Policy relevance of experiential knowledge
In the TRUST project, we have conducted field work in Finland, Sweden, Germany, and Australia during 2016 and 2017. Learning about unaccompanied minors’ lived experiences is a crucial part of the project. Unfortunately, such experiences are still quite rarely recognised in research, let alone acknowledged in policies and integration schemes. Based on insights from our field work, I argue that Europe has to openly discuss the challenges of the human existence these children and young people face in their new home countries. This means that we need to search answers to the following questions from an experiential viewpoint: How and through which practices does the life of unaccompanied minors become overregulated? How do several protective measures and care practices confine them into a national trap that does not recognise transcultural belonging? How does this feel and affect young people’s daily life?
In the spring 2017, TRUST published a policy brief on the housing of unaccompanied minors in Finland. This document was based on the field work with unaccompanied minors and the people who work with them. The field work has been going on since 2014. This long-term involvement with several young people provided a solid ground for our policy brief to describe how minors experience the current care practices. In addition, in the process of making the policy brief, we analysed the care staff’s reactions collected through interviews and a collaborative workshop. This experiential knowledge was then transferred to policy claims on how the needs of unaccompanied minors must be recognised and the care system changed in order to support the agency of these minors.
Translating lived experiences of housing to policy recommendations requires good knowledge of the migration governance, and an understanding of how the care structure is historically organised and what the transcultural needs and ties of unaccompanied minors are. Moreover, the policy brief has to be communicated in a manner that makes sense both to policy-makers and people in the field. This is crucial in order to influence the contemporary practices. Our policy brief was also targeted at the ministries responsible for the matters of unaccompanied refugee minors within a wide spectrum, not only in regard to housing. The TRUST team made this important decision to overcome as many of the administrative boundaries as possible, which are one of the key barriers in developing the current care practices.
Our policy brief was a collaborative effort of a multidisciplinary team of researchers both in writing the actual piece and commenting on the earlier drafts. The recommendations were all based on the experiences gathered in the field work. The policy brief’s launch was targeted at a particular policy process, namely the public comment round of the Act on the Promotion of Immigration Integration (Laki kotoutumisen edistämisestä). The policy brief was sent out to several institutional actors, ministries, politicians, ELY centres, municipalities, and NGOs in the field. It was spread through social media, tweeted and sent to e-mail lists of care practitioners, such as migration officials and social workers.
Making policy-relevant research is demanded and valued by the funders of research nowadays. Obviously, many research projects can also fulfil this requirement, at least in principle. However, to communicate the findings in a manner that will reach the policy-makers at the right time and in the right format requires extra efforts and detailed planning. On the other hand, policy-makers quite often neglect the experiential knowledge produced by research. In TRUST, we argue that the experience of being part of the practice is the most crucial knowledge for developing practices. If we want to understand how the housing of refugee minors affects the integration and future of these young people, there is no other way to do this than to ask for their opinions, respect their answers and analytically contextualise them within the wider migration governance, along with the demand to change the practices that are unworkable. This is the way to make policy-relevant research – this is how the world changes!