The Utrecht Refugee Launchpad is an initiative which aims to enable an inclusive approach to facilitate the integration of asylum-seekers from day one. Recognising that cities play an important role in the reception and integration of asylum seekers, Utrecht city council in collaboration with a range of local partners has opened a new centre, based on a shared living concept which brings local young people and asylum seekers to live together. This innovative reception facility will seek the establishment and development of social networks with neighbours, encouraging newcomers to participate and build relationships with those from the locality to generate solutions to improve living in the centre, neighbourhood and city. Participants, both asylum-seekers and local young people will be offered training courses in English language, entrepreneurship and international business. Through the support of expert coaching and opportunities to connect locally and space and time given for the incubation of new business ideas, participants will be supported as they develop future-proof skills that will be of benefit to them whether in the Netherlands or elsewhere, thereby encouraging the repair of broken narratives and/or halting the negative spiral created by the usual approach to reception.
The evaluation and research strand is being conducted by two UK-based universities, Oxford and Roehampton, to offer an independent evaluation of the outcomes of this experiment. The Global Exchange in Migration and Diversity, at COMPAS, provides oversight of the evaluation, managing an international advisory board and manages the learning exchange and dissemination of lessons learned from the process. Roehampton leads in the research and evaluation activities with principal investigator, Dr Caroline Oliver and two Utrecht-based researchers Dr Karin Geuijen and Dr Rianne Dekker.
The project evaluation applies a Theory of Change approach to the evaluation, recognising the importance of context and the contributions of multiple actors for understanding the interaction of the programme and its effects. The evaluation facilitates stakeholders to identify their own understanding of the steps taken to reach their goal, identifying the specific outcomes needed and then testing them through the research.
Initial scoping with partners revealed that a range of outcomes was envisaged to address the dual challenges of the limbo period of reception and ambivalent neighbourhood reactions to the placing of an asylum seeker centre in a locality. Ultimately the partnership saw the URLP programme as enhancing the wellbeing of asylum seekers through generating social connections in the neighbourhood and equipping them with ‘futureproof’ skills through educational activities that would be of benefit whatever the outcome of their application. To support this work, the research therefore draws on a range of relevant scholarly literature, from sociology, social geography, anthropology, social psychology and migration studies including around:
- Asylum seeker reception and refugee integration (labour market, social and affective)
- Social contact theory and ‘community cohesion’;
- Encounter and the role of space and material infrastructures;
- The multi-level governance of asylum seeker reception and ‘the local turn’.
Methods applied to generate results on the project were developed in response to the programme theory. The team have sought to create an ecology of evidence from combining quantitative and qualitative research in order to understand the actions and effects of the multiple activities for diverse beneficiaries. The research has been conducted during two phases: as the project began in 2017 and then in a follow up with participants in the latter stages of the initiative and once the centre closed (end October 2018). Elements include:
- A repeat face to face survey targeting 1500 addresses in the immediate vicinity of the centre in Overvecht, to establish knowledge and engagement with the centre and attitudes to it opening there.
- A repeat online survey with the young local people recruited to live at Plan Einstein to understand the nature and degree of contact.
- Monitoring of process indicators (e.g. numbers of participants on courses, events held, ratios of participants within activities).
- Examination of asylum seeker intake assessment data on dimensions of wellbeing and contact.
- Evaluations of course activities, including classes and business incubation programme.
- Repeat interviews with a range of participants and stakeholders. These include asylum seekers, local young people living at the centre, local people both engaged in the initiative and not, partners and stakeholders (e.g. politicians, NGOs, employees at the asylum seeker centre)
- Participant observation in centre activities, events and meetings.
- Investigation of data held within the city’s work and income department and through anonymised records of the Dutch Refugee Council to understand longer-term outcomes for Einstein participants.
City of Utrecht
Socius Living (SME)
School of Economics (USE) and Centre for Entrepreneurship (UtrechtCE), University of Utrecht
People’s University of Utrecht (English language division)
Social Impact Factory (NGO)
Dutch Council for Refugees (NGO)
University of Oxford
Professor Ash Amin, Professor and Head of Geography, University of Cambridge
Ash Amin CBE FBA is Professor and Head of Geography at the University of Cambridge. He is also Foreign Secretary and Vice President at the British Academy. He writes about race, belonging, cities and political renewal. His latest books are Land of Strangers (Polity, 2012), Arts of the Political (Duke, 2013, with Nigel Thrift) Seeing Like a City (Polity, 2017, with Nigel Thrift), and European Union and Disunion: Reflections on European Identity (British Academy, 2017, co-edited with Philip Lewis). He is currently working on a project on mental health and the metropolis, led by Nick Manning at King's College London).
