Migration and Strategic Communications

Full Report here.

Over the past two decades, strategic migration communications campaigns (SMCCs) have become an increasingly popular tool among policymakers seeking to reduce irregular migration and raise awareness of the risks of migrant smuggling and human trafficking. Despite their growing popularity, however, the results of these campaigns have been mixed. There is little clear evidence about their specific intended outcomes, the means by which they intend to provoke change, or their effects on the attitudes of potential migrants over time. Drawing together recent academic research and data collected from the review of eleven recent strategic communications campaigns, this report identifies common successes and failures, highlights gaps in the evidence base, and develops a preliminary set of best practices for future programming

The first section of this report reviews the existing academic literature on the effect of information treatments on migratory behaviour. The second section analyses a range of recent SMCCs to understand how these programmes operate in practice. The final section evaluates the results of previous campaigns to understand what might make strategic migration communications campaigns most effective.

Key Takeaways 

1) Define a clear target audience and understand their baseline attitudes to migration: Communications interventions are more effective when they target a specific, well-defined audience. Ideally, SMCC campaigns should implement a target audience analysis including a media usage survey to help understand how the target audience receive and process information. Campaign stakeholders should have a strong, granular understanding of baseline attitudes towards migration, including the drivers of migration, migrant aspirations and preferences, and perceptions of the costs and benefits of irregular migration. 

2) Develop a credible, trusted voice: Potential migrants are likely to ignore information about irregular migration that they perceive to be biased or inaccurate. As with any other public information campaign, SMCCs must be regarded as trustworthy sources of information by their target audiences. Evidence suggests that content that lifts up the voices and experiences of migrants among their community members is more likely to be perceived as trustworthy.

3) Avoid short-term, fear-based messages: Previous SMCCs have used cynical, fear-based messages to emphasize the short-term risks of irregular migration. Although these campaigns may play to domestic political interests, they have limited effects on migratory behaviour. Evidence suggests that fear-based messages are often perceived as untrustworthy and that potential migrants may tolerate short-term risk because they believe the potential long-term benefits to be transformational.

 4) Know what you are trying to change and how you’re going to measure it: Previous SMCCs have frequently lacked clear goals and have failed to properly assess intervention outcomes. Communications interventions should have a robust and clearly developed theory of change outlining how the proposed interventions will seek to change attitudes and behaviour. For monitoring and evaluation (M&E) purposes, interventions should be measured in terms of outcomes rather than outputs.

 5) Understand the limits of strategic communications: Strategic migration communications campaigns have the potential to produce valuable, targeted results in the short-term. Yet, as they become a more popular policy tool, policymakers should understand their limits. Communications interventions are unlikely to produce significant changes in migration behaviour over the long term without concomitant efforts to address the structural drivers of migration and increase access to regular migration pathways.

Dom Spiers