and Gisela Stuart, a Labour MP and Vote Leave campaigner, argued that ‘there is only one expert that matters, and that’s you, the voter’.1 At the same time, the rise of Donald Trump in the United States was accompanied by an apparent increase of a similar scepticism about the role, motivations, and usefulness of so-called (p.3) ‘experts’ in public debates and policy-making. The Economist called Trump a ‘leading exponent of “post-truth” politics—a reliance on assertions that “feel true” but have no basis in fact’.2 While scepticism about the role of research and experts in public policy-making is not new, proponents of the idea of a general shift towards ‘post-truth politics’ suggest that the status of ‘facts’ in public debates and policy-making processes has been fundamentally transformed in the twenty-first century. Davies (2016) suggests that, as politics has become more adversarial and the number of providers of ‘facts’—a contested notion and concept—has expanded rapidly, ‘rather than sit coolly outside the fray of political argument, facts are now one of the main rhetorical weapons within it’.

Both ideas—‘evidence-based policy-making’ and ‘post-truth politics’—are, to a considerable extent, caricatures of much more nuanced and messy realities of what are typically highly politicized processes of (de)linking data/research, public debates, and policy-making. Evidence-based arguments and approaches to policy-making are never free of subjective decisions and normative judgements about, for example, what exactly constitutes ‘evidence’ (and who decides on that issue), how to separate ‘reliable’ from ‘unreliable’ data and analysis, what to do about processes and effects that are hard or impossible to measure and so on. At the same time, while there are clearly many recent (and older) examples of public policy debates and policy-making processes in different countries that pay little or no attention to facts and evidence, the much-hyped shift to an ‘age of post-truth politics’ is clearly not inevitable, ubiquitous, or necessarily permanent. Perhaps more than ever before, there is a need to study and understand how and why data, facts, and research affect—or do not affect—public debates and policy-making in different countries and contexts. This clearly (and obviously) requires consideration of how data and research relate to the politics of public policies and to the characteristics of processes of policy-making and implementation, all of which can, and often do, vary across countries and over time.

Aims and Contributions of this Book

This book explores the interplay between social science research, public debates, and policy-making in the area of international migration and integration. It has three core aims. First, the book seeks to contribute to the conceptualization and theorization of the potential relationships between research, public debates, and policy-making on migration and integration (Part I of the book, comprising Chapters 2–4). In doing so, it explicitly builds on existing research in this field, including the rapidly growing number of studies that investigate the links between social science research and public (p.4) policy in general (e.g. Bastow et al. 2014), as well as the smaller number of analyses that focus on the research–policy nexus in the specific fields of migration (e.g. Boswell 2012) and integration (e.g. Scholten et al. 2015).

A second aim of the book is critically to discuss and identify the reasons for the failure or success of a range of initiatives aimed at using research to inform public debates and/or policy-making on migration and integration, both within national contexts and at supra-national levels of governance. In Part II of the book (Chapters 5–10), senior scholars and researchers with extensive experience of engaging in public debates and policy-making provide critical reflections on efforts to use research to inform migration/integration debates and policy-making in different national contexts. These reflections and assessments cover ‘impact-oriented’ research projects and initiatives aimed at informing national debates and policy-making in the UK, the Netherlands, Norway, Germany, Sweden, and the United States. Part III of the book (Chapters 11–14) then focuses on research and analysis aimed at informing migration debates and policies across countries and/or at supra-national levels of governance. This includes critical reflections on the role and use of research and researchers in EU policy-making; the experiences of the long-standing ‘Metropolis’ project, which aims to bridge migration research and policy in different countries; and the contributions of researchers and ‘experts’ to global governance processes relevant to international migration.

A third core goal of the book is to identify effective strategies and institutional designs for linking research to public debates and policy-making on migration and integration in different national and institutional contexts. Part IV (Chapter 15) provides a synthesis and critical discussion of the implications of the research in this book for how to think about, manage, and strengthen the links between research, public debates, and policy. One focus of the discussion will be on whether and how the nature of these interrelationships varies across countries and issue areas, and the implications for the ‘transferability’ of particular approaches across borders and institutional settings. While the specificity of the case studies does not allow for a systematic cross-country analysis, the different chapters provide a rich and diverse collection of case studies that clearly highlight the importance of paying attention to cross-country differences in the politics and institutions that mediate the interrelationships between research, public debates, and policy-making on migration and integration.

