Consultancy focus: Fostering responsible reporting of migration

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23rd January 2024

Rob McNeil, Oxford University's Migration Observatory, engages in consultancy work facilitated by OUI, supporting journalists and communicators in fostering informed and balanced discussions on migration.

Switch on a news channel during a discussion around migration and there’s a good chance Rob McNeil or one of his team will be introduced to share their expert insights. For over a decade, Rob has been steering the media profile and strategy at Oxford University’s Migration Observatory – widely acknowledged as a preeminent source of independent, evidence-based analysis and commentary on this thorniest of topics.

It is thorny not least because of the vast – and often polarising – array of media coverage the subject attracts. That’s why Rob has made it his mission to apply his experience in journalism and research to the task of fostering responsible, measured public debate of migration issues.

“Our day-to-day work at the Observatory looks at migration flow data and where migration policy is going,” says Rob, who is also the Observatory’s Deputy Director. “My consultancy work focuses on the public debate: why does it happen, and what does a good migration debate look like?”

OUI has managed negotiations and contracts for more than 20 of Rob’s consultancy projects in recent years, spanning workshops, summer schools and reporting handbooks. This work with journalists and communicators across Europe helps shape and enhance the quality of public debate around migration, as well as returning knowledge and benefits to Rob’s day-to-day work at the University’s Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS), which hosts the Observatory. “Working with OUI’s Consulting Services team has been beneficial because I know my interests are being protected,” says Rob. “I have peace of mind legally and financially, plus it saves me a lot of time that I can instead put towards preparing my training materials.”

Rob’s consultancy journey began with his participation in the EU-funded ENIGMMA (Enhancing Georgia’s Migration Management) project, aimed at boosting Georgia’s border management capacity and its ability to disseminate information on migration and visa issues to the public – including via the media. Outcomes included a training video for journalists and a report containing advice on the delivery of communication campaigns around migration.

Since then, Rob has delivered summer schools and courses – both in person and online – for journalists and communicators from a host of countries, including Ukraine, Georgia, Czech Republic, Russia and Azerbaijan. Much of this work has been funded through the German Federal Foreign Office’s MOMENTA programme, run by the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), for which Rob co-authored a handbook on migration reporting. That, in turn, has led to a similar piece of work for the UK’s National Council for the Training of Journalists: an online course designed to provide guidance on reporting migration issues for journalists at all career stages across print, digital and broadcast outlets.

The University, too, has seen tangible benefits from this partnership-building across Europe. Working closely with ICMPD, COMPAS was able to secure a €5 million research grant through the EU’s Horizon fund. This major project explored the social and economic impacts of migration across the EU, and how migration is discussed in media, politics and wider public debate.

Rob adds: “So many opportunities have been created through my individual consultancy work. I’ve been commissioned by the UN’s International Organisation for Migration to provide media and communications advice, and I’m working with German and Belgian think-tanks to explore the question of whether ‘less is more’ when it comes to talking publicly about migration. I gain a huge understanding of the issues surrounding migration from this work, as well as lots of brilliant contacts, which I bring back with me to enhance what we do at the University.”

Contact OUI’s Consultancy team for advice on how to find an expert at the University of Oxford or to start consulting with the team’s support.

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