Societal Complexity Research on the Refugee Issue

From IFORS Developing Countries Online Resources
Jump to: navigation, search

by: Ulrike Reisach <>, Neu-Ulm University of Applied Sciences

The current refugee issue in Europe is a typical example of a complex societal problem. In this case, humanitarian, political, social and economic factors are inextricably woven together in a complex net-worked world of multiple and partially competing interests of stakeholders. The issues at stake are “strategic” and as such, need an interdisciplinary approach. All sciences and societal groups, including businesses, want to understand the current challenges in order to ensure a successful integration of millions of new arrivals in Europe.

Unfortunately, there is no algorithm which optimizes the refugee streams and the logistics of resources needed, nor is there a master plan of integration for a world government, much less a savior who would take all this in his/her hands and lead the way which would satisfy all the needs of the people involved, from asylum seekers to helpers, from local to national citizens, administrations and governments. Such is the pattern of societal complexity: no easy solutions, multiple and often contradicting interests, no accurate forecast or calculability of future developments.

While no real solution can be offered for problems with a high degree of complexity, a methodology shows promise of providing a valuable instrument for governments and organizations in search of: new directions, new approaches for handling crises before they occur, and communication strategies with multiple and sometimes emotional stakeholders. This is the Complex Societal Problem Handling Methodology (COMPRAM*), which prescribes an 6-step plan. Below are suggestions for the problem at hand:

1. Knowledge

Increasing the knowledge, e.g. using a simulation model including several scenarios of future refugees/migration streams and directions to be expected; regular gathering of forecasts from experts, think tanks and social media; widening the scope of potential ideas and contributors through the creation of a platform for an idea competition.

2. Power

Analysis and description of the problem by a team of neutral content experts; analysis of their respective power; strategic analysis of (mega-) trends in various countries, analysis of consequences for the local people and of potential impacts on neighboring countries through experts from various backgrounds (to avoid blind spots, biases and self-interest).

3. Mutual Agreement

Analysis and description of the problem by different teams of actors; discussions of possibilities; agreement on interventions; migration can be a motor for economic growth if the integration is successful; therefore people and shelters have to be prepared, the distribution, registration and acknowledgement process speeded up, incentive systems and learning material has to be developed. A European alignment of laws and procedures should be found, local laws may have to be adapted, administrative structures might have to become more flexible. An open discussion of such kind of suggestions should not be restricted to the usual bodies, but rather to different interest groups and representatives of the regions: they know the local challenges and can more clearly see potential developments, political, societal, financial risks of the interventions. Additionally, platforms for a competition for the best ideas can be established.

4. Societal Reaction

Anticipation of the societal reactions; discussion of mutually accepted interventions; communication is necessary to critically reflect the objectives, plans, and measures.This is an opportunity to integrate all stakeholders. Decision makers can use megatrends such as migration to put the relevant priorities on top of the agenda, to explain strategic moves and relate them to short-term/long term goals, responsibility and reputation considerations.

5. Implementation

The implementation takes time and has to be monitored steadily to assess the various steps and their realization and consequences.

6. Evaluation

The evaluation of changes includes information on success of the interventions and lessons learned. Often there is a lack of explicit analysis of shortcomings in decision making and results - at least they are seldom published because politicians want to be re-elected and tend to sell everything as a success. It is also difficult to measure whether the outcomes are attributable to the strategic decision-making or to other factors and changes that took place. But the usefulness of regional or institutional initiatives can be assessed through a benchmarking process which allows best practice sharing and mutual learning. The task will not be easy but with the broader view and knowledge about the arguments of opponent stakeholders, an open and forward-looking approach and discussion can help foster a critical reflection on current policies with regard to future trends. Governments and organizations can use this model to systematically develop scenarios, foster stakeholder inclusion, channel the debate about interventions and strategies, learn from each other and be better prepared for the handling of the existing and further upcoming issues.