Immigrant Integration and Social Cohesion – Applying Behavioral Insights

Policymakers are looking for ways to help newcomers settle in quickly and bridge social divides by fostering connections among diverse groups, both because immigration is increasing and because of concerns over anti- immigrant sentiment. Among the most promising new tools to reinvigorate integration policy is behavioural insights, an interdisciplinary, evidence-based approach that draws on ndings and methods from behavioural economics, psychology, anthropology, and other elds. This approach aims to design policies and interventions based on a more realistic model of human behaviour to encourage people to make better choices for themselves and the societies in which they live.

In recent years, governments in an expanding range of countries have turned to behavioural insights to ground policy decisions in a more nuanced understanding of human behaviour and how people make decisions. But while behavioural insights have been adopted in a wide range of policy areas, such as health, tax, and education, there has been no systematic effort to explore the potential benefits of such an approach for immigrant integration. Behavioural interventions could be adapted to improve integration and social cohesion outcomes in three main areas:

Community cohesion. As societies experience increased levels of immigration, including in smaller and medium-sized localities, it is important to foster the character skills that people need to live in diverse societies and to improve social interaction. Studies have shown that it is possible to help young people develop open mindedness and a belief that people can change (a ‘growth mindset’), characteristics that can reduce prejudices. Encouraging them to understand others’ perspectives, for instance by thinking about a time they themselves were judged negatively for being different, can build empathy and recognition of similar experiences. Other experiments have shown promise in reducing segregation and improving social mixing, for instance by nudging people to interact with others from different backgrounds or encouraging cooperative learning (where small groups of students teach and learn from each other).

Narrowing inequalities between immigrant groups and the broader population. In many countries, immigrants experience outcomes in key spheres of life (such as employment, health, housing, and education) that fall substantially below the average. Taking a behavioural approach could, for example, improve employment outcomes by addressing the diverse motivations and far-reaching barriers that jobseekers face. Similarly, interventions in the eld of education—from peer support and mentoring, to more user-friendly applications—aim to tackle the aspirational barriers that prevent disadvantaged students from applying for university.

ƒAddressing low take-up of public services, voter registration, and citizenship. Access to and use of services is a key lever in improving integration outcomes. A behavioural approach could be used to, among other things, improve application rates among individuals eligible for certain benefits. To do so, behavioural insights may guide efforts to make services as user friendly as possible, for instance by creating electronic forms that automatically fill in information about applicants that is already on file, sharing information across services, or ensuring that application forms are easy to understand for individuals with different linguistic and educational backgrounds. Studies have also explored ways to use text messages and other reminders to improve usage of services. Because citizenship acquisition marks an important milestone in civic integration, policymakers may wish to consider encouraging volunteering and buddying systems as a way to boost application rates among eligible immigrants.

The application of behavioural insights to policy or programme design is normally rigorously empirical: new interventions are tested, often using randomised controlled trials, before those that work are scaled up. Future work in this area should pilot and evaluate behavioural interventions based on existing research or aim to replicate experiments that have thus far only been tested in controlled settings in real-world environments, such as multiethnic schools. Governments could consider working together by pooling a small portion of their integration budgets to fund such experimental work, thus achieving economies of scale and mitigating politi- cal and nancial costs.

In the meantime, it is possible to draw some early lessons for integration policymakers from the existing research on behavioural approaches:

Focus on developing the skills that everyone needs to live in diverse societies. Traits such as empathy and altruism are sometimes described as innate, but there is much to suggest they can be taught in the classroom. With many European countries updating citizenship curriculum to foster common values or even guard against extremism, there are opportunities to revisit the role schools play in nurturing the citizens of tomorrow. There are also numerous tools and techniques that can be used to promote intergroup social connections and reduce segregation in schools, workplaces, and communities. Government and civil society can both play key roles in helping residents develop such skills.

ƒUnderstand how aspirations, motivations, and behaviour can create gaps between minority groups and the broader population. Currently, government integration efforts tend to focus on language barriers, but other less tangible barriers are also important. Behavioural approaches encourage policymakers to explore how complex barriers such as stereotypes or limited social capital can hold people back in areas such as employment and education—they also help explain the limitations of approaches that focus on economic incentives and sanctions alone.

Design programmes and policies around understanding of the user experience. Improving access to services, application rates for citizenship, or likelihood to vote may depend on how easy to navigate these processes are. A behavioural lens can help government agencies and service providers reduce the time and mental costs of engaging with public services, which is especially important for people who have experienced trauma, such as refugees.

Leverage policy to encourage social mixing, positive interactions, and emphasis on similarities. There are numerous policy levers—in schools, workplaces, and in the media, for example—to encourage contact and emphasise commonalities, all of which experiments have shown to increase integration outcomes.

To address the integration challenges of today and tomorrow, governments will need to expand their toolbox. Behavioural insights, which are generally low cost, have substantial potential for effecting real change.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at Applying Behavioral Insights to Support Immigrant Integration and Social Cohesion |

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