The importance of the active participation of immigrants in the design of public policies in Catalonia.
Catalonia follows an inclusion-oriented model when it comes to the reception of immigrants, with the objective of protecting diversity and granting equal rights for everyone. To achieve this goal, the participation of migrants in the design of public policies is key and necessary. That is something that can be accomplished by the WELCOME Project, due to its methodology based on co-design and co-creation.
Marlen Niubó and Joan de Lara (Departament de Treball, Afers Socials i Famílies, DTASF) Barcelona (Catalonia),
Human mobility is inherent to the human condition. Reasons to move are diverse and evolve in time. However, motivations to migrate are a phenomenon that exists today and will persist in the future. Following the increasing arrivals to the European Union during the last years, our society has entered a new phase of the immigration process, which is integration and inclusion.
Integration has been used with widely differing meanings. An appropriate definition is the one provided by R. Zapata-Barrero and L. Gabrielli. Essentially, these two scholars describe integration as “a two - or even three - way process whereby both ethnic minorities and the autochthonous majority are expected to adapt each other and create new, intercultural basis for mutual identification and solidarity”. It is also relevant to mention the attempt to define elements central to perceptions of what constitutes "successful integration" by A. Ager and A. Stang. In brief, they identified four overall themes related to different key domains of integration. The first theme was related to the achievement and access across the sectors of employment, housing, education and health. The second was linked to assumptions and practices regarding citizenship and rights. The third identified the processes of social connection within and between groups within the community. The last stated that we can find structural barriers to such connection related to language, culture and the local environment.
The Generalitat de Catalunya carries out a public policy model that shifts from integration to inclusion. It promotes the cultural and linguistic identity of immigrants (promotion of associations, teaching of immigrants' own languages in schools, management of religious affairs). At the same time, it facilitates access to the culture and language of Catalonia, through instruments such as school reception, the teaching of Catalan and the first reception service.
The Catalan model is, therefore, an inclusion-oriented model, which aims for people of foreign origin to have full access to public services and to achieve full equality in rights and duties with other citizens.
Migrants’ inclusion and active participation as an objective
Promoting the inclusion and active participation of migrants as a critical objective expresses the will of the Government of Catalonia to put this topic at the centre of its public policy. Today, more than a third of citizens are not born in Catalonia, and the goal is to ensure the real exercise of equal citizenship rights by all people living in our territory. Catalonia frames its policies around the reception process within the framework of law 10/2010, on the reception of immigrants and returnees to Catalonia, and its recent strategies were included inside the Citizenship and Migration Plan of 2017-2020. These strategies corresponded to the areas of diversity, equality, reception and comprehensive management.
As in the last years, Catalonia continues to understand diversity as something enriching that needs to be protected. Diversity is a common asset threatened by inequality in the social inclusion of migrants. As a society, we share common goods that are equal for all and that are not questioned. These goods are based on human rights, democracy, pluralism and diversity, and the need to foster a shared public culture built on consensus, that is consolidated through the management of the conflicts of coexistence that appear in everyday life.
In terms of inclusion, it is still necessary to make equal rights and duties effective for all. And this includes the foreign or immigrant population. It is essential to ensure equal opportunities for adults and children, emphasising two critical aspects of inclusion: improving employability and improving educational success. We must continue to promote students' academic success, giving them support and bringing their families closer to the school. Therefore, it is necessary to provide families with the necessary tools to understand how the school system works. It is also important to promote the improvement of the employability of immigrants and returnees, who are particularly affected by the impacts of the recent crises.
As for the reception, it is essential to welcome with dignity the people who come to Catalonia. This also includes people arriving at our home fleeing armed conflict, persecution and other human rights violations. The reception and inclusion of people seeking international protection is an obligation of democratic countries, and it is crucial to give a responsible and efficient response to the humanitarian emergency.
As for comprehensive management, it is necessary to focus on innovation and continuous improvement. As a society, we want to move forward and have the tools to adapt public policies to present and future challenges.
Therefore, to achieve a diverse intercultural society that offers equal opportunities to immigrants and their families, characterised by reception procedures that overcome stigma and discrimination, it is vital to continue working for the participation of migrants in the design of public policies. Consequently, it is necessary to continue consolidating the presence of people from diverse cultural backgrounds in the fields of institutional representation and professional positions in public institutions. In addition, migrants must be encouraged to participate in the design and evaluation of the initiatives that most affect them. An example is the innovative initiative proposed by the WELCOME Project.
