Shaping migration narratives: Insights from the ILO/OSCE E-MINDFUL project

The E-MINDFUL project, which closed in December 2023, developed evidence-based and action-oriented guidance, including innovative instruments, that can orientate future communication efforts on migration and migrants.

News | 02 February 2024
Ukrainian refugees at the Polish border March 2022
In a world shaped by migration flows, the E-MINDFUL project aimed at developing a narrative that would influence effective migration policy-making, with a particular focus on economic migration. The project offered the opportunity to leverage the role and respective mandates of the ILO as custodian of the key international convention on labour migrations, and of the OSCE, a regional security organization with a multi-dimensional mandate on migration, in the framework of the EU Agenda on Migration.

Diving into the complexities of public attitudes towards migrants, the E-MINDFUL project undertook extensive research, unravelling the complex tapestry of factors that shaped perceptions. This deep dive produced the Stocktaking report which is a valuable tool to navigate the challenging terrain of communication strategies surrounding migration.

Collaborating across borders, the project engaged countries in the EU and the Western Balkans facing significant challenges due to the presence of migrants, from Austria and Germany to Bosnia-Herzegovina, Italy, North Macedonia, and Serbia. In each country, the project supported the design and implementation of communication strategies resulting in six educational video stories that sought to influence public attitudes towards migration. Through the creation of these targeted campaigns perceived as edutainment prototypes, the power of emphasizing conformity, common interest, and clear migrant descriptions emerged as key strategies for success. Conversely, the pitfalls of unclear messaging, inappropriate messengers, and appeals to negative emotions were revealed as stumbling blocks to effective campaigns.

OSCE, ILO, and the Migration Policy Centre of the European Institute University, worked in unison to improve understanding of communication about migrations. Lessons learned from the Stocktaking report and awareness campaigns, designed by the National Multidisciplinary Creative Groups in each country, were put to the test, innovative formats were explored, and knowledge was consolidated – providing a nuanced understanding of how communication strategies could shape audience perceptions.

In summary, the research published under the title Impact Assessment Report highlights the intricacies involved in crafting impactful communication strategies aimed at influencing attitudes toward migration. Conducted across six European countries, the research elucidates key success strategies. A comprehensive understanding of the country-specific context is deemed indispensable. The design should prioritize emphasizing conformity, appealing to common interests, and utilizing clear migrant descriptions, as these have proven to be highly effective. The study also acknowledges the transient nature of positive effects and recommends further exploration into the nuances of sustaining the favourable outcomes of communication campaigns. Consequently, the study furnishes actionable insights for policymakers and communicators, advocating for the implementation of clear, relatable messaging and the consistent application of effective strategies to shape public attitudes regarding migration.

One of the principal findings underscores the efficacy of communicating a well-structured migration management strategy. This entails conveying the message that migration is both manageable and under control, thereby shifting the discourse away from a crisis-oriented frame. Considering that it is imperative to address prevailing anxieties and accord due seriousness to public concerns, the project proposes an alternative narrative to pivot towards emphasizing economic considerations and aligning with labour market needs, with businesses serving as credible messengers for fostering positive narratives.

As the project came to an end in December 2023, its legacy extends beyond research findings. E-MINDFUL offered actionable insights for policymakers and communicators, advocating for clear, relatable messaging and the consistent application of effective strategies in shaping public attitudes toward migration. In a world grappling with the challenges of global migration, the project's findings provided a compass for future endeavours in strategic communication, paving the way for a more inclusive and understanding society.

Amid the evolving discourse surrounding migration, the ILO found itself in a distinctive position. The increased global focus on migration issues presents an opportune moment for the ILO to leverage its role. This was confirmed during the two conferences organized under the E-MINDFUL project in December 2023: "Navigating Labour Shortages in the Western Balkans," organized by the ILO and "It’s about Work: Bringing back the Interaction of Migration, the Labour Market and Economic Development in the public discourse", organized by the OSCE. The conference participants (practitioners, academics specializing in labour market governance, labour shortages, and labour migration, as well as policymakers, technical staff from pertinent institutions, and members of tripartite social and economic councils in the Western Balkan region) unanimously stated that through proactive engagement with stakeholders, raising awareness, and cultivating a nuanced understanding of migration challenges, the ILO could assume a pivotal role in shaping policies and effecting positive changes in Western Balkan countries grappling with labour and skills shortages.