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Reframing the Issue of Migration in Sweden: A Bridges Project Workshop


The most recent Bridges Project event was a workshop held for the Swedish Ministry of Justice.  The workshop focussed on understanding public attitudes toward migration and on how to address the challenges that Swedish policy-makers are face in this delicate and important policy area.

Here we talk to the Counterpoint team involved in designing this event.

First off, can you explain to us what a Bridges Project workshop is?

Our workshops directly address issues faced by policy-makers, politicians and activists, by using insights from behavioural and social sciences, thereby narrowing the gap between academic research and policy-making. Through a hands-on and interactive format, we aim to equip our participants with the tools necessary to tackle critical policy dilemmas facing open societies in Europe.

What problem did the workshop address and why was the Swedish Ministry of Justice a candidate?

For this workshop we focussed on one of the most pressing issues that open societies across Europe are facing today: the debate on migration. Public opinion is becoming increasingly intolerant with regard to foreign-born populations living in or coming to Europe. Until very recently Sweden, a country known for its traditional values of ‘openness’ and ‘inclusivity’, was resisting this trend. However, negative attitudes seem to be spreading within the Swedish public. The Swedish government is thus faced not only with practical difficulties in hosting an increasing number of asylum-seekers, but also with the challenge of counteracting emerging xenophobic discourses, in order to maintain Sweden’s proud tradition of openness. In this way, Sweden is at a critical phase of its migration policy. We see this as an important opportunity for its policy-makers and governance to take progressive action.

So it’s a case of “act before it’s too late”?

It will never be ‘too late’ to apply insights from research to policy-making! But it is certainly a perfect opportunity where we can help politicians reconnect with public opinion in order to ease policy-making, and thereby accelerate the adoption of bold solutions to such a sensitive issue as migration.

What are you suggesting Swedish politicians should do?

In our workshops we identify a ‘tool’, derived from innovative research, that can be applied to the problem at hand. In this case the tool we identified is Framing. We suggest that, in order to communicate effectively and positively with the Swedish public about migration, there needs to be a Reframing of the migration debate.

Let’s talk a little bit about what framing is… Many of us think we experience the world ‘directly’ through raw input. We don’t realise how much of what we process – and therefore the decisions we make – is affected by language and the way messages are conveyed. Through framing, we can harness this phenomenon in order to make communication more effective.

Based on the notion that certain words are linked to certain deeply held values, framing is a method that employs a specific language to give rise to the desired perception of a given message. It can help you discern which values and emotions you need to trigger to connect with an audience, and how best to do so.

How did the workshop enable the Swedish Ministry of Justice to use this method?

We showed participants how language can activate deeply held values and shift perspectives. Our workshop consisted of three main stages. Firstly, we gave the participants an insight into the academic theory and research behind framing, and how it has been applied. Secondly, we identified the deep values that permeate the Swedish public opinion, and then worked on how framing can trigger some of these values. Finally, we constructed scenarios so that participants could experience framing themselves, thereby bringing home how effective this concept can be in practice.

Sounds fascinating! So what’s next for the Bridges Project workshops?

It was! The workshop was structured to be precisely tailored to the problems the Ministry of Justice in Sweden is facing, which made it extremely productive and enjoyable, triggering a huge wave of ideas of what can be done using the tool of framing.

In this current phase of The Bridges Project we are planning two more workshops, all to be revealed soon – keep your eyes peeled!

Find out more on how to reframe the Swedish debate in migration by reading our case study  here


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