The project "Cultural Opening" is a joint research project with partners in Germany, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Serbia, Hungary and Slovakia. Finding a basis for the integration of immigrants through diversity and intercultural competence is the central aim of the project. To this end, the cooperation between the involved European partners is strengthened and a network for joint research and knowledge exchange is established. A Horizon 2020 application is jointly being prepared to fund the project.
The first phase of the project started in November 2017. To generate ideas for a concrete outline, the partners met in Osnabrueck (Germany) and had a first workshop. A special focus of this meeting was placed on the topics of diversity and intercultural competence. Another focus was to generate measures to foster intercultural competence and to sum up research in this area. Particular reference was made to the situation of refugees.
The comparison between the participating European countries shows that migration is a widespread and topical issue in Europe. All of these countries have had many points of contact with immigrants in recent years, while integration was a widely discussed topic. However, the starting situations in the individual countries are different. More detailed information on this can be found under Migration in the cooperating countries – a short overview.
Overall, it became clear that there is a need for a better understanding of the social and economic influences related to migration. An essential point is immigrant employment and productivity. However, there is not yet a "best practice" for the European area regarding how integration should be managed.
An important aspect of the integration of immigrants into social and economic life is the reduction of distrust and fear among the native population. A study in the Czech Republic in 2016 indicated that 43% of the seniors interviewed were afraid of refugees and the consequences of their arrival. These negative attitudes have been built up mainly through influences from the media. The research project aims to help reduce this negative attitude. According to previous research, important competences to counteract this are communication, intercultural knowledge as well as intercultural competence (see also Competences).
An essential aspect of integration is the situation of the local labour market of each country and the opening of the market for refugees. Globalisation and mechanisation has had a strong impact on the European labour market. In particular, innovations in technology as well as changes in global trade have had a major impact on the labour market. Nevertheless, the conditions in the countries in Europe, e.g., in terms of worker protection and minimum wage, are very different.
Due to the influx of migrants, the labour market situation of Eastern and Western Europe is changing. This poses a challenge for the economy, society and politics. An important point in that context is the shortage of skilled workers. The government's task is to promote cross-regional cooperation and expand the education system in order to prevent that highly qualified professionals are leaving (Farrel, 2013).
The exchange of the involved partners about the course of action and concrete measures arrived at the conclusion that intercultural competence plays a prominent role in each country. Knowledge about cultures, skills, life experiences and attitudes are important components for intercultural competence (Early & Peterson, 2004).
Within the research project, various aims are being pursued. The aims have been defined in different work packages.
As described in the first section, migration is a highly topical subject that needs to be taken into account in the economy as well as in politics and society. One focus of the project is Work Package 1, which aims to jointly prepare an application for the Horizon 2020 Framework Programme 2018-2020, in order to secure funding for the project. Horizon 2020 is a programme of the European Union for the promotion of research and innovation.
In December 2017, there was a first workshop in Osnabrueck (Germany), the partners generated a pool of ideas and subsequently developed concrete plans to address two “Calls” of the Horizon 2020 programme. These calls, which are in the area of "Migration, Europe in a changing world - Inclusive innovative and reflective societies", are:
- Understanding migration mobility patterns: elaborating mid and long-term migration scenarios
- Social and economic effects of migration in Europe and integration policies (RIA)
The first call covers social and economic effects of migration and the second call focuses on the elaboration of mid and long-term migration scenarios. Further education programmes for teachers, parents and immigrant children will be developed in order to ensure a better understanding and an acceptance of multicultural societies.
The partners of the project informed each other via Skype and Dropbox to keep themselves up-to-date regarding the application for Horizon 2020. An important part of the workshop was also to generate a timeline and to determine the responsibilities for the individual steps.
Another meeting was held in March of 2018 in Brno (The Czech Republic), to exchange information about progress and to plan the next steps. Additionally, the participants presented further projects and research from their respective countries that deal with topics related to the goals of the research project. You can find a conclusion of these reports and more information about the meetings in the description of the workshops.
All partners had contacted the National Contact Point (NCP) to obtain relevant information for the application. This included, for example, country-specific information and statistics on migration and networks that could be supportive for the project. In this way, stakeholders (contributors) could be won for the project who can complement research knowledge and bring in further perspectives.
In addition to the first work package, which is the main focus of the project, there are five other work packages. The second work package deals with the identification of a framework model for the development of global and intercultural competence. As explained above, this competence is extremely important for promoting cultural understanding and for the integration of migrants into everyday life. Part of the work package is to develop and conduct a study for the surveying university students and the broader population. Recommendations for action and measures are to be derived from this, which will then also be incorporated into the Horizon 2020 project.
The focus of the third work package is the development of a structural model of global competence. The aim is to filter out which skills are needed to interact with people from foreign cultures, so that these skills can be promoted in people who work in a relevant field. Another part of the work package is to develop critical incidents. A critical incident includes an example situation with various proposed solutions to deal with the situation, one of which represents the "best way of practice". In this way, it is possible to learn what behaviour should be shown in particularly difficult situations. The method is very practice-oriented and therefore achieves very good transfer results.
