Understanding integration processes: Informing policy and practice

Published 24 January 2019 / By Dr Katharine Charsley & Dr Sarah Spencer

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Governments and cities across Europe are developing strategies to enhance integration. In England, the publication of the government’s Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper has highlighted integration as a policy challenge at national and local levels. This briefing paper sets out a model of integration to provide a systematic basis for the design and evaluation of integration policies and initiatives.

The concept of integration refers to processes of interaction, personal and social change among individuals and institutions across inter-related areas of life. The nature, speed and direction of these processes are affected not only by the characteristics of individuals, but also the wider social context. The term ‘integration’ is, however, often used loosely, without a clear understanding of the multiple processes involved. A narrow focus on some important indicators (e.g. gender norms, employment) often obscures the fuller picture.

An integration approach needs to move beyond one-way models of assimilation, and a focus on migrants and minorities, to recognise that all members of society engage in participation, interaction and change. In practice, the focus of discussion is often on the characteristics and behaviour of individuals (e.g. migrants) to the neglect of society and policy factors. Recent policy developments, however, demonstrate increasing interest in viewing integration as something in which all members of society are involved and for which there is shared responsibility.

Effective policy intervention requires clarity on the complex processes at play. Extensive research on integration has provided insights on integration processes and the factors which impact on them. No single initiative is likely to be able to address all of the processes and factors involved, but a systematic approach to conceptualising integration offers the potential for greater clarity in policy aims, identification of barriers to integration, and evaluation of interventions and their outcomes.


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