Culture, Heritage and Diversity

 

About Shaping perceptions and attitudes to realise the diversity advantage (SPARDA)

 

SPARDA was launched and implemented by the Council of Europe and it is funded primarily by the European Integration Fund. In line with European Agenda for Integration (2011), SPARDA responds to the priority of "more action at local level" and its overall goal is to foster successful integration of migrants through local communication strategies. Seven partner cities were selected as "demonstration sites" to implement communication campaigns: Coimbra (Portugal), Had-Dingli (Malta), Limassol (Cyprus), Patras (Greece), Reggio Emilia (Italy), Institut des Médias/ISCPA in Lyon (France), and the Consortium of PACTEM Nord in Valencia (Spain). The project began in January 2011 and will terminate in June 2012.

 

The project SPARDA (Shaping Perceptions and Attitudes to Realise Diversity Advantage) was conceived in the belief that diversity can be an advantage and that targeted communication can contribute towards accepting diversity as a positive phenomenon. Research for evidence underpinning this project is driven by the understanding that attitudes matter.

 

Attitudes matter because they may be translated into actions and behaviors, and sometimes they can become ‘institutionalised’ in policies and practices, and this is both in positive and negative ways. The evidence that positive public opinion has the power of influencing positively the integration process is needed and this is the challenge that the SPARDA seeks to levier.

 

SPARDA cities – laboratories for ideas about communication on diversity


To be specific, the project aims at fostering successful integration of migrants and diversity groups at the local level, by launching targeted communication and dialogue strategies. The project is also an experiment for local governments and their community partners – media, politicians and civil society - to co-operate through communication to achieve positive integration outcomes. The partnership of 7 European cities was formed to develop and experiment with communication strategies for local dialogue and diversity.

 

Communication, however, can not be effective alone, without practical changes in social, political and organisational structures of each particular country. However, it helps in raising awareness and mobilising people. It can be a leading tool in enhancing integration, social cohesion and dialogue between different ethno-cultural communities.

 

Communication, in fact, in its Latin origin "communis", means to share or make something in common. In the context of SPARDA, the communication "experience" is implemented in the framework of municipal campaigns based on the message of the diversity advantage. Although this message is "customised" according to partners’ local contexts, it serves generally to illustrate that diversity is a lived reality and that it can provide benefits to the communities.

 

Lessons learnt so far


Since January 2011, seven partner cities were selected as "demonstration sites" to implement communication campaigns. While city communities are a long way from achieving the kind of noticeable change in public behavior that motivated the project, the progress that has been achieved is notable. The focus was put on community outreach through media (internet, printed media, TV and radio) and reliance on local partners to promote different cultural activities. Cultural promotion served as positive encouragement for people to work together in community building, recognizing the value of diversity and the importance that culture plays in the integration process.

 

Local SPARDA campaigns, designed to support this integration process, range from those using strictly participative strategies, multimedia campaigns and local partnership communication strategies, to those that are more focused on cultural exchange and celebration of diversity. Some of the projects directly sought to boost the development of local partnerships to multiply the impact of the the communication strategies. Some local projects seem to have influence the on development of a communication vision and messages about diversity and migration therefore enhancing competence within the municipalities in the field of communication.

 

However, efficiency of the campaigns, both in terms of impact on future strategies and the public opinion, still needs to be analysed and measured. This would be done through surveys, results of focus groups discussions and the project evaluation currently underway. Nevertheless few observations can be made already at this stage. All partners faced challenges in pursuing the SPARDA projects, not least in explaining the SPARDA objectives to local partners that more often than not think in terms of immediate results than long-term initiatives that encourage social (and institutional) change. It takes time to build experience and confidence of the public in local policies, especially in such a sensitive field as migration and diversity management. Many partners were learning "on the fly" what communication on diversity actually entailed. Most partners realised that the relevance of communication about diversity and migration issues depends upon an understanding of what diversity means in a specific local context and how the process of diversity management is framed by the city authorities.

 

The implementation of the project made it also clear that , the process of integration requires a solid strategic approach, that includes a strategy of communication. This also implies a vision for the future. The vision needs answering a question: if we are to live amongst diverse communities, what needs to be done for this communities to “live together in dignity”? Within this paradigm, what can communication do to help?

 

Article: long version

 

Lilia Kolombet

SPARDA Manager