The Oxford-Berlin research partnership
Whilst there is growing interest in the role of the local level in integration and inclusion, this has often focussed on larger cities with those considered to be ‘super-diverse’ more likely to engage in Europe wide networks to share best practice and influence policy.
This growing gap between larger cities and smaller cities and towns was the focus of a learning project bringing together researchers, policy makers and practitioners from the UK and Germany, supported by Oxford Berlin research partnership seed funding.
The project identified the needs, opportunities and traps of the urban governance of migration, inclusion, and cohesion and aimed to find ways for smaller cities and towns to develop their own strategies in this field. drawing on comparative expertise from both research, policy and practice in towns in the UK and Germany.
Whilst the policy frameworks on integration are very different, with the highly centralised context of the UK contrasting with a more regionalised picture in Germany, the learning exchange highlighted important areas of common ground and potential for sharing of expertise.
Notably, a key finding in both contexts was that whilst towns face significant integration challenges, they often lack the resources and capacity to proactively respond.
Whilst integration policy making and frameworks are often tailored to the needs of cities, much of these frameworks can be usefully applied to towns and smaller cities. However the project found a number of aspects of integration policy making and practice which seem to be distinctive for towns including:
- The importance of tailoring narratives of inclusion and diversity to the local context – and that whilst each town will have its own context; and story, resonant integration stories for towns may be different than for those in cities;
- The importance of the public realm, outdoor spaces and high streets and migrant economies to integration planning in towns;
- The potential for more effective community contact approaches in towns and smaller cities;
- The outsized role of political support and advocacy, including the central role of Mayors (in particular in the German context of multi-level governance).
There is a clear role for greater peer based learning and networking between towns – though capacity challenges often inhibit this too. More than anything the project highlighted the need for greater awareness of the specific context of towns and smaller cities in the policy making and practice on integration, alongside highlighting practical examples of good practice.
The project was funded by the Oxford Berlin research partnership.