Professor Alice Bloch, Professor of Sociology, University of Manchester
Alice Bloch's research focuses on understanding the lived experiences of forced migrants focussing on refugees, asylum seekers and undocumented migrants. Key themes include: marginalisation and exclusion, rights and agency, engagement in transnational relations, social and community networks, economic strategies and labour market experiences and the ways in which experiences intersect with class, gender, ethnicity and power. She is also interested in methodology, especially innovative methodologies in relation to sensitive research with vulnerable groups and in developing capacity building strategies for longer term non-academic impact and engagement. She has carried out a number of research projects for different funders including government departments and the ESRC.
Professor David Parsons, Visiting Professor, Leeds Beckett University (Carnegie Faculty)
An economic geographer, David is a specialist in public programme evaluation and an established Visiting Professor at Leeds Beckett University (Carnegie Faculty) since 1999. Following an early academic career (University of Nottingham; Sussex; Cranfield Management School), David was an Economic Advisor to the UKs National Economic Development Council, and later Director of Research at CIPD and Advisor to the European Commission (Employment and Social Affairs). He combines roles as an independent policy researcher and evaluator at LBU, and consultant and advisor to public and voluntary sector bodies, directing and co-directing a number of high profile studies for public bodies including, in the UK, BIS, DfE, Defra, DFID, DWP, ESRC, QIA/LSIS, HEFCE and HEFCW, LSC/SFA, HEA, Home Office, NAW, TDA and devolved administrations, and in Europe for the European Commission, CEDFOP, the UNs International Labour Office and others. His appointment include Specialist Associate to the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, and Lead Assessor to the Career and Enterprise Company. David is a widely recognised authority on proportionate evaluation methods, principally for public bodies, leading or contributing to 38 national/home-country or cross-national programme evaluations in the last decade on social policy and other issues. He is course leader on the UK’s Social Research Association’s ‘Evaluation’ programme, and has advised a number of government departments and other agencies on strategies and methods for proportionate impact evaluation. His most recent publication is Demystifying Evaluation (Policy Press, 2017).
Dr Peter Scholten, Associate Professor Public Policy & Politics; Director of IMISCOE; Coordinator of Master Governance of Migration & Diversity; Editor-in-chief of Comparative Migration Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam
Peter Scholten is associate professor public policy & politics at Erasmus University Rotterdam and director of IMISCOE, Europe’s largest network of academic research institutes on migration, integration and social cohesion in Europe. Also, he is editor in chief of Comparative Migration Studies and member of the editorial board of the journal of Comparative Policy Analysis. Peter has published in various international journals and recently published, together with Andrew Geddes, a book on the Politics of Migration and Immigration in Europe.
Findings from the research are shared with the partnership, to inform the development of the pilot as it progresses. An interim report is now available (see ‘outputs’) which summarises some of the emerging and provisional findings on the project development and expected outcomes: good relations and social connections, skills development and asylum seeker well being. The report provides insights from the research into the process, especially on partners’ experiences of working in a multi-sector horizontal network to solve the challenges raised by asylum seeker reception.
A full evaluation report will be published on this website in October 2019.
Plan Einstein: Utrecht’s Urban Experiment on Asylum Seeker Reception | Policy Briefing | March 2019
"The refugee crisis as a window of opportunity for experimental governance in the Netherlands" in The Migration Crisis? Criminalization, Security, and Survival by Karin Geuijen | 2018
"Lokale oplossingen voor problemen in asielopvang: de ‘vluchtelingencrisis’ als window of opportunity" in Tijdschrift over Cultuur & Criminaliteit 7 (3) by Karin Geuijen, Rianne Dekker & Caroline Oliver | 2017
Please also see ‘impacts’ section for further details on academic papers in progress.
The project aims to create a more inclusive approach to asylum-seeker reception that benefits locals and asylum-seekers, especially through generating social networks and future-proof skills and capabilities. The evaluation provides a key resource for the partnership to learn how to adapt its work as it develops. However, many cities across Europe will also be interested to see how the initiative works, and to learn from the city’s experiment. The evaluation therefore also aims to highlight the mechanisms and processes that have worked in this setting and would be needed if the initiative were to be replicated elsewhere.
To enable broader learning from the project and contribute insights into broader academic debates, the research team is interested in sharing insights and findings from the project widely. Dissemination that has occurred and is forthcoming include:
- June 2018: Academic and Public Seminars on: Innovation in city-level reception of asylum seekers and refugees: Neighbourhood connections, well being and skills, Het Huis Boorstraat, Utrecht
- June 2018: COMPAS Seminar presentation The Utrecht Refugee Launchpad: Researching Innovation in Asylum Seeker Reception, COMPAS, Oxford
- July 2018: Research Panel led by team at IMISCOE annual conference: Local Innovation in Asylum Seeker and Refugee Reception, Barcelona
- April 2019: Paper at American Association of Geographers: Building spaces of conviviality? Infrastructures and intimacies in asylum seeker reception in Utrecht, Washington DC
- July 2019: Paper at IMISCOE annual conference: Future proof integration and city entrepreneurship: The case of the Utrecht Refugee Launchpad, Malmö, Sweden