07/2005: Dr. Howard Duncan

Dr. Howard Duncan
Executive Director of Metropolis


The role of Metropolis in bridging academic and policy
agendas in the field of immigration and asylum


Ü Eurasylum Ltd: The International Metropolis Project, which was inspired by the Canadian Department of Citizenship and Immigration, was established in the mid-1990s to develop the potential of academic research to stimulate and strengthen policy making in the field of immigration. Metropolis consists of a set of co-ordinated activities implemented by a range of research and policy organisations who share a vision of strengthened immigration policy by means of applied academic research. The Metropolis membership, now spanning over twenty countries, includes a wide range of academic institutions, national Government authorities in Canada, France, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, and regional/international organisations (the European Commission, OECD, IOM, UNESCO and ICMPD). In particular, Metropolis aims to stimulate joint initiatives such as the development of appropriate data, the conduct of international comparative research related to well-identified policy priorities, the organisation of workshops and conferences gathering academics and policy makers, and the exchange and analysis of best practices. Could you guide us through, briefly, the origins of the Metropolis project, its vision, resources, activities and implementation mechanisms?

Ü Dr. Howard Duncan: The Metropolis Project, which was officially launched in 1996 with an inaugural conference in Milan, came into being at a time when many in the social sciences were increasingly interested and willing to see their work contribute to societal well-being through its application to policy development. The Project was conceived by senior officials at the Department of Citizenship and Immigration in Canada and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. The fundamental premise was to have academic research contribute to better government policy in the field of international migration and its impact on society. Although the Project has always been apolitical, it did take a strong position on the necessity of societies that would be economically and socially successful to accept that migration across their borders would take place regularly, and frequently in high volumes. The appropriate policy challenge is not, then, how to prevent this from taking place but how to manage it for success. To a significant extent this means paying careful attention to the social and economic integration of immigrants and refugees. Consequently the work of the Metropolis Project and the policy-research discussions that it organised concerned integration issues such as employment, housing, education, spatial concentration, promoting the upward mobility of immigrants, promoting societal cohesion, and the special effects on cities of national migration policies.

The initial partnership included academic and governmental organisations in Canada, the United States, many countries from Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, and South Africa. Project activities and plans were developed by the Metropolis International Steering Committee, which meets twice each year. I co-chair this Committee with Dr. Rinus Penninx of the University of Amsterdam. The Metropolis International Secretariat, which is responsible for day-to-day management of the project on behalf of its Steering Committee, is located in Ottawa, in the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, and it maintains a branch office at the University of Amsterdam. Metropolis has grown enormously since its early days, with an increased membership, and a much larger conference attendance, to the point that it is said now to be the world’s largest policy research network in the field of immigration. Our way of working is characterised by our face-to-face conversations among researchers, government officials, and civil society. These conversations are marked by a relationship of openness and trust, as opposed to the adversarial relations that frequently accompany gatherings of such organisations. It is this neutrality of our settings that our members and participants find so attractive, as it is exceptionally conducive to the exchange of knowledge and ideas required for effective policy-research collaboration. The International Metropolis Project is un-funded. It has no budget or fee structure for members. Rather, each of our activities is self-financing. This maintains a high degree of flexibility and ensures that participation is a result of genuine interest and commitment, and not a perfunctory performance rooted in financial obligation.

Ü Eurasylum Ltd: The idea of developing or optimising the conditions for evidence-based policy making in the field of migration and asylum affairs has gained considerable currency over the last few years. An increasing number of national government authorities, and indeed regional/international organisations, have established, gradually, the means and procedures to mobilise internal/external research expertise to inform key policy decisions. The question remains, however, whether academic practices (in terms of their methodological constraints, timing and agenda) are always adequate to the demands and modus operandi of policy making. There is also the question of the extent to which policy makers are able to process and integrate academic findings without discounting other key imperatives such as public opinion and the recurrent need for political compromises. To what extent and in what ways do you consider that the Metropolis project has integrated such constraints and what are the persisting limitations to the development, in major host countries, of fully operational and systematised evidence-based policy making practices in the field of immigration and asylum?

Ü Dr. Howard Duncan: The relationship between research and policy is often regarded as a difficult one owing to the different cultures, objectives, and ways of working of those in research and those in policy. However, many of the oft-discussed hurdles to evidence-based policy are a result of the parameters that the question itself is framed within. The issue of timing, for example, is usually framed as the mismatch between the date of publication of a research article and the date when policy advice must be issued. The roles of research evidence and political considerations or public opinion are often presented as in competition, if not in outright conflict, such that it is near impossible for a policy maker to take both into account. In addition, academic researchers often are said to risk their professional integrity by promoting the use of their work for policy purposes.