Overall, Bridging the Gaps contributes to existing research and knowledge in at least two ways. First, the theoretical and empirical analyses in the book go beyond the focus on the two-way relationship between research and policy-making explored by most existing studies. This is achieved by conceptualizing and analysing triangular interrelationships between data/research, (p.5) public (including media) debates, and policy-making processes, set in the broader context of the politics of public policies. The book thus inserts ‘public debates’, including the role of the media, into the theoretical and empirical analysis.

A second key feature and contribution of this book is that, rather than aiming for comprehensive ‘impact assessments’ of particular initiatives, the authors of the various ‘case studies’ in Parts II and III of the book provide reflections and insights that are strongly based on their personal professional experiences with informing migration and integration policy debates and policy-making processes. The case studies are not meant to be attempts to provide systematic impact evaluations. Instead, they constitute a diverse set of structured explorations of successes and failures (including determinants and policy lessons) of initiatives aimed at linking research to public debates and policy-making on migration and integration across different national contexts and levels of governance.

Analytical Framework

All the chapters of the book are written within a common basic analytical framework. The framework is intentionally broad and rudimentary. Its key purpose is modest but important: to provide a common point of reference for analysis that the individual chapters elaborate, illustrate, and develop further in a variety of ways.

(p.6) We suggest that it is helpful to consider triangular relationships between research, public debates, and policies. Figure 1.1 is meant to illustrate the inter-dependencies and potential two-way causalities between the key variables of interest to this project (keeping in mind that there are, of course, many other factors that are related to and have an impact on public debates and policy-making).

IntroductionMaking Linkages Between Research, Public Debates, and Policies on International Migration and Integration

Figure 1.1 Triangular relationships between research, public debate, and policies

We use the term ‘research’ as shorthand for concepts and theories, data, and empirical findings, as well as ideas and perspectives. So, our approach to conceptualizing and studying research is fairly broad and covers a range of different types of knowledge. Since we are also interested in how different forms of knowledge travel between country contexts, this broad approach is of strategic importance. ‘Public debates’ is broadly understood, too. It specifically includes public attitudes and media reporting on migrants and refugees, as well as the arguments made by various public and civil society organizations. Some of these components, such as media and public opinion, are likely to be correlated in important ways. Finally, our understanding of ‘policies’ relates not only to policy outputs (such as the formulation of new immigration laws and policies), but also to the emergence of policy questions and the characteristics of policy processes.

A first basic point to make about this conceptualization is that research, public debates and policies can all influence each other. This means that any assessment of the role of research in debates and policy-making processes must consider the existence and potential implications of two-way causalities; for example, whether and how the focus of research questions and the types of data collected were affected by politics, policies, and public debates.

Second, researchers can influence public debate and policy-making by producing research, and/or by providing ‘expert’ commentary in public debates (e.g. through commenting on migration issues in the media) and ‘expert advice’ to policy-making processes (e.g. as short-term advisors or longer-term ‘seconded experts’). Expert commentary and advice does not necessarily require the production of new research. The relative influence exerted by these two types of activities (production of new research and expert commentary/advice) on debate and policy—and the relationships between them—can be expected to vary across countries and institutional settings. Who qualifies as an ‘expert’ and what exactly constitutes ‘evidence’ can also be specific to place and time.

Third, Figure 1.1 makes clear that research can impact policy-making directly and/or indirectly through public debate (especially public opinion, media reporting, and civil society organizations). Public opinion is often—but not always—an important factor in the development of new migration and integration policies. In some cases, policy-makers consider public (p.7) attitudes as a hard constraint on what they consider to be feasible policy options. In other cases, policy-makers propose, defend, and sometimes implement new policies that are not completely in line with current public attitudes. As migration and integration have become major politicized issue areas, ministers or whole governments can be out of office if they do not take account of public attitudes and balance their policies or policy statements in an appropriate way. Evidence—including how it is presented and contextualized—can play an important role in this process as policy-makers can, and often do, ignore or use research selectively to strengthen their arguments and justify their policy choices in public debates.

