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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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Metropolis and Post-truth Politics

Metropolis and Post-truth Politics

‘Enhancing Policy through Research’

(p.204) 13 Metropolis and Post-truth Politics
Bridging the Gaps

Howard Duncan

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter discusses the experiences of the International Metropolis Project which began in 1996 with the vision of enhancing immigration and integration policy through an application of empirical research. Conceived as a network among policy officials, researchers, and civil society, Metropolis works to encourage research that is useful to policy, to have research used in policy development, and to improve the lives of those affected by migration, the migrants—those in their destination societies, and those in their homelands. Following the bridge symbol of its logo, Metropolis fosters the building of strong working relations across the academic, policy, and civil society sectors on an international scale. The underlying belief is that the research–policy gap is more effectively bridged through interpersonal relations than through traditional research dissemination practices. The confidence established through these relations may serve to fight the rise of post-truth politics in the migration field.

Keywords:   Metropolis, migration, integration, research, policy, network, confidence, relationships, policy relevance


In 1995, the government of Canada, concerned to shore up its stock of evidence upon which to build immigration and integration policy, turned to the academic community. Its approach was to offer incentives to social scientists to turn their attention to immigration phenomena, an area that was little studied at the time in Canada. Thus was created 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. Funding was provided to support research in areas of direct relevance to policy development; also, the immigration ministry, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, provided a Secretariat whose principal role was to build bridges across which members of the three sectors (the academy, government, and civil society) would travel to engage one another actively, all with the ambition to improve the outcomes of immigration for both the immigrants and the Canadian public.

At the same time, the government of Canada, in concert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, led the creation of an unfunded correlate—the International Metropolis Project—to motivate international comparative research and policy–research exchanges among an initial group of organizations within countries belonging to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The Metropolis Secretariat at Citizenship and Immigration Canada (now Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada) was responsible for managing operations, expanding (p.205) membership of the network and supporting the Metropolis International Steering Committee (ISC)—the Project’s governing body. Although the international project was and remains unfunded, it has been able to rely upon the members of its Steering Committee to host and fund its activities—principally, its annual conferences. The Canadian arm of Metropolis ceased research operations in 2012 with the closing of the Centres of Excellence, but the annual Canadian conference continues. The closing of the Canadian arm had no effect upon the operations of the International Metropolis Project, as it has always operated without core funding. The Metropolis model is that of a special project that created a network, but not a formal organization with independent legal status. The Project had dedicated research funding for the Centres of Excellence, and they operated only in Canada. Both the Canadian and the International Metropolis Projects had governance infrastructure, but in neither case were they envisaged as formal organizations.

Metropolis adopted the motto, ‘Enhancing policy through research’, and adopted a bridge motif for its logo. Of course, the bridge signifies the connections that Metropolis has always tried to build across not only the three sectors of its participants, but also within each of the sectors: across academic disciplines, across government ministries, and across civil society organizations, all of which activity is on an international basis.

This chapter will emphasize the relations between the academy and governments without going into detail about the substantial role of civil society. It will begin by covering the workings of the Metropolis Project in Canada, followed by an account of how it has worked—and continues to work—internationally. Working internationally always brings special challenges, some of which are highlighted. The chapter closes with a look at the recent rise of populism, the implications for academics and academic research, and whether the Metropolis model offers ways to diminish the impact of populism on government and public discourse. It should be made plain that the author is writing from a background of over twenty years with the Secretariat of the Metropolis Project, both the Canadian and the international projects which he continues to lead. For the first sixteen years, this direct involvement was with the Metropolis Secretariat, which was part of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration in Canada; since 2012, the Metropolis Secretariat has been at Carleton University in Ottawa. Much of what follows is based upon personal experiences and reflections of this time. Although a certain amount of subjectivity is inevitable, the author has tried to retain a healthy modesty in these remarks. The term ‘Metropolis’ is frequently used throughout this chapter; when it is invoked in the context of positions or decisions taken by Metropolis, the reference is to decisions made by the Metropolis ISC or the Metropolis Secretariat acting on behalf of the ISC.

(p.206) Some Metropolis Basics

As befits an ambition of intellectual bridge-building and to emphasize a point made earlier, Metropolis was conceived as a network, not as an organization. Developing productive working relations among such an array of organizations was thought best done with the flexibility and informality of a network rather than through the more formal structures of an organization, particularly an organization that receives core funding from its member organizations. In particular, Metropolis has eschewed adopting specific positions on migration and integration policy, choosing instead to remain non-partisan and apolitical apart from one core foundation. That core foundation is the belief that it is unhelpful for societies to attempt a full prevention of migration into their territories and that, instead, so far as possible, migration ought to be managed in the best interests of the receiving society and the migrants, and that this management be carried out through policy grounded in empirical research.

