If Trudeau Really Wants to “Bring Canadians Along” On Big Issues, He Must Improve the Consultation Process

More on narratives. Not sure how realistic this is in the context of an adversial and partisan environment along with time pressures. Changing how people feel normally takes longer than one government mandate but agree on need to address perceptions and feelings as well as facts:

In an interview with The Toronto Star last week, the prime minister expressed regret that in its first term his government didn’t always do enough “to bring Canadians along” on big initiatives. Ideally, it would be “involving Canadians as active, engaged citizens on the work we’re doing,” he said.

As a team with expertise in public engagement, we thought we’d weigh in.

The Liberals’ current agenda includes some ambitious social-change initiatives, such as Reconciliation, systemic racism, Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD), and fighting climate change. To defeat the pandemic, they must mobilize the entire country.

All would benefit from better citizen engagement but what, exactly, does that mean? Trudeau is on the right track when he says that “to bring people along” it is not enough that they know what’s going on, they also need to feel it. We think that his government could build on this insight to make public consultations much more effective and meaningful for Canadians.

Engagement Should Challenge How We Think and Feel

One way that governments try to bring people along on initiatives is by “informing” them. Providing the right facts and information can raise awareness on issues such as Reconciliation or racism, which is helpful.

But knowing that, say, racism exists and is wrong is not enough to end it. As Trudeau suggests, attitudes like these are also anchored in our values and emotions – in how we “feel” about others. Facts and information are rarely enough to change or eliminate negative feelings.

Real change requires adjustments at an emotional as well as an intellectual level and engagement can help. The key lies in something we call public narratives.

A public narrative is a theme or motif that people use to give order and meaning to a complex set of facts, values, emotions, and more. Basically, narratives give us a viewpoint or mental map of a situation.

For example, our traditional views on treating illness are shaped by a narrative in which death is the primordial enemy and anything that postpones it is a victory. Causing death when life can be preserved is a terrible wrong.

Narratives like this are deeply embedded in our culture. We internalize them early in life and they become part of our shared identity and worldview.

But these narratives can and do evolve. Many people have watched their loved ones suffer or lose their faculties before dying. The experience can be heart wrenching and those who go through it often come out changed. The public narrative around treating illness no longer fits their experience, and they want to see it changed.

Public Consultations Tend to Divide Where they Should Unite

The lesson for governments is that successful social change often requires narrative building. As circumstances change, so do people’s experiences. Society evolves and, eventually, public narratives are called into question and need a reset, say, on treating illness, protecting the environment, or responding to systemic racism.

Let’s note, however, that turning our attention to the role of values and emotions in engagement doesn’t mean that facts no longer matter. The challenge is to find a narrative that aligns complex emotions AND informs people – to arrive at a viewpoint that resonates with Canadians’ emotions and is truthful and accurate:

Unfortunately, traditional public consultations weren’t designed for this kind of deliberation. Far from reconciling competing facts, values and emotions, they tend to pit them against one another, without doing the hard work of aligning them.

Take the Department of Justice’s consultations on MAiD. Canadians were invited to fill out a questionnaire, which allowed officials to tally up how many people feel one way vs. another. The Department also held a series of roundtables, where select experts and stakeholders were invited to discuss their views on MAiD.

Processes like this are more likely to divide than to unite people. Advocates at the table may be polite about their differences (or not), but narrative building is not part of their agenda. In their view, their job is to make the case for their views, while defending them against criticism, much like lawyers in a court case. Processes like this tend to sharpen and deepen the differences.

By comparison, narrative building discourages competition and instead promotes collaboration by setting different “rules of engagement.” In our approach, participants must agree to:

  1. Recognize the legitimacy of one another’s lived experience.
  2. Focus the dialogue on how the narrative in question can be adjusted to align people’s emotions and understanding in new and better ways.
  3. Be guided by a facilitator who will ensure the rules are respected.

These rules commit people to listening empathetically to the experiences of others and working together to find innovative ways to reconcile tensions through a better narrative. In short, they put people’s emotional intelligence to work, along with knowledge and facts.  Done well, this should lead to a win/win.

Ministers and Parliamentary Committees Should Lead Public Dialogues

Finally, regarding Trudeau’s goal of ensuring his government “brings people along,” we think ministers and/or parliamentary committees could and should do more to engage the public directly on narrative building in areas such as systemic racism, climate change, and MAiD.

This would be a departure from the usual “communications approach,” where a minister or leader uses speeches and other tools to deliver a fully formed narrative. In our approach, politicians are as much facilitators as a decision-makers. They present ideas to the public, but they also engage the public in a dialogue about them and adjust and adapt the narrative as the dialogue progresses.