The media can correct or reinforce individuals’ misperceptions and stereotypes about migrants and refugees. While the relationship between public opinion and the media (e.g. in terms of who influences whom and to what extent) is an open empirical issue that can be expected to vary across countries and national media cultures, it is clear that research can potentially influence both. While research can produce different and conflicting results depending on the scientific discipline, methods, and/or data used, evidence and facts have the potential to correct public misperceptions and shift public attitudes, at least to some extent (keeping in mind that facts are not the only driver of public attitudes to immigration and integration, often being of quite marginal relevance). Similarly, researchers can become an important resource for civil society organizations and journalists concerned with migration/integration—although one clearly cannot assume that all media outlets are interested in publishing evidence-based reports rather than, for example, articles that are in line with their readers’ views.

Fourth, whether and how research affects policy-making and public debates will always be critically influenced by institutions, interests, and the broader politics of immigration, integration, and related policy areas (such as education, labour markets, welfare states, and so on). There can be important interactions between research and other policy determinants, such as the economic interests of employers and the political orientation of the government in power. Christina Boswell’s book The Political Uses of Expert Knowledge (2012) shows that, in addition to playing an instrumental role in policy-making, research can have important political functions which are often more symbolic than instrumental.

The potential interrelationships between research, debate, and policy, and the likely interactions with other policy determinants, can make it difficult to isolate and assess the effects of research on migration and integration policies. The rapidly growing research literature on how to measure the wider societal ‘impact’ of social science research makes clear just how difficult this can be in practice (see, e.g., Bastow et al. 2014).

(p.8) Outline of the Book

Part I Concepts and Theories

The book begins with three chapters that provide theoretical analyses of different parts of the three-way relationships between research, public debates, and policy-making on migration and integration. Chapter 2, by Christina Boswell, focuses on the relationships between research, experts, and the politics of migration. Boswell’s starting point is that research and expert knowledge can have different uses in immigration politics and policy-making. It can play an instrumental role (i.e. it can help with the development of policies to achieve certain outcomes, or to address perceived policy problems), perform a substantiating function (i.e. it can act as a resource for lending credibility to particular preferences or claims), or be valued as a source of legitimacy to the organizations taking policy decisions (i.e. research and expert knowledge can help signal authority and competence of the decision-maker). The chapter then identifies three sets of conditions that, Boswell argues, influence the extent to which research is used and for what purpose, and that can help explain cross-national variations and fluctuations over time in patterns of knowledge utilization on immigration policy. These conditions include the level of contestation and political salience over the issue, the ‘mode of settlement’ (democratic or technocratic) that is seen as appropriate in political deliberation, and the mode through which policy-makers derive legitimacy (whether through symbolic gestures or through outcomes). The chapter goes on to explore how this theoretical approach and analysis can help make sense of the current scepticism about expertise in debates on immigration.

Chapter 3, by Han Entzinger and Peter Scholten, analyses the relationship between research and policy-making on integration. Drawing on a large, cross-country, empirical research project conducted during 2011–2014 (see Scholten et al. 2015), the chapter considers how research and policy-making in the field of migrant integration have developed over time, and how their relationship functions under the present conditions of strong politicization of the issue in Europe. Entzinger and Scholten propose a theoretical framework that distinguishes between three aspects of research–policy dialogues in the domain of immigrant integration: dialogue structures (including the formal and informal arrangements created for the exchange and communication of knowledge and research); knowledge utilization (i.e. the cultures and practices of knowledge utilization in policy processes); and, taking the perspective of researchers, knowledge production. The chapter then considers—first theoretically and then empirically drawing on the results of Scholten et al. (2015)—how the increasing politization of the issue of integration in Europe can affect (p.9) the various dimensions of research–policy dialogues in different countries. One of the findings from the empirical analysis is that increasing politization of integration has been associated with more symbolic forms of knowledge utilization (i.e. a rise in the substantiating and legitimizing functions of knowledge, to use the concepts developed by Boswell in Chapter 2). Another development has been a gradual broadening of research–policy dialogues to what Entzinger and Scholten call ‘science–society dialogue’, a term that is meant to reflect a diversification of methods of mutual influencing to include various forms of public debates. The chapter thus makes clear the need for moving theoretical and empirical analyses beyond the relationships between research and policy to include various forms of public debates, including the role of the media. Entzinger and Scholten argue that the media can play an important and effective role when the gap between researchers and policy-makers widens.