Metropolis has always recognized that how a society manages migration is to be tailored to its particular social, political, economic, and demographic situation and history. As a result, Metropolis has encouraged discussions that compare and contrast national and local situations, seeking data, evidence, and analyses that will help inform each other’s considerations and policy development.1 Metropolis has avoided prescribing universal solutions or even best practices, offering instead a fully neutral discussion forum. The neutrality of Metropolis discussions has been one of the attractions, particularly for governments who have long viewed academic research and civil society as often being hostile to their actions and decisions. Metropolis neutrality offers them the confidence to participate both in the discussions and as members of the Steering Committee.

That this project carries the name ‘Metropolis’ stems from the recognition that most migration, whether international or internal, is now destined to the cities of the world.2 The original intention was that Metropolis would encourage and support policy research on how migration affects cities, and how cities can best respond through the various mechanisms of integration available to them and in partnership with higher levels of government. Over the years, Metropolis’ reach grew beyond the interests of cities to embrace the interests of national governments and the international community, and its subject matter interests expanded well beyond integration to include the phenomenon of migration itself. Despite this expansion in the scope of Metropolis, its name remains pertinent, as cities remain the principal destination of the vast majority of the world’s migrants. Indeed, the international community is looking ever more carefully at cities not only as destinations, but also as active players in the management of migration.3

(p.207) Bridging the gap between research and policy has, then, been a principal concern for Metropolis, which has always recognized that this matter of policy relevance has what one may call epistemological aspects and also inter-personal, psychological, and sociological aspects. In other words, to some extent, this issue is one of relations between ideas—ideas from both research and policy; but it is also, and significantly, a matter of relations between persons, those who carry out research and those who develop policy.

Metropolis maintains that policy relevance is ‘in the eye of the beholder’ and not something simply delivered on a plate by a researcher to a policy analyst or decision-maker. Because research does not alone determine policy, empirical research findings are neutral with regard to policy, and their relevance is a characteristic imposed either by the researcher who discerns a link to a policy issue, or by a policy-maker who draws such a link.4 Metropolis has purposely ignored the quest for a logic of policy-making and sees policy development more from a psychological than an epistemological perspective. There are numerous models of the policy–research relationship, referring to such things as the policy cycle. These rational re-constructions are of little interest to Metropolis because real-world policy-making is inherently messy and iterative, not a clean matter of deductive, or even inductive, relations between evidence and policy conclusion. There are many reasons for this, among them that the determinants of policy go far beyond empirical evidence, and those who influence policy go far beyond those who produce empirical evidence. That the Metropolis Secretariat was located within the Canadian immigration department for sixteen years has given us insights into the actual workings of policy development. It has long been recognized that traditional means of disseminating research articles and books is no guarantee of influence or value-added. The busy schedules of most policy officials leave them little, if any, time to read lengthy and complex material; often, the language of the researcher is impenetrable to the official and, often, the researcher is ill-equipped to explain the relevance to policy of their work. Metropolis has found it more effective to bring the researchers and policy officials into the same room for mutual engagement.

This requires no small amount of confidence-building and, one could say, professional culture shift. The gap between research and policy is often, at heart, a gap in trust. Government officials often view academic researchers as, at best, uninterested in policy or, at worst, as hostile to it. Academic researchers can view governments as targets and can feel that working with them risks their academic integrity. Further, university reward systems do not normally value work on the grounds that it has influenced policy, let alone work directly with governments; reward systems continue to recognize primarily peer-reviewed academic publications and not contributions to government policy or publications in the grey literature. To some extent, this mutual (p.208) suspicion is rooted in a lack of awareness of what each sector does. The Metropolis approach to dealing with these inherent suspicions relied heavily on in-person contact. But, in the case of the Canadian Metropolis Project and its funded research programme, it took a specific administrative measure to get the Project off the ground.

The Canadian Metropolis Project

Canada has a long experience with immigration—one that the national government has taken very seriously, as is evident in the investments that it has made in creating a large supportive bureaucracy with offices not only in Canada, but throughout the world. Canada’s immigration programme, which is administered now by the federal government’s Department of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship, has always had as its principal objective to enhance the Canadian economy and to raise the standards of living for its citizens. In other words, the programme has been run primarily for economic rather than humanitarian purposes, although Canada has also long been one of the world’s most open countries to re-settled refugees and asylum seekers. In managing such a large-scale economic programme, the government needed an increasingly strong evidence base for setting and adjusting policy on the numbers of immigrants to bring into Canada, for considering their human capital characteristics and for enhancing their integration outcomes. The Metropolis Project was intended to help the government deepen this evidence base.