The goal is to have government draw on the public’s experiences to build the narrative, while showing real give and take in its interactions with Canadians. This assures the public of a meaningful role in the process, which, in turn, builds legitimacy around the narrative. In Trudeau’s language, it “brings them along” and makes them “feel” that they are part of the change.

Unfortunately, most of the government’s public consultations barely scratch the surface of this kind of engagement. If Trudeau really wants to bring Canadians along, why not start by hauling engagement over to the other side of this competitive/collaborative divide?

Dr. Don Lenihan is Senior Associate at the Institute on Governance and an internationally recognized expert on public engagement, governance, and policy development. For more, visit his website at: www.middlegroundengagement.com

Andrew Balfour is Managing Partner at Rubicon Strategy in Ottawa.

Source: If Trudeau Really Wants to “Bring Canadians Along” On Big Issues, He Must Improve the Consultation Process

Immigration virtue signalling in both directions

My latest:

As discussions about immigration levels and issues such as temporary foreign workers are likely to increase post-COVID, it is important to appreciate that these will occur at a number of levels, ranging from factual, to the underlying values that inform and shape narratives, and to how the arguments are presented.

Selection of facts often reflects conscious and unconscious decisions, which in turn are influenced by our values and beliefs. Understanding these influences is helpful to discussion, as it allows one to engage at a deeper level, appreciate the basis of different perspectives and, hopefully, find some common ground for discussion.

After all, meaningful discussion and debate cannot happen within a bubble of the like-minded, but we all need to engage different viewpoints and perspectives. My personal journey to this realization occurred during my time working under former then immigration minister Jason Kenney on citizenship and multiculturalism issues, where I was regularly challenged with respect to my values, biases and orientations, as recounted in Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias.

Taking a look at a number of immigration issues, it can be useful to try to identify the underlying meanings of common and current immigration “catch phrases.” The following seeks to unpack some of the narratives used by both sides:

What are the narratives behind asylum seekers?

Characterizing asylum seekers as “illegal migrants” fits into a law and order narrative, emphasizing controlled or managed immigration and fairness in that there is one process for all. It implies possible fraud or misrepresentation in their claims. It is a narrative that can appeal to immigrants and non-immigrants alike. But the managed immigration narrative downplays the humanitarian aspects of people, many of whom would be at risk if returned to their homelands, who are worried about their future in the U.S., particularly under the Trump administration.

Characterizing them as “irregular arrivals” fits into the welcoming or inclusive narrative that accepts that how people arrive is less important than giving them the chance to make their case before the Immigration and Refugee Board. Similarly, it downplays the management aspect of immigration and that these claimants are essentially exploiting a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement. As the technical arguments “illegal or irregular” are not simple to explain, this tends to resonate more with those who favour a more open and inclusive approach.

What are the narratives behind ‘old-stock Canadian’ or ‘a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian?’

While the former can be used in a neutral message to indicate Canadians of three generations or more, its use more often suggests a more exclusionary narrative implying a citizenship hierarchy based upon the period of immigration, with earlier largely white arrivals more “Canadian” compared to more recent visible minority arrivals. Moreover, it reinforces concerns that more recent immigrants are not adapting to Canadian values.

“A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,” on the other hand, signals inclusivity, that no matter the time of arrival or their ethnocultural identity, all are and should be treated equally. At its extreme, it justifies citizenship rights as divorced from residency and connections to Canada, as seen in debates over birth tourism, voting rights, and arguments in favour of citizenship transmission beyond the first generation.

What are the narratives behind ‘extreme multiculturalism’ or ‘diversity is our strength?’

“Extreme multiculturalism” signals that the values and practices of immigrants and visible minorities are different and divisive, thus undermining Canadian society and consensus. It implies that multiculturalism is based on an “anything goes” approach, one that leads to “unreasonable accommodation” demands to the disadvantage of “old-stock” Canadians.

“Diversity is our strength,” on the other hand, welcomes diversity as a good in itself. By stressing inclusivity and flexibility regarding accommodation requests, it expands the space of Canadian identities to incorporate other identities. On the other hand, it can lead to downplaying the constraints to accommodation, whether legal, economic or social.

What are the narratives behind ‘social cohesion’ or ‘social inclusion?’

Social cohesion stresses common values and standards that all are expected to understand and comply with. While differences exist, these are portrayed as more cultural (language, food, etc.) than fundamental values. People need to “fit in,” with explicit or implicit limits on societal accommodation. Back in 2009 (the Discover Canada Citizenship Guide) and, again in 2015 (a tip line), the previous Conservative government’s use of the term “barbaric cultural practices” for “honour killings” and female genital mutilation can be seen in this light.

Social inclusion, on the other hand, implies a greater openness to accommodating cultural, religious or other practices and identities. While subject to Charter protections and the need to balance rights, the emphasis is more on accommodation of difference and a reluctance to state limits or qualifications. It can lead to silence on issues within communities about such real concerns as extremism, spousal abuse and female genital mutilation, and the resulting impact on women and other vulnerable members.

