Into the mainstream: Rethinking public services for diverse and mobile populations
Amidst a backdrop of growing diversity, the concept of ‘mainstreaming’ immigrant integration has proven trendy in European policy circles in recent years even it has been invoked for different purposes and in different contexts. Accurately used to capture the idea that integration policy requires a whole-of-government response across national and local levels, mainstreaming also has been cited as justification for cuts to immigrant-focused programming and to shift away from newcomer-targeted policies in favour of generic, mainstream ones.
In fact, a new report by Migration Policy Institute Europe for Project UPSTREAM, Into the mainstream: Rethinking public services for diverse and mobile populations, finds that despite the intuitive appeal of mainstreaming, few agree on its meaning. Amidst a dearth of rigorous on-the-ground testing of mainstreaming programmes, the report synthesises case studies of five countries (France, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom) and includes research at the European Union level.
‘It is not clear whether mainstreaming is well understood outside integration circles (or even inside them), and whether it is helping or hindering policymakers as they design public services to accommodate mobility and diversity’, the report’s authors write.
‘Thus far, no country has lived up to the mainstreaming ideal’, they conclude.
Instead, the authors suggest a rebranding to ‘adapting services to diverse and mobile populations’ to better focus on the twin challenges that integration policies seek to address.
The report, the final in the EU-funded UPSTREAM research project, examines how the five countries studied and the European Commission are employing the concept of mainstreaming and whether it has helped improve how public services address mobility and diversity. It then examines promising practices in the fields of education and social cohesion policy, as well as the need for funding flexibility and governance structures such as interministeral cooperation and local partnerships that can meet cross-cutting challenges. The report also underscores the importance of data collection to identify gaps and inequalities in the provision of public services and improve outcomes. And it finds that EU funding, while playing a valuable role in a time of austerity, has rarely been employed in a way that stimulates local innovation or allows local stakeholders to address challenges not in line with national priorities.
The report makes clear the mainstreaming ethos can provide a guiding force for governments seeking to reform public services to meet the needs of diverse and mobile populations. While some countries define integration rather narrowly (either as adjustment to a new environment for newly arrived populations or as only a cultural—not socioeconomic—process), people of migrant background face a diversity of integration needs that change over time. Mainstreaming can therefore be described as a process of both ‘mobility-proofing’ and ‘diversity-proofing’ public services, which involves rigorously auditing and then reforming services to ensure that they are fit to serve mobile and diverse populations.
‘When all levels of government understand how public services must address a continuum of integration needs, they may be more likely to coordinate on concrete steps toward defined goals—and move away from what has been an overly philosophical debate’, the authors conclude.