Like most OECD countries, Canada has a national social science research funding agency, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). This agency, although government funded and managed, had earned the trust of Canadian researchers, most importantly with regard to the protection of academic freedom and the integrity of the process for selecting projects for funding. When Canada’s immigration ministry, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, began exploring the idea of establishing academic Centres of Excellence to stimulate migration research in the country, the flat response from Canadian universities was that they would only participate if the funds flowed through the SSHRC. Otherwise, they feared that the funds would be used to influence the directions and conclusions of the research. As a result, Metropolis funds, which eventually came from fourteen government agencies, were pooled at the SSHRC and distributed by the Council using peer review adjudication of individual research proposals.5 This measure satisfied the academic sector’s demand that academic freedom be fully respected.

How, though, was the government’s demand that the research be policy relevant satisfied? After all, the only reason for establishing the Metropolis (p.209) research centres was to increase the amount of research done on immigration and integration in Canada and, ultimately, to provide a stronger evidence base for government policy. The government’s demand was met, first, in specifying in the initial call for proposals to establish for the centres a set of broad research areas within which the centres’ research activities were to take place. Second, to reflect the dynamics of immigration and integration, the research centres were to respond to an annual call for research projects in which the themes of the year’s research were specified as a result of discussions among the government and academic partners. The use of the SSHRC as an intermediary of the funding was the foundation upon which the rest of the edifice in Canada was built, and it was upon this foundation that the discussions leading to the choice of annual research themes took place. Although the university-based Centres of Excellence had academic freedom, they were expected to work in partnership not only with the Metropolis Secretariat, which was an arm of the government, but also with all of the federal government funding partners. This was to ensure, so far as possible, that the research was in areas that would best inform government policy, as well as providing an effective means for communicating the results of the research and to build trust among the players. Active committees were formed to make this possible, some chaired by the government with others chaired by the five research centres.

Over the first three years of the Project, the levels of trust, which were low at the outset, began to build as a direct result of the in-person discussions, which also came to include discussions of research results and how policy should respond. On a broader scale, in my experience and assessment, it was the annual conferences that made the greatest contribution to establishing trust among the sectors. These events were organized as joint policy–research events that also brought civil society organizations into the mix of voices. Both the plenary sessions and the workshop (breakout) sessions required exchanges among people from government and the academy, and it was through these, especially the more intimate workshops, that trust was built and significant working relationships established. The conferences functioned as neutral discussion fora where all present were there to contribute to a shared objective of improving the lives of immigrants in Canada, and to enhancing their contributions to the Canadian society and its economy. The culture of the conferences was one of cooperation and it was extremely rare that exchanges became confrontational. This overt culture of cooperation allowed the government officials to continue attending these events, about which they were very sceptical early on.

Did the model work in Canada? The goal of increasing the amount of research devoted to immigration and integration was certainly realized, with hundreds of peer-reviewed publications as well as hundreds of working papers (p.210) published. The number of researchers in the area grew substantially as a result of the funding directed to these themes, as did the number of migration programmes in Canadian universities. That the government indicated that it was interested in this field of study was, in itself, a motivation for some researchers. It is noteworthy that, since funding for the Metropolis Centres ended in 2012, all but one of the research centres has closed and academic interest in the subject is beginning to shift to other areas, especially those with dedicated funding. Evaluations of the Metropolis Centres of Excellence programme indicated that the government’s policy ambitions were largely satisfied. Officials’ understanding of immigration and integration phenomena was thought to have been enhanced, and there were various specific policy influences that Metropolis research was credited for—among them with regard to the importance of language abilities for integration, especially in the labour market, the role of foreign credentials in labour market integration, and the growth of ethnic enclaves in Canadian cities.6 Canada changed its selection criteria for skilled workers as a result of this research and introduced significant measures to manage the fact of foreign credentials and their degree of fit with Canadian employer standards. We know that the research directly affected policy development in these cases from the Metropolis Secretariat having worked directly with government policy officials within the Department of Citizenship and Immigration and from the evaluations that were conducted.