Chapter 4, by William Allen, Scott Blinder. and Robert McNeil, then focuses on the relationships between research and public debates with a focus on public perceptions and the media. One of the chapter’s key messages is that we need to be highly critical of what the authors call a ‘naive model of research impact’ that focuses only on the ways in which research and data can flow into and affect public debates, whether through direct engagement between researchers and publics, or through mediated channels. The chapter explains why and how the relationship between research evidence and public debate is not only uncertain, but also bi-directional, in the sense that media and public discussions affect research as well as being affected by it. For example, engagement with media and other users of research can shape the kinds of questions researchers ask in the first place. The chapter makes a similar point about the relationships between media and public perceptions. While media can affect how and what people think about migration and integration, the causality can also run the other way, as public perceptions and popular opinion can sometimes influence what kinds of media content are produced. The chapter authors argue that, in market-driven media systems typical of Anglo-American democracies, media organizations can be understood as creating ‘products’ that they try to sell to audiences, which requires an understanding of who their audiences are, what they think, and what kinds of stories will motivate customers to access their ‘products’. The authors thus argue that effective communication of research for public impact involves much more than presenting facts and figures. Instead, it requires awareness of both the conditions and the contexts in which researchers supply information, as well as the ways that media and members of the public generate demand for certain kinds of research or data.

(p.10) Part II National Experiences

Following the largely conceptual and theoretical discussion in Part I, the five chapters of Part II provide critical reflections on experiences with different efforts and strategies to use research to inform migration/integration debates and policy-making in different national contexts. Chapter 5, written by Martin Ruhs, discusses the experiences of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) and the Migration Observatory (MigObs) in providing independent analysis to inform immigration debates and policy-making in the UK. The MAC was established by the UK government in 2007 and MigObs was launched by the University of Oxford in 2009 as an ‘impact project’ to inform public and media debates. Ruhs provides critical reflections and personal assessments based on his role as one of five members of the MAC during 2007–2014 and as the first Director of MigObs during 2009–2012. He shows how the specific institutional design of an impact initiative such as MigObs, or of an expert advisory body such as the MAC, has important implications for its credibility, political acceptability and, thus, long-term impacts on debates and policy-making. The chapter argues that it is important to recognize and emphasize, as MAC and MigObs have done in the UK, that it is neither feasible nor desirable to ‘take the politics out’ of migration debates and policies. Policy-makers sometimes present and justify expert advisory bodies in terms of their alleged function of ‘de-politicizing’ migration debates and policy decisions. Ruhs argues that this impression should be avoided and resisted by the experts involved whenever possible. Ultimately, all policy decisions are inherently normative, in the sense that a decision needs to be made about whose interests to prioritize and how to evaluate the inevitable trade-offs. Experts can advise and suggest policy options but they cannot, and should not, identify the one ‘optimal’ policy solution that, for most questions, does not exist.

Chapter 6, by Monique Kremer, reflects on the public reception and controversies surrounding the publication of Identificatie met Nederland (Identification with the Netherlands), a major report by the independent Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR). In the report, the WRR advised against an immigrant integration policy that promotes ‘the [Dutch] national identity’ in favour of a strategy focusing on processes of identification in education, in the labour market and in the community. This message incensed many people, including politicians, scientists, and royalists. The chapter uses the case of how this report was received to discuss more broadly how scientifically informed policy advice is made in the context of a rapidly changing relationship between science, policy, and politics, characterized by the growing significance of public opinion. Kremer considers how social scientists can better advise policy-makers in this new reality. She argues that scientifically informed policy advice needs to go beyond the simple model of (p.11) ‘speaking truth to power’, and requires much greater collaboration and stakeholder involvement than in the past. The chapter suggests that, if social science has less authority and credibility than it once had and politicians can ‘shop around for convenient truths’, researchers and academics cannot always operate on their own to advise government. Consequently, ‘knowledge coalitions’ have become increasingly important. Kremer suggests that, partly as a consequence of the experience with the ‘Identification with the Netherlands’ report, different stakeholders are now more likely to be drawn into the process of producing WRR reports, including a variety of academics (including critics of the WRR), policy-makers, and civil society organizations such as employers’ associations and trade unions. She argues that the WRR has increasingly taken on the role of an ‘honest broker’ in the process of production and exchange of knowledge and research for policy-debates and policy-making.