Metropolis, by its very nature as a policy-research project, faces these issues daily. It is important to understand the nature of the policy enterprise and the role that research can play. Misconceptions here can lead to disappointment. Researchers need to understand that their work will never be the only consideration in developing policy. For one thing, policy positions are statements about what a government ought to do; research results state what is the case. As logicians have been telling us for centuries, one cannot derive a judgement of what one ought to do from premises that concern only facts. Values always enter into policy and in democratic societies these are rooted in political positions, in public opinion, and in societal norms in general. Researchers cannot, then, expect that their work will always be the deciding factor in developing a policy decision. However, this is not to say that research is unimportant. Our starting point in Metropolis is that good research is critical for sound policy; it is not in a democracy, however, sufficient for the job.

The question of timing is often mis-framed. Policy makers do not need only published material. What they need is knowledge and expertise. Metropolis provides opportunities for policy officials to work collaboratively with academic researchers, often through face-to-face meetings, wherein it is the comprehensive expertise of the researcher, rather than a specific research publication, that is brought to bear on the policy-development process. There are occasions when a specific study and its published findings are of the moment, but in general, it is the researchers amassed expertise that is required, and this expertise is not constrained by time, being a product of a career and not of a specific publication. The utility of conversation between a researcher and a policy maker is seen, also, in their ability to work through the connection of facts and findings with political values or public opinion in the making of a policy decision. While logically separate, the domains of fact and value can be brought into a discussion and the implications of their conjunction for policy decisions can be explored.

We offer research reports through our website (http://metropolis.net) and publications, including the peer-reviewed Journal of International Migration and Integration. But the fundamental means by which Metropolis tries to overcome the standard challenges of bringing research to policy is through conversation and working-level interactions between researchers and policy makers. Policy decisions are taken by persons; they are not the result of the interaction in an idealised logical space between research premises and policy conclusions. To best understand how research can enhance policy, one must take seriously into account that it is human interactions that are at play and then proceed to facilitate the kinds of interactions that will bring about the best results.

Ü Eurasylum Ltd: The main underlying idea of Metropolis is that its members will work collaboratively on issues of immigration and integration, always with the goal of strengthening policy, and thereby allowing societies to better manage the challenges and opportunities that immigration presents, especially to their cities. Metropolis aims, in particular, to transcend traditional means of transferring knowledge by creating settings in which policy makers and researchers can, in complete confidence, engage one another, explore situations or problems, challenge assumptions and probe each others expertise, all to advance the policy process and to create the basis for solutions in practice. Could you illustrate this assertion through some concrete examples of particular policy debates, legislation or measures, nationally or internationally, that would have been influenced by Metropolis activities?

Ü Dr. Howard Duncan: Metropolis aims to raise the overall level of understanding of migration related issues on the part of researchers, policy makers, and members of inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations. Through the inter-sectoral meetings, we strive to raise the levels of awareness of each sector’s interests, contributions, and needs, and we hope to facilitate co-operation amongst them. Because we are not a political organisation, taking no positions on specific policies or pieces of legislation, it is not our goal to bring about any particular policy or legislative change.

The annual conferences, the next of which takes place in Toronto on 17-21 October 2005, are our largest gatherings of researchers and policy makers. The most intense discussions take place in workshops which are by design inter-sectoral discussions. Recent conferences have seen approximately 75-80 such workshops and we expect a similar number in the future. The issues discussed have ranged from global issues such as those of international migration management, the asylum-migration nexus, and the relations between migration and development, to more national issues such as the economic well-being of immigrants, best practices in immigrant integration and refugee resettlement, the social well-bring of immigrants examined in terms of housing, health, employment, freedom from discrimination, and social inclusion, and to local issues such as the impact of immigration on a city’s culture, its architecture, citizen-police relations, and the dynamics of neighbourhood composition.

Discussions are organised outside the context of the conferences on a range of issues. This has taken place, for example, with respect to the European Commission’s Communications on integration and, in Canada, through the long-established series of Metropolis Conversations that examine issues of strategic interest to the Government of Canada. Metropolis Conversations are closed-door roundtable discussions that follow the Chatham House Rules. The issues have included the design of Canada’s selection system, the capacity of Canadian society to integrate immigrants, recognising foreign credentials and experience, religious difference and integration, the future of multiculturalism, modern concepts of citizenship, and more. These sorts of discussions have been said to have made a difference to those who take part in the policy discussions in Canada and in the many countries that are affiliated with the Metropolis Project.