What are the narratives behind ‘anti-Muslim hate’ or Islamophobia?

Anti-Muslim hate allows those uncomfortable with the term Islamophobia to situate issues of anti-Muslim bias, discrimination, and racism in the context of individual rather than group rights and those of a religion, Islam. The focus on individual rights maintains some space for legitimate criticism of the religion or its practices (e.g., role of women, LGBTQ, etc.) and more explicit recognition of balancing religious and other rights.

Islamophobia, on the other hand, emphasizes the religion itself, with a greater focus on systemic racism and the rights of the religion as such in contrast to individual rights. Criticism of specific religious practices becomes more difficult as it is can be viewed as criticism of the religion and its institutions rather than criticism of the impact on individual rights.

What are the narratives behind individual acts of racism or systemic racism?

By stressing individual acts of racism, the emphasis is on the individual, the “few bad apples” in any organization or community, with government interventions more focused on education and enforcement of anti-hate crimes legislation. In so doing, it largely sidesteps issues pertaining to societal and socioeconomic barriers.

Systemic racism, on the other hand, situates racism in the context of societal and socioeconomic barriers that result in inequalities, intended or unintended. Individual practices and policies of governments and organizations can inadvertently make it more difficult for individuals and groups to have comparable outcomes to more established groups, as seen with respect to the economy, education attainment, incarceration rates, health and political representation.

What are the narratives behind multiculturalism, interculturalism or pluralism?

All three are “plastic” terms to describe civic integration that range from more integrationist to more separatist. All three can be used positively or negatively. Multiculturalism has been decried by European leaders as having failed at integration in contrast to how it is generally positively viewed by Canadian political leaders and society. It is important to note that what Europeans understand as “multiculturalism” may not be how it is understood in Canada. Interculturalism, while substantively comparable to Canadian multiculturalism with a stronger reference point of Quebec as a French-speaking society, is largely used to emphasize Quebec as a distinct French-speaking and identity-based society. Pluralism is broader in that it includes all forms of diversity (ethnocultural, gender and other) but with more emphasis on tolerance than integration.

Conversation not confrontation

Consciously or not, we all use narratives to drive our arguments and positions. The narratives we use reflect a mix of interests and values. Narratives have elements of identity politics (policies targeted to narrow constituencies) and virtue signalling (superficial support for positions) designed to target and attract individuals and groups.

When listening to discussions and debates, one needs to be alert to the interests, values and signals behind stated positions to improve understanding of them. In formulating our own arguments, one similarly has to “know thyself” and be more mindful of how our interests and values are shaping our positions and narratives. Greater awareness should allow for deeper conversations that either clarify points of divergence or, ideally, commonalities that bridge differences or at least improve civility.

Source: Immigration virtue signalling in both directions

Migrants and the media: what shapes the narratives on immigration in different countries – The Conversation

Interesting comparisons:

If you want to spoil a movie for yourself, wait for a nice dramatic moment and then imagine what it was like to shoot it: the cameras, sound and lighting crews all around; the portable toilets round the back; the half-finished bowl of crisps on the catering table. If a film is to succeed, it needs us to suspend our disbelief and not think about the process.

But when we consume news media, we need to do the opposite – and think carefully about how and why these products were made. When it comes to reporting on polarising and contentious issues such as migration, what happens behind the scenes in media organisations can affect not only how we think about the issue, but even policy itself.

Our team of researchers from the University of Oxford’s Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS), the Budapest Business School and the European Journalism Centre based at Maastricht in the Netherlands, has been working to turn the camera around on news production in Europe. Our objective was to understand why different themes and narratives about migration have taken hold in different countries – and what factors contributed to the people creating these stories operating so differently.

We interviewed more than 200 journalists and key media sources (such as government migration spokespeople, NGOs and think tanks) in nine EU countries, looking at their personal reasons for working the way they did and the institutional, social and political norms that shaped their outputs.

For example – compare this Swedish newspaper reporter who is very positive about the role of journalism: “I enjoy great respect. People listen to what I say and want to hear my opinion”, with this UK newspaper journalist: “Even my own friends hate the fact that I work here and think I’m a disgrace, but I’ve just learned to ignore it and I just get on with my work.”

The same two journalists articulate very different ways of reporting migration. The Swedish journalist describes their approach to reporting on non-EU migrants who are not fleeing persecution or seeking asylum:

Globalisation is a positive force. We rarely write something negative. Labour force migration is positive.