The Canadian project was shut down after seventeen years of funding from the government. It was always conceived as a limited term experimental project; although it had initially been intended to last five years, it was renewed twice. After the seventeen years of public funding, the government decided to turn to other areas of policy, also in the hope that Metropolis could continue some of its operations independently. Although this could be seen as a sign of failure, the fact that the Project was only intended to be a five-year experiment suggests that it did better than was anticipated. Furthermore, although the research funds have disappeared, along with four of the five research centres (one in Toronto continues to function to a lesser degree), the annual conference continues with strong participation from all three sectors and a central emphasis on the various aspects of settlement and integration. Such has been the impact of the personal and professional connections that were established previously that the conference in 2017 attracted over 800 participants, the same level as during the years of full funding.

Institutions that support research tend not to support special projects for long durations. Social science research institutions are no different. They may have a long-standing open call for proposals that may endure for decades, but a special project in a single area will only rarely continue for long. Research institutions will be pressed by many other interests to invest special project funds in other areas, especially when the competition for funds is high. (p.211) The lesson for academics who rely upon funding from government research granting institutions is not to expect indeterminate funding for special projects. Such special funding is best regarded as seed funding, and research centres in receipt of these funds would do well to invest in their own institutional capacities such that, when the dedicated funds come to an end, as they almost certainly will, they are ready to secure financial support in other ways, success here being grounded in the capacities developed over the period when the institution received special funds.

The International Metropolis Project

The fundamental goals of the International Metropolis Project are the same as those of its Canadian counterpart, but the mechanisms for achieving them have been different because of the lack of core funding. Internationally, Metropolis relies upon there being sufficient goodwill among the members of the network to keep its operations going. Interest in migration has grown dramatically across the globe since the late 1990s—not only among governments, but also among academic researchers, think tanks, and civil society organizations. The rise of migration on the agenda of the international community has been remarkable, with now twenty-two members as compared with only ten members in the original Geneva Migration Group.7 High-level meetings of the international community have attracted not only a growing number of government representatives, but also members of civil society and the academy as well, such has been the appetite to participate in meetings of the United Nations General Assembly, the Global Forum on Migration and Development, the Mayoral Forum on Migration and Development, and a host of conferences and seminars offered by the members of the Global Migration Group (GMG) and many other organizations worldwide. In 1996, when Metropolis launched its first international conference, there were very few organizations organizing regular conferences in the migration field. Metropolis had little competition then but, today, faces a very different situation.

Given the lack of a formal organizational structure, notably the lack of a budget for operations or research, Metropolis has had to be flexible and responsive to the changing migration environment to remain competitive. Members of the ISC contribute time and, when serving as hosts of a conference, seminar, or ISC meeting, the finances required by the event. The ISC membership, together with the Secretariat offices in Ottawa, Amsterdam, Manila, Seoul, Beijing, and New Delhi, form the core of the network. The ISC membership includes organizations from each of the three sectors and decides cooperatively on such matters as the conference host, themes and speakers, and the strategic directions of the network—directions that will allow Metropolis to maintain its perceived value to the international (p.212) community, which increasingly has many options from which to choose to whom to give their attention. The choice of conference themes is intended to reflect not only Metropolis’ views on which are the issues of current importance, but also what Metropolis sees as emerging issues to which government policy-makers and researchers will need to pay attention. The choice of themes not only provides a framework for selecting speakers, but also provides a framework for the programme of workshops and serves as a signal to the research community of what Metropolis regards as subjects most worthy of empirical research.

The organization of conference workshops has been a significant instrument for bridging the policy–research gap. Rather than the workshops being put together by the central conference organizers, it is the Metropolis constituency who does so, through a ‘Call for Workshop Proposals’ for each conference. This means that there is a high degree of ownership of the workshops by those who organize and participate in them. A central requirement of the application process is a demonstration that the discussion will include a mix of academic, governmental, and civil society participants and is conducted on an international basis. Those who wish to create a workshop but who find this requirement difficult to meet can rely upon the conference organizers and Secretariats for help. The result of the decentralization of the workshop programme was a steep increase in the number of conference registrants, the repetition of workshops year after year for groups that were established and that created their own policy–research plans, and a progressive growth in the utility of these events as meeting grounds for researchers and government officials. The strong connections between research and policy that the conferences provide remain the hallmark of Metropolis.

One of the ambitions of the International Metropolis Project has been to increase the overall level of understanding of the phenomena associated with international migration, be they, for example, with regard to the flows of people; their settlement and integration; their impacts on economies and societies, especially those of cities; or the various forms that migration takes. The assumption is that the more comprehensive the understanding of migration and its effects, the more effective will be policy based upon this understanding.

