Citizen-coproduction in refugee integration
I have had the opportunity to participate in the project “Citizen-coproduction in refugee integration” as a research assistant during the fall 2017. The project concerns the role of voluntary organisations in integration policies at the local level. The project leader is Zuzana Murdoch, Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science and Management. As a research assistant, I gained valuable experiences from conducting statistical analysises and new insights on processes in the starting phase of a research project.
The term citizen-coproduction refers to the joint provision of public services by both public agents and citizens. Co-production differs notably from the traditional model of public service production in which government employees are responsible for designing and delivering services to citizens, who in turn only demand, consume and evaluate them. In co-production, the former are involved as professionals, while the ‘citizen’ production is based on voluntary efforts of individuals or groups. In academic literature, co-production is often seen as an approach to the enhancement of municipal productivity, based on the belief that this way of organizing services might lead to cost reductions, higher service quality and expanded opportunities for citizens to participate in decision-making activities.
In Norway, as well as in most other European countries, there has been a very strong increase in the number of refugees entering the country in 2014-2015. This placed a significant strain on the public sector’s formulation and implementation of integration policies at the local level. Simultaneously, there is access for the citizens to engage in voluntary work regarding integration of refugees in municipalities. For instance, the Norwegian Directorate of Integration and Diversity (IMDi) encourages citizens to engage as “voluntary helpers” to contribute to making the transition to the Norwegian society easier for refugees, for instance by being a guide, language training or including refugees in the social environment in the municipality. Thus, this suggest that voluntary organisations may play a role in integration policies.
My role as a research assistant in this project was firstly to gather registry data from IMDi about the percentage of refugees in each municipality, as well as gathering information about local public spending on refugee integration. The latter was collected from Statistics Norway (SSB), however there were no direct numbers on this, so I had to compare municipal expenditure on social services as well as introduction programmes for refugees. Secondly, I compared the municipalities over these variables to make a selection of the municipalities that were situated at the top or bottom. These municipalities were then further examined by looking into their official websites to see if they mentioned the use of voluntary organisations in their integration work/policies.
From my work as a research assistant, I gained insights to a new field of theory which was very interesting and relevant for my education. The dynamics between public and private organisations is fascinating, and literature on co-production contributed with useful discussions on the matter. A large part of my involvement in the project was through statistical analysis, which has been central in my master thesis. I also gained useful experiences in processing datasets from SSB, which will be helpful in future research. I am very grateful for the opportunity to participate in this project, and it inspires me to continue to pursue a career in research.