Chapter 7, authored by Grete Brochmann, focuses on the role of research in policy debates about immigration and the sustainability of the welfare state in Norway. The contribution of experts to policy-making processes in Norway was formalized in 1972 through the establishment of the Norwegian Official Commissions (Norges offentlige utredninger—NOU). The Official Commissions have been important in policy-making in Norway, playing a significant role in the ‘consensual Norwegian governance’. The chapter draws on the author’s experience with two specific commissions, which Brochmann chaired, on the relationship between international migration and the sustainability of the Norwegian welfare state. Brochmann argues that, while these commissions did have some impact on actual policy changes, they had fundamental effects on public discourse. In the early 2000s, immigration became one of the most emotionally charged issues in public debates in Norway. Public discourse became quite polarized, first with regard to issues related to refugees and then, following EU enlargement in 2004, also with regard to the free movement of EU workers. The chapter discusses how the first of the two commissions analysed played an important role in promoting public understanding of the diversity of immigrants in Norway, thus reducing existing stereotypes and prejudices among the population at the time. According to Brochmann, the first Commission also played a key role in moving public discourse in the direction of accepting more open discussions of the impact of immigration on the welfare state, thus also encouraging more conscious policy-making in the field of immigrant integration. The second, more recent Commission was established in the wake of the large inflows of refugees and migrants into Europe in 2015. The Commission recommended an institutional approach to integration and cultural adaptation, emphasizing the importance of long-term processes of inclusion and socialization through the educational system and the labour market. While it is too early to assess its policy impacts, (p.12) Brochmann suggests that the public reception of the Commission report so far reflects a general trend toward a situation where policy-making based on research and facts has become almost common sense in Norway in the field of immigrant integration.

Chapter 8, written by Klaus Zimmermann, discusses Germany’s evolving migration policy challenges and developments from the perspective of a scientific observer and academic policy advisor over a period of several decades. It reviews the major migration policy debates in Germany since World War II to discuss the difficulties encountered by researchers when trying to convey key research messages and findings to society and politics. The core policy issues discussed in this chapter include accepting the status of Germany as an immigration country, the creation of an immigration law for admitting skilled migrants based on Schröder’s ‘Green Card’, the debate about transitional employment restrictions on workers from the new EU member states in the context of EU Eastern enlargements in 2004 and 2007, the fight against misperceptions about ‘welfare migration’, the debate about the need for internal labour mobility in Europe, the challenge of openness to high-skilled labour migration to Germany, and the 2015 ‘refugee crisis’. Zimmermann explains why, in his experience, the media are the most important channel for policy advice. He argues that a fundamental problem with traditional media is that they are committed to balanced reporting which, he argues, can lead to a bias against mainstream scientific findings, as the importance given to minority findings within the research literature is too great. The chapter emphasizes the importance of promoting successful migrant role models as one of the key tools for influencing public debates and policy-making on migration and integration in Germany.

Chapter 9, by Kristof Tamas, discusses the Swedish experience with government-funded committees to discuss critically the potential opportunities, benefits, and pitfalls when attempting to bridge the gap between research and policy-making. The chapter reviews the Swedish committee system, in general, and the functioning of migration and integration committees working in the 1970s through to the 1990s, in particular. It provides a detailed discussion of a specific case of a committee—the Integration Policy Power Commission set up in 2000 to investigate integration, including discrimination issues, in Sweden—where this form of research became heavily politicized and led to a major public controversy. Tamas compares the experiences of government committees with those of two other types of research–policy interactions: think tanks—which receive funding from, for example, the private sector or various interest groups, but which might nevertheless be selectively interpreted and politicized by various political interest groups; and a more independent form of government-funded committee without direct political involvement—such as the Migration Studies Delegation (Delmi). (p.13) Tamas concludes that politics-based evidence can easily undermine the legitimacy of policy-making. This is why, Tamas argues, there is a need for more transparency in the committee system when formulating the terms of reference and selecting the researchers tasked with an enquiry. Committees need to operate at a measured distance from the government, permitted to be both critical and supportive of government policies.