The issues that Metropolis established for itself at its first conference held in Milan in 1996 were, like those in the Canadian context, concerned with integration in its essential guises of immigrants into OECD countries (labour market, housing, and neighbourhoods, discrimination, education, access to social services, and so on). But, in subsequent years, Metropolis gradually enlarged the scope of its interests to include migration flows themselves, (p.213) including not only South–North flows, but also flows South–South, North–North, and North–South; the special circumstances of refugees; transnational communities; multiple migration patterns; smuggling and trafficking; the global competition for talent; the relation between war and migration; and many more.

Metropolis and the Global South

The point is that, to attain a degree of comprehensiveness of understanding of migration, Metropolis shifted from a network primarily interested in integration to one that sought to bring virtually all aspects of migration to bear on its discussions. Furthermore, it began to enlarge its geographical scope beyond the small number of national partners that it began with in 1996 to the same end. Metropolis now has a more extensive presence in Europe, Latin America, and especially Asia, having launched a special project, Metropolis Asia, with Secretariat offices to sustain a programme of policy–research activity. The partnership in Asia was also Metropolis’ first sustained foray into the Global South, an ambition long-stalled for lack of funding to support the participation of organizations in those countries.

The introduction of members of the Metropolis ISC from Asia and the Global South has strengthened the perspective that the South brings to the table, a perspective that notably includes the relationship between migration and development—at this time, a major focus of the international community.8 Also, Metropolis has been able to increase the discussions from the point of view of what some still think of as the sending countries, although the distinction between sending and receiving countries is now so blurred as to be almost without value.9 Regardless, understanding better how countries of the Global South or traditional sending countries think about and develop policy to manage out-migration is useful for those in the receiving countries. For example, coming to realize that migration is increasingly multiple in its direction, rather than a mostly one-way permanent change of home, is essential for receiving countries, especially those in the OECD whose migration policies have long been premised on the permanency of migration. It has been said that there is nothing more permanent than a temporary migrant, but one could now say, without irony, that there is nothing more temporary than permanent migration. The hope expressed in enlarging the discussion table through a greater diversity of membership as well as subject matter is to increase the sophistication of policy throughout the world through an enlargement of the perspectives of the discussions.

(p.214) Remaining Challenges

Metropolis has achieved much of what it set out to do twenty years ago and has expanded its scope in ways that it did not foresee when it began. Although its model of bridging the policy–research gap through the engagement activities of the network, rather than through supply-driven dissemination, has met with some degree of success, the challenge posed by historical mutual suspicions continues as new members join. The task of trust-building is a continuing one, and it is unlikely it will ever be fully resolved given the normal changes in personnel, especially in the policy arena. The strategy of sustained conversations in neutral settings among the three sectors, conversations that would build trust and show the mutual value of collaboration, requires constant attention and modernizing, if only to meet the dramatic increase in competition for these sorts of discussion. And although many academics chose to work in these discussion settings, intending to support rational policy-making, others have deferred. The academic reward structure that favours publication in academic journals and rarely recognizes work in support of policy is a significant barrier, especially for early-career researchers. 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 receptive policy audience. Nevertheless, existing reward structures remain a disincentive for many, especially younger, scholars.

One way that Metropolis assesses success is the extent to which participants from the three main sectors establish enduring working relations through which policy is enhanced by research. In general, Metropolis has seen more success in the traditional migration regions of North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, but has had less success in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. It has met with significant success in building policy–research partnerships on issues of migration flows, but integration has been the strongest suit, with a considerable degree of cooperation on labour market integration, the role of language in integration, foreign credentials and experience, media, and discrimination. Metropolis has done less well on emerging integration issues; for example, the societal effects of transnationalism and multiple migration patterns. Governments tend to be conservative in their range of interests and can be slow to embrace new fields developed by the research community. Similarly, Metropolis has had less success on recent developments in trafficking and smuggling, international relations, demographic trajectories, and the emerging global competition for talent.

Metropolis’ ambitions to reach countries in the Global South have met with only limited success to date. To some extent, this is a result of the limited funds that are available in those countries and the fact that Metropolis, being but a network, has been unable to offer financial support to people and (p.215) organizations from those parts of the world. Even in Asia, where Metropolis has enjoyed more success than in Africa, most participation has been from the wealthier countries such as Japan, China, South Korea, and the Philippines. Countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Cambodia, Thailand, and Myanmar have been unable to participate to date.

