Changing roles and new opportunities for the Global Exchange on Migration and Diversity

Published 17 May 2019 / By Sarah Spencer, Jacqui Broadhead

Back to Articles

As Sarah Spencer hands over the role of Director of GEM to Jacqui Broadhead they reflect on its contribution, impact and future direction

Changing roles is a good time to reflect on what has been achieved and the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.

In establishing the Global Exchange on Migration and Diversity (GEM)  in 2014, as the “knowledge exchange” arm of COMPAS the aim was to create spaces for reflection and mutual exchange of learning and ideas among those working on or experiencing migration in different ways – as policy makers, practitioners, scholars, philanthropists, school students and migrants themselves – so that we could learn from each other. Gone are the days when academics could simply disseminate their research findings to a more or less receptive audience. Our model has been built on mutual respect for differing kinds of expertise and we have experimented with differing modes of exchange, informed by and informing research, co-designing the agendas with participants to ensure that it matches what they need. We have sought to secure impact on agendas from the international to the neighbourhood level, empowering those engaged in delivering social change with new ideas, evidence and networks beyond their daily norm. It is a unique model, on which we reflect in this paper.

The context might not be thought conducive. Migration is the lens through which many of the global challenges of our time are perceived. Fraught policy and public debates often polarised, reflecting more heat than light. Academic evidence and analysis does not always carry sway where identity and emotion are to the fore. Yet it seems this has indeed provided a context in which there is both recognition of a need to reflect and reconsider, and an appetite for ideas, research findings and narratives which can inform and influence policy and practice, from the international to the neighbourhood level. Since its inception, we have found a real appetite on all sides for mutual exchange and learning and that appetite only seems to be growing.

Our programme since 2014 has been diverse in both its audiences and methods, and we have seen signs of real impact emerging from our work.

Working intensively at the city level

Thirty-one European cities have participated in our city working groups, meeting over an extended period of time to share learning on issues as broad as approaches to newcomers through our Inclusive Cities programme in the UK ;  on irregular migration in our City Initiative on Migrants with Irregular Status in Europe and through our Action towards Inclusion programme which looked at diverse areas such as homelessness and migrant destitution through to parental involvement in education. These programmes use long term, intensive engagement between research and policy to facilitate change at the local government level – an area all too often neglected by knowledge exchange and policy impact programmes and demonstrates how sustained engagement can build trust and effect real change.

Building an alumni network of practitioners, policy makers and scholars

There are now 127 ‘alumni’ of our annual Autumn Academy in Oxford, the residential symposia that provides a unique space for senior policy makers, practitioners and scholars to hold intense discussions on core migration issues, such as on the role of civil society – government collaboration in managing migration . Hosted each year at an Oxford college, and providing opportunities for river punting as well as informing policy and practice, this programme provides an all too rare chance for the people involved in all different sides of a challenge, to share learning and engage in new and different ways.

Translating research findings into real world impact

Alongside facilitating spaces for exchange, the Global Exchange has sought to build innovative partnerships to facilitate real world change. Through workshops, private round-tables and evaluation of policy experiments, such as in the Refugee Launch Pad in Utrecht, , we have drawn on relevant research expertise, insight and mutual learning to support our partners in developing innovative solutions. Where our research highlighted a gap in the provision of information and advice, we worked with partners to design an award winning on-line diagnostic tool for assessment of eligibility of destitute migrant children and their parents for support, now used equally by local authorities, migrants, and the civil society agencies that advise them.

Looking to the future

There are three areas in particular that we wish to grow over the coming years:

  • Ensuring that our work benefits from as wide a range of expertise as possible
  • Identifying and reflecting the big migration and integration challenges of our age
  • Developing a truly global outlook, whilst recognising the importance of voices from local communities

We have worked to nurture strong interdisciplinary partnerships, particularly within the arts and humanities, as narrative change and understanding the stories that we tell about migration and inclusion has emerged as a major theme in our work. We will continue to work with museums, arts organisations, drama groups and others to build our portfolio.

However, as we grapple with emerging areas such as the role of automation and climate change in migration and integration policy we need to build new partnerships across research disciplines, both within Oxford, and the UK, and beyond, and bring in new and different types of research and expertise.

Similarly, whilst our model for city exchange has worked in the UK and Europe and, through our partnership with Welcoming International is expanding globally –  we need to further expand our reach, in particular in partnership with the Global South. We have worked hard to demystify and bring together the worlds of policy, practice and academia and want to also ensure that we involve communities and their voices in our work – particularly as we know that much of the expertise that we reflect exists within communities.

We are incredibly proud of the track record of the Global Exchange on Migration since its inception and excited for its bright future – particularly in light of the recent long term support from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. This will allow us to significantly grow in our ambition and scope and is a real vote of confidence in our work to date.