Innovation as a strategy
In short, the goal of the WELCOME European Project is to utilise modern technical innovations to help overcome the abovementioned challenges. WELCOME aims to facilitate the reception and inclusion of migrants and refugees through comforting, easy to comprehend, and personalised technological solutions. Technologies in WELCOME include immersive environments and teams of intelligent conversational agents, which act as dedicated personal assistants to both migrants and refugees and decision-making authorities. The methodology of co-design and co-creation used to develop this technological solution is in line with the commitment of the Generalitat de Catalunya to count with the active participation of citizens in the initiatives it carries out. In this specific case, the involvement of stakeholders working in the field of migration and migrants themselves is taking place. How? In essence, people and civil society are incorporated in a transparent and orderly way into public decision-making thanks to their participation in systematised interviews and evaluation of pilot cases. This enriches the decision-making processes of the Catalan administration and the project itself. Therefore, it positively affects public management as a whole.
Participation as a right
We want to emphasise that this involvement is not only a political will but also responds to a normative frame that watches over the right and promotes participation among citizens of Catalonia. As indicated in article 29 of the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia, "the citizens of Catalonia have the right to participate on equal terms in the public affairs of Catalonia, directly or through representatives, in the cases and on the terms established in the Statute and the laws [...] ". The following article, 30, states that "public authorities must promote social participation in the elaboration, provision and evaluation of public policies, as well as individual and associative participation in the civic, social, cultural, economic and political spheres, with full respect for the principles of pluralism, free initiative and autonomy".
New technologies open the door for the emergence of new opportunities and challenges. On the one hand, the WELCOME project can open new communication channels between migrants and the public administration. This will make it possible to achieve higher levels of efficiency in public resource management and greater flexibility in providing attention to this group. In essence, there will be less reliance on face-to-face attention, and this will contribute to generating new accessible schedules (in contrast with predetermined or closed agendas). This will lead to an increase in the time available by the reception officers to carry out more personalised attentions. Consequently, the quality of the service will continue to be improved.
On the other hand, migrants will be able to train and access information autonomously in various fields. For example, they will be able to improve their language skills or learn about the functioning of the Catalan school system. Consequently, this group will be provided with tools to contribute to their empowerment.
We must not forget that participatory processes must ensure that the debate is oriented to the group's interest, so special care must be taken to avoid meeting only individual demands. To contribute to this objective, the methodology of co-design and co-creation of the present technological solution contemplates the realisation of pilot tests in several Catalan municipalities, in addition to the previously mentioned consultations. In this way, participation is territorialised and contributes to including a more representative sample of the Catalan society.
This article has provided an overview of the importance of migrants’ participation in co-designing and co-creating public initiatives and policies. First, we have framed this participation as one of the main factors of inclusion. In brief, inclusion has been defined as the real exercise of equal citizenship rights and duties by all people. Second, we have identified the main axes of political action and the legal framework in the field of inclusion and citizens' participation. The main areas of work are diversity, equality, reception and comprehensive management. Third, the objectives of public policies have been linked to the goals of the WELCOME Project. And fourth and last, some of the benefits of the project in relation to public participation of migrants have been described. For example, the WELCOME Project will provide tools to better empower migrants. However, there are still challenges. Among others, participation of migrants from different Catalan territories.
Looking to the future, the uncertainties arising from the COVID-19 pandemic are foreseen to be addressed. At this stage, it is also necessary to continue working to ensure the inclusiveness of the application itself in cases where people are illiterate or lack digital skills. The European Consortium of which the Generalitat de Catalunya is a part is rowing in this direction, and the first results are expected to be visible in a few months.
i. Ager, A, and A Strang. 2008. “Understanding Integration: A Conceptual Framework.” Journal of Refugee Studies. http://jrs.oxfordjournals.org/content/21/2/166.short.
iv. Zapata-Barrero, R, and L Gabrielli. 2013. “The Political Participation of Immigrants in Host Countries: An Interpretative Framework from the Perspective of Origin Countries and Societies.” INTERACT RR 2013/, 7-. Open pdf file.
 Zapata-Barrero, R, and L Gabrielli. 2013. “The Political Participation of Immigrants in Host Countries: An Interpretative Framework from the Perspective of Origin Countries and Societies.” INTERACT RR 2013/, 7-. http://dcpis.upf.edu/~ricard-zapata/~ricard-zapata/INTERACT-RR-2013-07.pdf.
 Ager, A, and A Strang. 2008. “Understanding Integration: A Conceptual Framework.” Journal of Refugee Studies. http://jrs.oxfordjournals.org/content/21/2/166.short.
 Generalitat de Catalunya. Departament de Treball, Afers Socials i Famílies. 2017. “Citizenship and Migration Plan (2017-2020).” 2017. https://treballiaferssocials.gencat.cat/web/.content/01departament/08publicacions/ambits_tematics/immigracio/Plans_i_programes/06plainmigracio_ang_2017_2020/Pla_inmigracioue_ENG_OK.pdf.
 Parliament of Catalonia. 2006. “Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia - Consolidated Text.” Official Gazzete of the Parliament of Catalonia. 2006. https://www.parlament.cat/document/cataleg/150259.pdf.