But finances are only part of the explanation, one could argue. The agenda of most Metropolis discussions reflects the interests of primarily the OECD countries, and those are the interests of destination societies: integration and social cohesion, economic effects, demographic trends, smuggling and trafficking, and managing undocumented migration. While there are analogues to these issues from the point of view of countries in the South, their issues have more to do with the protection of their émigrés; the right to work in countries of destination, be they in the North or the South (South–South migration is now at roughly the same magnitude as South–North migration);10 the rights of migrant workers and their families (as presented in the UN Convention in this area which has not yet been signed by any OECD country, save Mexico which is also a major source country of migrants to the United States);11 the size and speed of urbanization—that is, internal migration; and the capacity of their cities to manage rapid population growth and so on.

The relation between migration and cities is quite different in the North than it is in the South.12 Cities in the North are more concerned with matters of social integration, inclusion, and the protection of rights, or, alternatively, with the perceived risks and costs of migrants in their cities. For many cities in the Global South, the issues are more immediate; for example, the provision of housing, drinking water, sanitation, transportation, electricity, and other basic services. For many megacities and peri-urban settlements in the South, concerns of inclusion are but a luxury. The point is that the themes of Metropolis gatherings tend to be those of the Global North and that this may stand as another reason for the relatively low participation of academics and government officials from the South.

This is another form of the policy–research gap—the gap between the issues of the North and those of the South. This gap in interests and priorities is also evident in the global migration discussion that has been taking place since the early 2000s. Many countries of the Global North were reluctant participants in such exercises as the Global Commission on International Migration—fearing that the emphasis would be on access to OECD economies for migrant workers from the South (a hesitation that continues, although has somewhat abated, through to today)—and the Global Forum on Migration and Development, which has emphasized the rights of migrants, including even the right to migrate—an issue only for the traditional countries of origin. Metropolis will need to find more common ground between North and South if it is to bridge this geographical gap and increase participation from non-OECD countries.

(p.216) Many in the migration field wish to bring the business community to the discussion table, seeing business employers as a significant influence on migration flows, as implicated in the observance of migrants’ rights, and as having tacit responsibilities for immigrant integration. Some would suggest that businesses have obligations to employ immigrants and refugees.13 Metropolis has had little success in attracting the private sector for the simple reason that there is little clear advantage to their participation. As was the case with relations between the academic and the policy sectors, trust may be a barrier here. Many in the business community see the academic sector, especially the social sciences, as highly critical of business. Where businesses have interests in immigration, they normally lie in government relations rather than with the academic community, and the business sector already has a significant lobby with governments. In other words, there is little in it for business to join an exercise in policy–research relations as they are now conceived. The private sector is, however, deeply engaged in research to support its planning and operations; the challenge for Metropolis and others in the migration field is to develop capacities that would appeal to the business community.14 One such area could be the intensifying global competition for talent, a competition that appears to be affecting migration flows, for example, through incentives to return migration by such rapidly developing countries of origin as China, India, and Mexico.

The Rise of Populism

In 2016–2017, many felt the effects of a slowly but inexorably rising populist politics throughout much of the world, a form of politics that has been deeply suspicious of experts who many populists see not as neutral arbiters of scientific veracity but, rather, as the voices of an elite with a vested interest in the outcomes of their research. What is sometimes referred to as ‘post-truth politics’ is an evolution of a long-held suspicion that academic research is biased either politically or ideologically, or towards the interests of its funders, especially when those funders are corporate. The global interest in migration has reached a level perhaps never before experienced, partly because of governments’ growing interest, levels of migration much higher than even during the post-World War I era, but also partly as a result of populist politicians and lobbies having raised levels of fear regarding immigration among increasingly sceptical publics.

Mainstream media have become quite politically polarized in some countries, with some strongly favouring populist political parties in their reporting as well as in their opinion pieces. More recently, as has been well-noted, social media have begun to play an ever-stronger role in the formation—and, perhaps, the hardening—of public attitudes. Many of these politically extreme (p.217) mainstream and social media promulgate what could be termed ‘alternate accounts’ of the workings of a society—spreading conspiracy theories; speculations about the true intentions of governments and other members of the ‘elite’, including academic researchers; and spurious pseudo-science on just about anything that one may imagine. Many share a view that academic research is biased towards protecting the positions of the elite in a society. There are but a very few governments that, in 2018, openly embrace immigration and welcome refugees despite the messages of the benefits of migration from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations, and other members of the international community.

