Announcing EPIM’s New Grant Cohort – Narrative Change and Strategic Communications on Migration in Europe

Announcing EPIM’s New Grant Cohort – Narrative Change and Strategic Communications on Migration in Europe

EPIM will support 3 national coalitions working on narrative change in migration in Europe.

While certain broader migration discourses are pan-European, their building blocks are often national narratives and how migrants and refugees are framed and perceived is contextualised by national, regional, and local milieus and their resulting stories. These contexts are equally influenced by the existence, size and make-up of migrant communities and demographic diversity as well as their migration and colonial histories, their economies, levels of urbanisation and the governing structures and political establishment in place. With these thoughts in mind, EPIM launched a Call for Proposals in the summer of 2022 to address and shift local and national perceptions on migrants through the catalysation of contextualised national coalitions of different actors and migrant-led groups.

After a competitive selection process, we are happy to announce that EPIM will support 3 coalitions and their work on narrative change in different national settings across Europe. EPIM will award 511,075 EUR to 3 coalitions in the UK, Italy, and Belgium for the period 2023 to 2024 under its Thematic Fund for Strategic Communications. An additional project on narrative change in the context of the displacement from Ukraine in the CEE region, is currently being considered under EPIM’s Ukraine Response and if selected, the coalition will also join the narrative change cohort.

The Cohort

EPIM’s inaugural narrative change cohort is comprised of the following national coalitions:

IMIX, Show Racism the Red Card and Migrant Voice (UK) – 190,000 EUR

The coalition aims to address the common misconception amongst the public of “illegality” when describing all refugees and asylum seekers. This is a term that is rarely challenged when used in the media and feeds the “good versus bad” migrant narrative – the term is often used in an arbitrary manner, dehumanising refugees and asylum seekers and playing into far-right tropes.

Led by IMIX, an organisation that builds communications capacity for the refugee and migrant sector in partnership with Migrant Voice, a lived experience and grass roots organisation, and Show Racism the Red Card.  The project seeks to harness the power of sport to unite and scale its message. Sport is well known as an area that transcends barriers, builds friendship and trust, and has already been proven to positively impact on people’s opinions and perceptions of migrants and asylum seekers. The project will develop and test a narrative that learns from the successful model used by the team and campaigns of Show Racism the Red Card.

Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen, LEVL and Other Talk (BE) – 190,000 EUR

This project aims to impact voting behaviour in Flanders, Belgium in the run up to the local and regional elections in 2024. Concretely, the project intends to encourage voters in the conflicted middle segment to vote for a society that is open, welcoming and offers opportunities to all, by facilitating the development and dissemination of positive narratives on migration at a local level.

Specifically, local actors will create strong community-based examples of good practices for local societal challenges through cooperation and use this to create transformative narratives for strategic communications. These narratives will be constructed by analysing societal challenges at the local level and how they are solved. They will intentionally not focus on migration as “the problem”.

The narratives will be developed through a series of inclusive narrative experiments that will be conducted at local level with relevant local stakeholders in 3 to 5 pilot municipalities, to be selected in different provinces and with different profiles. The narratives will be adapted to the local contexts, latch onto local sensibilities and represent local migrant experiences. Local actors will themselves choose their local target audience and decide on how to reach them and the project partners will guide and support local actors in the different stages of their actions.

CISV, CONNGI, CODIASCO and Secondo Welfare (IT) 131,075 EUR

In Italy, the debate on migration is characterized by strong polarization and the spread of an anti-migrant thinking, that represents a threat to democratic values.  To counter a perception of migration dominated by fear and to bring the issues of inclusion and diversity back to the centre of the debate and the political agenda, the coalition seeks to move away from the counter-narratives approach, which all too often drives the progressive debate and has the unwanted effect of reinforcing those divisive narratives. The aim is to create a new way of thinking by applying a reframing approach.

The 24-month project will be developed in 2 phases with the following aims: First, to set up a Community of Practice on Migration Narrative Change intended as a space of confrontation, consultation, exchange, and competence building, for an Italy-wide network of organizations involved in strategic communication for social cohesion. The purpose is to create a permanent communication infrastructure for the network, able to act at several levels (presence; immersion and power) to enhance the different competences and characteristics of each organization. And second, a coalition-building process, to put the acquired skills into practice through the definition of a shared identity, a thematic focus to work on, a shared message based on the reframing approach and, finally, a national-level strategy and campaign to disseminate and implement.

The Italian coalition will building upon an existing body of work created by the Never Alone and Tutta un’altra storia consortiums (which are comprised of several of EPIM’s partner foundations, including Compagnia di San Paolo) and will be be providing an additional 123,000 EUR, as a co-fund.

The Application and Selection Process

The selection process was highly competitive with 126 coalitions applying from across civil society – particularly within the migrants’ rights space, academia, government, and media. Several coalitions also partnered with well-known social media and tech companies and almost every coalition contained a migrant-led group, a welcome departure from traditional or leading civil society actors in the migration space. A majority of applications were received from Western Europe, particularly the UK, Italy and Germany.

Applicants submitted 1000-word concept notes which were reviewed by one member of an external expert advisory board and one member of the EPIM team before the highest-ranking applications were evaluated by the Thematic Fund committee and the expert advisor board for shortlisting.

EPIM prioritised the following criteria:

  • Coalitions that featured the genuine involvement of migrant-led groups or organisations – those that ensured that people with lived experience had the actual power to shape narratives.
  • Projects that were systemic and approached narrative issues in a strategic manner with the big picture in mind.
  • Projects that built collaboration across diverse sectors and actors working in the migration sector, media, and popular culture
  • Projects that recognised that narrative change is a long-term prospect, and are built upon an existing body of work, or co-funded or were able to demonstrate a history of commitment to this space and therefore a potential for continuity and sustainability.

Next Steps

EPIM’s narrative change cohort will be accompanied by a first-of-its-kind Community of Practice (COP) on Narrative Change in Europe that will pilot from the second half of 2023 to the end of the 2024. The COP will serve as a sounding board for the cohort – being informed by them and shaping their outcomes.

Given that well-funded, sustained, and strategic narrative efforts have been hugely impactful on issues such as climate change and in addressing othering polarisation on other complex socio-economic phenomena like race and gender rights in the United States and the UK, it is EPIM’s belief that building and strengthening narrative change capacities in Europe can be hugely impactful. But as evident from the response to the Call, there exists a large amount of conceptual confusion and fragmentation in the narrative space on the continent, proving the need for learning. EPIM therefore intends to convene this COP to address this fragmentation, offer a space for learning and strategizing, ensure conceptual clarity and a more holistic approach to narrative change and will be reaching out to select a group of experts and practitioners with an invitation to participate, shortly.

In the coming weeks, EPIM will also be publishing its learnings from the open call process and observations on the state of narrative change in migration in Europe, co-authored with the external expert advisory board.

This piece is being simultaneously published on EPIM’s website and LinkedIn page.