Co-designing Policies: New Approaches Towards Inclusivity

What makes a city truly inclusive? How can it be assured that local policies are accommodating towards newcomers, refugees, and migrants and offer opportunities for them to participate?
The traditional, hierarchical policy-making process often separates expertise from experience: policies are made by experts, for the people living the experience. When it comes to integration policies, this separation can lead to well-meaning but misguided attempts to integrate migrants and refugees into cities and municipalities.

Co-design: a new approach to policy making

One way to improve integration policies is through the use of co-design strategies, policies, and services. Co-design means that policy-makers strategically seek out the group that is targeted by specific policies, involving them in the policy design process. Co-design strategies can break down the traditional, hierarchical approach to policy-making: instead of the local authorities making policies for migrants, the process is a collaboration between the two, allowing for better, more effective outcomes. Such a participatory and collaborative approach is still not very common in the area of integration, despite considerable gains.

Co-designing integration policies can be a complex but rewarding task. Newcomer migrants and refugees are usually not citizens in their country of residence, barring them from political participation. Undocumented migrants are even harder to account for and include in co-design processes, due to their precarious position and absence from the population data. Such exclusions need to be compensated for by creating accessible and safe spaces with inclusive communication that can make all people feel welcome and heard. This presents another challenge: reaching a diverse group and being inclusive to all. Migrants and refugees come from different cultural backgrounds, and they all have different stories and daily challenges.

When cities recognise that they are limited in their approach to the inclusion and participation of newcomers, they need to be prepared to make changes. They might set up consultative bodies or integration councils, but these solutions have their limitations: true representation beyond tokenism and transparency posing key issues.

Despite these challenges, results show that co-designing integration policies is worth the time and effort. Co-design can bring intersectional perspectives to new policies, leading to innovation, creativity, and attention to previously unheard voices and views. Diversity and inclusion in decision-making can lead to the empowerment of marginalised communities, who feel a sense of ownership towards the new policies. All of these practices are essential when striving for good governance.

UNITEE is part of two EU-funded projects aiming to promote this approach of co-creation and collaboration between local policy-makers and migrants.

The MILE project

The MILE project, co-funded through the European Union’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, is based on co-creation principles: the idea that local policy-making should be a cooperative process that reflects the diverse population of cities, giving migrants, newcomers, refugees, and asylum-seekers a say. MILE aims to empower migrants and refugees and help to build lasting connections between migrant groups and local governments in Europe. For this, the project is producing locally-tailored responses to address the current needs and priorities of municipalities and local migrant communities. The project will run for two years in six European countries: Belgium, Greece, Latvia, Spain, the Netherlands, and the UK.

The UNITES project

The UNITES project – “UrbaN InTEgration Strategies through co-design” aims at making co-design more common in European cities. Led by Eurocities in cooperation with UNITEE, MigrationWork, and New Women Connectors, and co-funded by the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, the project aims at training the eight participating cities about co-designing integration policies with migrants and refugees through the use of “best practices”.

The “best practices” identified by the UNITES project come from all over the world, ranging from the tiny Swedish village of Mörsil to the most populous city of Brazil, São Paulo. The Spanish town of Fuenlabrada, located on the outskirts of Madrid, presented its program called “Mesa por la convivencia – Table for Coexistence”. It is both a platform for local associations and a stakeholder in local cultural diversity management, aiming at interculturality in Fuenlabrada. The city of Coventry (UK) organised an open and freely accessible course about community research, with the aim of empowering a new generation of people to pursue research about their local community, and thus work with policymakers. The city of Nuremberg, Germany, has set up a complex set of governmental bodies working on integration, including a diverse integration council.

Düsseldorf is one of the eight cities participating in the UNITES project. Over the span of the next two years, they will co-design their local integration strategy with migrants and refugees with the help of the UNITES training, best practices, and other participating cities.

Read our short interview with the city of Düsseldorf about co-design and the UNITES project.

UNITEE: What have been your key takeaways from the cities that presented their “best practices” as part of the UNITES project?
Düsseldorf: During the UNITES training, Düsseldorf could get a better understanding of what “co-design” is and how it can be implemented in our municipal integration strategy. We saw many good practices in cities, some of which were particularly interesting for Düsseldorf. Since we already have an integration strategy as well as a coordination structure consisting of different stakeholders, we were interested in how other cities keep the cooperation lively and strategic. We looked at the examples of Fuenlabrada and Nuremberg and would like to adopt some of their ideas. In Fuenlabrada, we noticed a close relationship between the “Mesa por la convivencia” and local politics. That would be something we also aim for: Establishing and keeping close contact between stakeholders, local politics, and the city administration. Concerning outreach methods, the example that we would like to adopt is the community research done in Coventry. It is an inspiring approach that could be complementary and enriching to our existing outreach methods of counseling and monitoring.

UNITEE: In your view, what are the biggest benefits of co-designing integration policies?
Düsseldorf: The city of Düsseldorf is committed to ensuring equal opportunities for all people living here – regardless of national, cultural, or ethnic background, sexual identity, disability, religion, ideology, age, or gender. An integration strategy helps enable equal participation of migrants in social and economic as well as creating a culture of recognition of all people living in Düsseldorf. We aim for an integration policy that involves migrants with heterogeneous backgrounds and statuses. Migrants – especially people who are not “the usual suspects” of citizen participation formats – should have a say in realising the integration strategy, across all its stages of the policy cycle. Co-design is a method that could bring us closer to our goal of equal participation of migrants and refugees within local policy-making. We understand co-design as shaping city politics and city development together with all Düsseldorfers.

Some words by Düsseldorf’s lord mayor, Dr. Stephan Keller on why Düsseldorf participates in the UNITES project:

Our main goal is to develop and implement permanent cooperation structures in the field of integration policy that include all the main stakeholders and enable us to build on the experience, expertise, capacities, and strengths of these stakeholders. We especially want to build closer cooperation with migrant associations in Düsseldorf. We aim to create a more inclusive city identity that embraces and represents all its citizens. We aim for an integration strategy that is informed by the needs and strengths of migrants and serves the well-being of the whole city society. The further development (i.e. update) of our integration concept should, therefore, on the one hand, turn the target group of migrants into participants and, on the other hand, implement the participation process with new methods. The process is going to be accompanied by the exchange and reflection with other European cities that contribute their ideas and experiences.”

Read more about the UNITES project here.

Produced and edited by Veronika Juhasz.