Metropolis has been only minimally affected by this rise of populism and nationalism, including among its member countries. The reason is that, despite a sizeable number of populist politicians and their supporters in the public realm, few governments are anti-immigrant populist in their actual policies. Most of those who participate in Metropolis activities support well-managed migration and integration. The hosts of Metropolis conferences have supported these events because they value the neutral exchanges among academics, policy officials, and civil society. A small number of anti-immigration demonstrations have occurred at Metropolis events, but little else to cause the Project to steer a new course.

How does post-truth politics affect the relations between policy and research? One way to look at this is from the point of view of the marketplace of ideas, which has become increasingly competitive over time, especially with the rise of information and communication technologies (ICT) and the overall effectiveness of communications, including in politics. The sophistication with which messages can now be delivered and the extraordinary speed with which ideas can be spread through ICT puts research back on its heels. The academic community now faces competition to a degree that it has not experienced since the beginnings of The Enlightenment. Scientific research gains its credibility from the care with which it is pursued, as well as the rigorous peer-review processes that must be gone through before results are released to the public. The culture of the best science—social or physical—is inherently conservative, which can mean that scientists are more reluctant than political pundits, or even journalists, to offer public analyses of situations and trends. Fear-laden accounts of migrants committing crimes, taking jobs, eroding national identities, and so on are easy to make, but a responsible rebuttal requires appeal to hard data and analysis, something that takes time and is often more difficult for politicians and their publics to understand. The ‘sound bite’ style of much modern journalism favours the less-considered opinion over the complex analyses of social scientists. The challenge is for the academic research community to become more competitive in the marketplace of ideas, if it is to be a force against populism and post-truth politics.

(p.218) This is not an easy matter. Most social scientists, whether in the field of migration or otherwise, are not trained in communications—possibly even for the classroom, let alone for the news media or policy officials. But more universities are seeing communications with the public as of value to them; they are offering media training to their faculty and encouraging the media to call upon them for expert commentary. For public audiences as well as for government officials, communicating through the media may be more effective than more academic forms of communication; for example, through scholarly publications. Some scholars have taken to blogging their messages, something that has a greater potential reach than academic journals. But the competition in the blogosphere is similarly intense, with reasoned evidence-based blogs having to vie for attention against all others, however rooted in evidence they may or may not be.


There remains value in the Metropolis approach of direct engagement of researchers with policy officials, especially when it endures over time. Although politicians may react quickly to the dynamics of their societies, the development of policy—and, especially, legislation—takes time, and it is this time that offers opportunities for research to influence policy. Further, the Metropolis approach is to enhance the overall level of understanding of migration and integration among policy-makers—again, an exercise that takes place over time, not in the heat of the moment, and that is best accomplished through conversation. Metropolis activities are designed to facilitate these sorts of conversations by building a network characterized by mutual trust among its members. By this means, we hope to provide some degree of competition to the forces of populism and post-truth politics.

To some extent, this will depend upon national and institutional cultures regarding the relationship between research and policy. Some countries have a more easy relationship between the research and policy sectors, and a longer history of collaboration and mutual respect. For others, there is considerable discomfort and mistrust. Metropolis conferences and other activities have been helpful in building bridges here because of the inherent interactions between research and policy that these activities entail. By working together on a problem of common interest, trust can be built and suspicions dispelled and, along with this, an appetite for collaboration can emerge.

Ultimately, what is needed is for governments to accept that there is value for policy-making in solid academic research and to support the research community in ways that respect academic integrity while motivating policy relevant academic work. To do this well, government policy units need to (p.219) protect the time of some of their staff to allow them to read scientific research and, perhaps even more effective, to have conversations with researchers about their work and what it may imply for policy. Policy-makers normally have little time to learn about contemporary research, let alone to think about what it means for either long-term strategic policy or the short-term work that usually dominates their day-to-day lives. Perhaps the contemporary backdrop of post-truth politics will provide governments with a new motivation to engage the research sector. There may be some comfort for governments to be found in the neutrality and integrity that continues to characterize much, although not necessarily all, academic research. Cultivating researchers whose work is characterized by academic integrity will be in the long-term interests of governments and those whose lives they so greatly affect.