Chapter 10, authored by Philip Martin, focuses on the United States. The chapter discusses examples of government-funded efforts to develop consensus among researchers on the number and impacts of migrants in the United States, including the Bi-National Commission on Mexico–US Migration and National Academy of Sciences studies released in 1997 and 2016. Martin argues that the US experience demonstrates that, even when researchers achieve consensus on the socio-economic impacts of migrants, the results can be interpreted very differently by what Martin calls admissionists (who favour more immigration and the legalization of unauthorized foreigners) and restrictionists (who oppose amnesty and want to reduce immigration). The chapter suggests that the overall effect of economic research on policy-making in the United States has been muted because migration’s major economic effects are (re)distributional, with migrants and owners of capital the major winners. Martin argues that admissionists generally stress the positive net effects of migration for individual migrants, the minimal costs to US workers and other benefits of immigration ranging from preserving industries to repopulating cities and increasing diversity. In contrast, restrictionists highlight migration as a key reason, along with technology and trade, for depressing wages and hurting low-skilled Americans, increasing inequality, and reducing social trust. The chapter argues that, as the numbers of migrants have risen, the debate over migration policy has become increasingly dominated by the most extreme admissionists and restrictionists. According to Martin, researchers are also tugged towards these ‘no borders’ and ‘no migrants’ extremes by the funders who support and publicize their work. Martin argues that migration research risks joining other issues where links between funders and researchers make research findings suspect, reducing the credibility of experts and research in a wide range of fields.

Part III International Experiences

Having discussed the links between research, public debates, and policy-making in different national contexts in Part II of the book, Part III shifts the analytical focus to research aimed at informing migration debates and policies across countries and/or at regional, supra-national levels of governance. Chapter 11, written by Elizabeth Collett, provides a critical discussion of the role of evidence in EU policy developments. It reviews the formal and (p.14) informal modes of research–policy interactions at EU level that have developed since the late 2000s, and assesses the relative merits of each. The chapter concentrates particularly on the events of 2015–2018—including the so-called ‘refugee crisis’—to reflect on how the relationships between data, research, and policy are changing, and what lessons might be learned for European policy-makers and researchers. Collett sees a strong correlation between how far EU institutions are actively seeking to engage with external expertise, and how far that expertise can then influence its own policy work. She suggests that proximity to policy-makers (how far experts are embedded in policy-making networks at EU or national level), reputation (the canon of expertise that researchers bring to the table), and familiarity (whether the research framing fits within the pre-existing views of policy-makers) are all factors affecting influence. The chapter also identifies an important paradox: policy-makers are, according to Collett, ready to hear from civil society and academic actors who can offer a first-hand account of policy effects, or raise issues that otherwise do not reach Brussels. At the same time, however, access to EU policy-makers is greatly advanced by regular presence in the policy-making environment, whether in Brussels or in a national capital. Researchers who are undertaking new fieldwork tend to have limited access to the policy-making environment. Thus, Collett argues, as the scope of EU interest in migration broadens to non-EU countries and the implementation of EU policy at local level, the gap between knowledge production and access to EU policy-makers is likely to broaden. The chapter thus suggests that the role of effective interlocutors who can distil information and draw relevant policy conclusions from the latest research has become ever more important.

To inform and help develop its external migration policies, the EU has funded a wide range of different research projects and cooperations. Chapter 12, by Agnieszka Weinar, discusses the experiences of one of these EU-funded projects and ‘knowledge-brokers’: the Consortium for Applied Research on International Migration (CARIM) Observatories at the European University Institute (EUI), funded by the European Commission between 2004 and 2013. The Observatories were given the task of building a knowledge base on migration in the southern and eastern neighbourhoods of the EU, and also in India. The chapter focuses mainly on the case of the CARIM-South and CARIM-East Observatories. It provides a critical analysis of the experiences of these two projects, to identify key insights and lessons for consideration regarding the relationship between research and policy-making in cross-country settings. Weinar discusses the Observatories in the wider context of EU policy developments and reflects on the challenges of collaborative research in a complex international environment. She reflects on the various risks that can hamper such cross-country collaborations, including the language of knowledge production and variations in research culture. The key challenge, according to (p.15) Weinar, is how to create and sustain a genuine partnership in collaborative research and research–policy communications that includes and effectively engages academics from different academic cultures, policy-makers from different institutional settings, and actors from other sectors that bring their own perspectives. She argues that effective partnerships rely on the acknowledgement of diversity, understood as linguistic, cultural, and institutional diversity that impacts on research goals, its execution, and on the policy–research dialogue. Echoing some of the arguments made by Elizabeth Collett in Chapter 11, Weinar suggests that collaborative research in such a context requires a team of knowledge translators (or brokers) that have the trust of the policy-makers and the researchers from the countries where the data collection and research is taking place.