Contrast with this the UK journalist’s explanation of how they would use the term “migrant”, in general:

To be brutally honest, it’s more likely to be people who are a burden on society than those who are a benefit to society, because there is more newsworthiness in a foreign criminal or a teenager who’s being looked after by the council than, say, a brilliant academic who’s come here to further their career … so from our perspective it’s more newsworthy if people are abusing the system or exploiting loopholes or abusing the hospitality being extended to them by British society … because that triggers a reaction in readers.

Both reporters work for newspapers and both cover the issue of migration, but they describe very differently both the place they occupy in society, and the subject they report on.

Matter of perception

Reporting is a fundamentally human process – ideas, data, and anecdotes all pass through reporters, whose perceptions of the world, areas of interest and biases are all affected by various national, social, institutional and political factors. Some are obvious and affect their immediate working experience – such as what they imagine their proprietor or editor might want to read or see. Others are more abstract – such as their sense of responsibility to help people, or to “tell it like it is, warts and all”. This can have a big impact on the reporting of a sensitive issue such as immigration.

These sometimes competing pressures affect everything from what a reporter perceives will actually constitute a valid story, to the words they will use to tell that story. For example, here is a Hungarian broadcast journalist talking about the importance of terminology to the immigration debate:

We prefer to use the term ‘refugee’, as the word ‘migrant’ might sound correct in English, but in Hungarian a ‘migrant’ is an enemy who will kill us. Therefore, we call them ‘refugees’ … We could use the term ‘migrant’, but it is a delicate one as it is widely used by pro-government propaganda.

This national context is critical. Different media traditions are contingent on national history: experiences of migration differ from country to country and even norms of the role of journalism can be fundamentally different.

In Spain and Italy we found it common for reporters to highlight the expectation that they should make an emotional connection with the reader. In Germany and Sweden there was more focus on technical reporting. In some states with a recent history of autocratic government – such as Hungary – there was a more obvious effort by governments to try to influence reporting than in more established democracies.

But government influence was also felt in more nebulous and indirect ways in some countries where the ideal of press freedom was highly prized. Personal connections between politicians and powerful individuals within media organisations are known and understood by reporters, who consider this when they choose how to report issues. One UK newspaper journalist said the owner of the paper was always in their mind when reporting on a story: “There is an awareness of the owner’s circle of friends – he knows lots of influential people – and [awareness of] his enemies.”

Perhaps the most important takeaway is that journalists both shape – and are shaped by – their national policy discourse on migration. Reporters consider, of course, the factual question of “what has happened?”, but other variables also shape the world in which they operate: including what their audiences expect, how the story has been reported by other media, what may get the reporter into trouble, what the editor thinks of the issue and what sells.

Press culture

The way different national media report migration both emerges from cultural practices within media organisations, but also reinforces them. This can have profound impacts on policy outcomes. For example, the culture within UK media – particularly within newspapers – is particularly focused on winning political victories. Would the Brexit referendum result have been the same if it was more moderate?

German journalists, on the other hand, were particularly focused on moderation and social justice. The country may have reacted differently to receiving a million asylum seekers if the nation’s media had been less homogenous in this approach.

Finally, Hungary has developed a “patron and client” model of government relations with media. Would the administration of Victor Orban, the prime minister, have been able to implement its radical anti-immigration policies if the media were less dependent on government and had a greater degree of editorial freedom?

These questions are hypothetical, of course. But by drawing attention to the process of media production, rather than just content, we highlight the need for thoughtful scrutiny of media practices, that may, in turn help lead to better understanding of media and its role within policy-making in the future.

Source: Migrants and the media: what shapes the narratives on immigration in different countries – The Conversation

Moderate Islam meets Auschwitz | +972 Magazine

Interesting piece on Mohammed Dajani Daoudi, a Palestinian academic who came under considerable controversy for his taking a group of Palestinian students to Auschwitz and whose partnership with Ben Gurion University includes exposing Israeli students to the nakba or catastrophe.

His thoughts on the narratives and identity are pertinent and interesting:

Among Palestinians, his advocacy of Holocaust education for Palestinians is deeply fraught. It is pointless to dismiss this as stalwart Arab anti-Semitism. Jews and Jewish Israelis, too, are almost totally incapable of considering the Palestinian Nakba, because they fear it is primarily a justification for right of return. Similarly, Palestinians encounter the Holocaust first and foremost as the justification for their modern-day oppression – and only secondarily as a matter of history and human suffering….

Indeed, between the evolving bear-hug of Israel-conservative circles and the anger he is causing among many Palestinians, his influence is unpredictable. Dajani’s language has a naivete that is out of fashion in the post-second Intifada, post nth negotiation-breakdown environment: he talks of building bridges instead of walls, and praises the Oslo accords as a psychological breakthrough. He blithely supports two states, because both societies need national and identity realization, he says, as if realities on the ground have not changed over the last 20 years.

Moderate Islam meets Auschwitz | +972 Magazine.