The Migration Observatory:
Polling over the last decade has consistently shown immigration to be one of the five most important policy issues for the public in Britain, yet the quality of public debate on the subject has often been characterised by assertion rather than evidence, and simplistic readings of what evidence has been put forward.
To tackle this, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford (www.migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk) was launched in March 2011 by the University’s Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS). The Observatory’s aim is to improve the quality of the UK’s public discourse on migration by undertaking high quality research, and making clear what is fact and what is not in this hotly contested policy area.
To do this, the Observatory undertakes independent and strictly evidence based analysis of data on migration and migrants in the UK to inform media, public and policy debates. It focuses principally on the UK but has an evolving research base that addresses migration globally.
The Migration Observatory is built on a user-friendly online platform that incorporates video and photography with downloadable data and analysis, interactive charts, simple navigability and a dynamic homepage that is updated regularly to keep the site constantly relevant to evolving debates.
The Observatory’s team is made up of two economists a political scientist, a media expert and an administrator, who work together to ensure content is accessible, academically excellent, politically independent, and will deliver real external impact.
The Observatory produces a regular flow of authoritative outreach materials including –
• “Thinking Behind the Numbers” which deconstructed presumptions about public opinion on immigration.
• “Top Ten Problems in the Evidence Base for Public Debate and Policy-Making on Immigration in the UK” which established the parameters of what is and is not known about key migration issues affecting the UK.
Commentaries on current issues - including:
• “Off Target”, which uncovered significant challenges for the Government in hitting net migration targets using current policies.
• “The Net Migration Bounce” which revealed an often overlooked ‘bounce’ effect on long-term net migration following cuts to certain types of immigration.
• “The Variations Enigma” which considered regional differences in public opinion toward immigrants in Britain.
Discussing in detail arguments around key migration issues such as “Demographic Objectives in Migration Policy Making”, and “Immigration Detention: Policy Challenges”. These 15 long-form pieces use video interviews with the authors to ensure the complexity of the issues is easier for non-specialist audiences to absorb.
A set of 30 continuously updated comprehensive briefings on key subjects affecting the migration debate, designed to provide academic and non-academic users with high quality data and analysis on major topics relating to migration in the UK.
Data and resources:
More than 200 downloadable charts, graphs, maps and tables.
Through its website, media work and extensive user engagement, the Observatory communicates the results of research carried out by migration scholars across the social sciences at Oxford University to an audience far beyond the academy.
Since its launch just one year ago the Observatory has forged an important place for itself in the UK’s migration debate as a genuinely independent and authoritative voice. Our research has reached stakeholders, from the Prime Minister and other members of the Cabinet (who were presented with Migration Observatory’s “Thinking Behind the Numbers” report by the Vice Chancellor of Oxford University) to a broad range of academics, think tanks, lobby groups and civil society organisations.
The Observatory and its spokespeople now regularly appear in print publications including the Financial Times, the Economist, The Guardian, The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph, The Independent, The Daily Mail, The Daily Express, The Daily Star, The Daily Mirror and The Sun, and on major broadcast news programmes including Radio 4’s Today Programme, PM and The World at 1, BBC1’s 6 O’Clock News, 10 O’Clock News and The Daily Politics as well as key online and international publications.
The Observatory’s “Off Target” report had a notable impact on the UK’s net-migration debate, making clear the limitations of government policy in delivering a high-profile target. Recent Government efforts to move away from a focus on migrant numbers appear, in some part at least, to reflect of the accuracy of our analysis.
Our research into public attitudes toward different types of migrant have helped change the terms of the current debate on international students in the UK – demonstrating that there is considerably less opposition toward international students in the UK than toward many other types of migrant. This research has been a central pillar of the arguments of almost all civil society and political groups campaigning to prevent cuts to international student numbers.
Evidence that some of the highest levels of opposition to migration tend to be focussed on the numerically smallest group (asylum seekers) has also helped define who British people really think of as “migrants” when answering questions about whether they wish to see numbers reduced.
Monitoring and evaluation:
The Observatory’s success in becoming a key player in media and political debates is a result of a considered strategic approach both in the planning and execution of the project, a focus on targets and a commitment to careful monitoring and evaluation of both our work, and the broader context in which is it set.
We are halfway through a comprehensive evaluation of the project, undertaken by an independent external evaluation company (the baseline evaluation is available on request.)
This evaluation process has included interviews with key stakeholders in politics, the media and civil society organisations, regular monitoring of quantitative data from Google analytics, and a set of bespoke metrics designed to help us to consider how effectively the Observatory is inserting itself into the national debate.
As a part of this ongoing process the Observatory is developing a new methodology for analysing the development of narratives in media over long periods, which should also allow us to evaluate what impact we have had on the nature of the media discourse in the UK.