Chapter 13, written by Howard Duncan, provides critical reflections on the experiences of the Metropolis project, including Metropolis Canada and Metropolis International. Founded in 1995 and part-funded by the Canadian government, the aim of Metropolis has been to ‘enhance policy through research’ by making connections between and within academic disciplines, government ministries, and civil society organizations. The chapter first discusses the workings of the Metropolis Project in Canada, with its university-based Centres of Excellence and a broad partnership of agencies of government at all levels and civil society organizations across the country, followed by an account of how it has worked—and continues to work—internationally. Duncan reviews the reasons for the various successes of Metropolis and identifies key challenges that remain. He argues, for example, that the academic reward structure that favours publication in academic journals and rarely recognizes work in support of policy has been a significant barrier discouraging participation of some researchers, especially early-career scholars. He also argues that academics working from a critical theory perspective remain largely ignored by the policy world, but those engaged in empirical and statistical studies often find a much more receptive policy audience. At the same time, Duncan argues, governments can be conservative in their range of interests and slow to embrace new fields developed by the research community. The chapter also discusses the challenges Metropolis has encountered when trying to reach countries in the Global South. Duncan suggests that this is partly because the relation between migration and cities—a long-standing focus area for Metropolis—is quite different in the North than it is in the South. The agenda of most Metropolis discussions has primarily tended to reflect the interests of the countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and those are the interests of destination societies: integration and social cohesion, economic effects, demographic trends, smuggling and trafficking, and managing undocumented migration.

(p.16) Chapter 14, written by Katy Long, discusses the role that both research and researchers have played in (re)forming the global governance of international migration, with a special focus on refugees. The chapter considers the motivations for researchers engaging in global governance reform, surveys the historical role of research in defining policy and considers some of the problems faced by researchers working in this area today. Long argues that, while research has played a vital role in identifying and systematizing the weaknesses within migration’s global governance systems, research has an extremely limited ability to shape or effect reform directly, except where it fits with pre-determined political agendas. She suggests that researchers often play an important role in conferring legitimacy on processes of migration reform, as global governance ‘experts’. But Long questions whether this type of engagement has much impact in shaping global agendas, rather than simply legitimizing existing political platforms. There is a clear risk, Long argues, that the experts who are invited to the table are those whose conclusions best fit the policy preferences of key policy-makers and stakeholders. Long argues for ‘fewer experts and more research’, precisely because the latter does not offer any ‘quick fixes’ to what are typically very difficult and complex policy challenges. The chapter makes the case for research that is policy-relevant without being policy-driven, calling for more innovative collaborations between researchers and policy-makers where researchers play an active role in helping design and in building policy projects. Critically, Long argues that for researchers to become policy innovators, new policy ideas must be given room for failure, which requires a major change in the way many researchers, policy-makers, and policy reviewers think about and evaluate new policy initiatives.

Part IV Conclusions, Lessons Learnt, and the Way Forward

Chapter 15 concludes the book by identifying key insights and lessons that can be learnt from the diversity of national and international level experiences with efforts to link research to public debates and policy-making on migration and integration. The conclusion returns to the conceptual framework outlined in this introduction—focusing on three-way relationships between research, public debates, and policy-making—and highlights what we have learnt about these relationships from the different types of analyses in this book. It includes a number of recommendations for researchers, policy practitioners, and other participants in public debates (such as journalists) that are aimed at strengthening the links between them. The concluding chapter argues that, when the different actors contributing to research, public debates, and policy-making understand and appreciate each other’s constraints, such common understandings can pave the way for (p.17) improved policy-making processes and better public policies that deal more effectively with the real challenges of migration and integration. (p.18)


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(1.) See Deacon 2016, www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/06/10/michael-goves-guide-to-britains-greatest-enemy-the-experts/

(2.) See The Economist 2016, www.economist.com/leaders/2016/09/10/art-of-the-lie