In the framework of the fourth work package, the competence model is further elaborated and measurement scales for the different skills are defined. Questions to be answered are: How can it be determined whether a person has learned the relevant skills? Which of the skills need to be specifically promoted by which methods? To answer these questions in an intersubjective way, it is important to develop fixed assessment schemes.
The fifth work package aims at the complete and correct documentation of progress and results. This documentation should ensure that all partners and multipliers involved are up to date with the project and have the relevant information at their disposal. A continuous exchange of information is therefore essential.
The sixth work package is about ensuring quality and promoting transfer. The results of the project should also be useful in the long term and will therefore be published on various databases.
At the end of the project, the findings and results from the database of the project can be used by policy makers and organisations (both business organisations and non-profit organisations). The results of the project may support the integration of refugees and immigrants into the European labour market. Since it was decided to address two Calls – covering economic aspects and social aspect of migration – organisations, municipalities as well as the business community can benefit even more from the results of the project.
The exchange with multipliers and networks, which is being conducted by the partners during the project, supports the consideration of specifics of Eastern European cultures regarding labour market integration and international economic collaborations. Concrete recommendations for action will be derived that focus on the diagnosis of vocational qualifications. These recommendations will be passed on to interested parties through counselling and exchange. The promotion of diversity measures through advisory activities of the project partners will lead to the implementation of the findings and results in organisations. Joint concepts will be developed which will also be shared with small and medium-sized enterprises and consultancies.
The project helps to promote cooperation and exchange between the different sectors and thus to improve the European integration of migrants. For Germany in particular, this means that discrimination and negative attitudes towards refugees can be reduced and the access of immigrants to the labour market can be improved. Furthermore, the project should help to raise interest for diversity, intercultural competence, and integration at the European level.
In summary, it is important to strengthen the cooperation in the economic sector and to support the exchange between the different sectors. This will promote inclusive growth and new employment opportunities, especially for Germany. By increasing interest in the aforementioned topics and participation in further projects at the European level, the reduction of discrimination and negative attitudes towards refugees should be achieved. In the long term, the team seeks to promote an innovation union, to strengthen networks, and to develop new business models and knowledge exchange. By incorporating specific cultural influences of Eastern Europe, the project aims to increase the likelihood of success in economic activities (e.g., mergers and acquisitions) related to this area.
The project team pursues comparative cultural and intercultural studies for the cultural areas of Central and Eastern Europe, with a mix of methods and the linking of basic and applied research. To this end, surveys are conducted in the participating countries. These will provide an overview of people's attitudes towards immigrants and refugees. On that basis, scientific and practice-relevant implications for research and business can be derived.
A special focus of the project is placed on Eastern Europe. The attitudes of people towards immigrants from Eastern Europe are examined more closely. In this context, both cross-cultural results and results specific for Eastern Europe will be considered. Eastern European cultural influences will be examined and recorded in more detail.
The project team develops two applications addressing two calls for Horizon 2020, which deal with the thematic complex "Europe in a Changing World". Both social and economic aspects of migration in the individual countries will be considered. These findings are important for the economy as well as for research. From these results, future research projects can be derived, which deal with the details of the insights gained from this project.
The results of the surveys conducted during the project are presented and disseminated to the public at congresses, meetings, and conferences (like, for example, the Enterprise and Competitive Environment Conference in Brno in March 2018), and are also spread into the general public. During the project, bilateral research relations are built and integrated into a functioning research network. The network is expected to continue after the end of the project.
The research network does not only serve research, but also consolidates the cooperation with the business community, especially with regional small and medium-sized enterprises. It can also contribute to the active cooperation of all partner institutions beyond the end of the project.
The research network enables to strengthen a positive diversity culture across Europe. In addition, the members of the network can share their experiences and problems. Through multipliers within the network, the transfer of scientific findings into practice can be facilitated and the measures can be implemented in associated organisations.
A significant interest of the scientific community in the project results can be expected, because of the increased international activities of organisations that are mainly based in the western cultural areas. The topics of intercultural competence and intercultural communication in particular have not been part of mainstream research for a long time and were niche topics.
The first well-founded findings in the area of the integration of immigrants and the reduction of discrimination are expected from the project, so that further research can build on them. The promotion of young researchers in the field of academic qualifications might help to promote this progress. Through the project, a sound scientific basis can be created for comparing findings on the reduction of discrimination and the promotion of integration across contexts. This assists internationalisation and knowledge transfer.
In terms of research activities, the topics of diversity and intercultural competence are to be further researched as key qualifications. The results should contribute to integration, and to the reduction of discrimination and negative attitudes towards refugees. In addition, the specifics of Eastern European countries and culture are measured. In the long term, the internationalisation and European orientation of research will be strengthened. Knowledge transfer of scientific findings into practice will be pursued. A knowledge transfer platform is being developed for this purpose.