Bibliography references:

Canada Century Initiative www.centuryinitiative.ca/

General Assembly of the United Nations. 2006. High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development: 14–15 September 2006. http://www.un.org/esa/population/migration/hld/

General Assembly of the United Nations. 2013. High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development: ‘Making Migration Work’, 3–4 October 2013. http://www.un.org/en/ga/68/meetings/migration/about.shtml

Global Forum on Migration and Development https://gfmd.org/

Global Migration Group www.globalmigrationgroup.org

(p.221) Hiebert, D. 2015. Ethnocultural Minority Enclaves in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. Institute for Research on Public Policy http://irpp.org/research-studies/ethnocultural-minority-enclaves-in-montreal-toronto-and-vancouver

IOM, 2016. Conference on Migrants and Cities. International Dialogue on Migration. http://www.iom.int/sites/default/files/our_work/ICP/IDM/RB-25-CMC-Report_web-final.pdf

Joint Migration and Development Initiative www.migration4development.org/en/content/about-jmdi

Martin, P., and Teitelbaum, M. 2001. The mirage of Mexican guest workers. Foreign Affairs November/December. www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/mexico/2001-11-01/mirage-mexican-guest-workers

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Global Migration Group http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cmw/GMG.htm

Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) www.triec.ca

United Nations General Assembly. 2017. Seventy-first session 13 and 117 of the provisional agenda Globalization and interdependence. http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/migration/events/coordination/15/documents/Report%20of%20SRSG%20on%20Migration%20-%20A.71.728_ADVANCE.pdf

United Nations International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, New York, 18 December 1990. UN Treaty Collection https://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=IND%26mtdsg_no=IV-13%26chapter=4%26clang=_en


(1.) Within Canada, for example, a great deal of comparative research was done on the effects of official language competence on employment rates and income levels. Geographers studied the residential settlement patterns of newcomers to the country, noting where enclave formation was taking place and where greater dispersion was evident. Internationally, Metropolis members have focused much of their attention on such matters as immigrant integration, the effects of naturalization policy and public attitudes towards immigration. The principle vehicle for conveying Metropolis’ policy–research interests internationally is the annual conference, which selects its plenary session themes partly to stimulate the interests of researchers in these themes.

(2.) See, for example, www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/10/how-migration-is-changing-world-cities-charts/

(3.) Consider, for example, that the IOM convened a conference, Migrants and Cities, in Geneva in 2015 at which they launched their 2015 World Migration Report (www.iom.int/world-migration-report-2015), which was devoted to the same topic. The UN Habitat 3 report included many references to cities, as did the Sutherland Report (www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/migration/events/coordination/15/documents/Report%20of%20SRSG%20on%20Migration%20-%20A.71.728_ADVANCE.pdf) prepared on the ending of Sir Peter Sutherland’s tenure as the Special Representative of the Secretary General on migration.

(4.) As philosophers of ethics—following David Hume—have said, one cannot derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’. Research tells us the nature of the case; policy decisions are about what a government believes ought to be the case.

(5.) The federal government partners in Metropolis in its final stages were Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Justice Canada, Heritage Canada, Public Safety Canada, the Canada Border Services Agency, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, FedNor, Western Economic Diversification, Status of Women Canada, and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

(p.220) (6.) See, for example, this 2015 report of Professor Daniel Hiebert of the University of British Columbia: http://irpp.org/research-studies/study-no52/

(7.) See, for example, www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cmw/GMG.htm, for more information on the original Geneva Migration Group. For information on the Global Migration Group of today, see www.globalmigrationgroup.org/

(8.) Consider only the United Nations High Level Dialogue on Migration and Development (2006 and 2013) (www.un.org/en/ga/68/meetings/migration/), the Global Forum on Migration and Development (https://gfmd.org/), the Joint Migration and Development Initiative of the UNDP, and the IOM (www.migration4development.org/en/content/about-jmdi).

(9.) Consider that North–North migration constitutes roughly one quarter of the world’s total migration flows. See www.un.org/en/ga/68/meetings/migration/pdf/International%20Migration%202013_Migrants%20by%20origin%20and%20destination.pdf

(11.) This Convention has only 39 signatories to date, none from developed countries. See https://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=IND%26mtdsg_no=IV-13%26chapter=4%26clang=_en

(12.) The final report of the IOM conference, Migrants and Cities, held in Geneva in 2015, included in its conclusions that if there are to be further such conferences, they should ‘recognize the different situations faced by lower and higher-income cities’ (see p. 98. in www.iom.int/sites/default/files/our_work/ICP/IDM/RB-25-CMC-Report_web-final.pdf)

(13.) For example, the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) has as its mandate to encourage businesses to hire immigrants. See http://triec.ca/

(14.) The Century Initiative in Canada, which supports significant population growth through immigration, is led by the business sector in that country (www.centuryinitiative.ca/). Some private sector think tanks, such as the Conference Board and McKinsey & Company, are heavily involved in migration research and policy advice.