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The role of trust in street-level organisations within integration projects

Conference contribution
Authors Shelley Kotze
Mirek Dymitrow
Published in The 17th Annual ESPANET Conference: “Social citizenship, migration and conflict – Equality and opportunity in European welfare states”, The European Network for Social Policy Analysis, 5–7 September 2019, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Economy and Society, Unit for Human Geography
Mistra Urban Futures
Language en
Keywords street-level organisations, migration, integration, labour market, trust, distrust
Subject categories Social Psychology, Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology), Human Geography, Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies), Public Administration Studies


Swedish immigrant integration holds a unique contradiction in that it is lauded as having the ‘best’ policy in Europe (MIPEX), but its outcomes are amongst some of the poorest (Eurostats). Currently, responsibility of implementing integration policy is held by national agencies at the macro-level. Such a structure, however, is likely to overshadow what goes on at the micro-level, an oversight which is also reflected within current research. By adopting a street-level organisation (SLOs) approach, this research sets out to explore the gap between formal policy provision and measurable outcomes, where trust is situated as a critical dimension within the process of integration that is yet to be captured by other means. This presentation explores trust as a reason for the disparity between policy and outcomes, with the help of a case study that involves an SLO situated in Gothenburg; more specifically, a suburb characterised by a 90% immigrant population, and its unexploited social capital. To resolve this issue Gothenburg embarked on a four-year EU sponsored project concerned with labour market integration. Under this umbrella, a sub-project has been launched to engage 500 immigrants visiting an SLO within green business development as a means to integration. However, while initially promising, several intricacies surrounding the studied SLO, including its structure, history and leadership, has brought forth a number of worrying insights that have severed trust-building and impeded future work. Previous studies exploring the success of projects at the street level have successfully used qualitative methods, including reflexive non-participant observation. In our research we have used field notes collected over a six-month period from the project’s inception, supplemented by time lines of interactions and stakeholder engagements. The data have been coded to decipher key incidents and exchanges where trust has played a pivotal role in the dynamics between stakeholders, and for the direction of the project, as such. Given the responsibility that SLOs currently hold within immigrant integration, the personal street-level interactions from which (dis)trust evolves need to be regarded as significantly important. Our findings suggest that trust is greatly underestimated within SLOs, with distrust disrupting the success of the integration process, often resulting in project failure. This presentation will make recommendations as to how a SLO approach can contribute to trust-building, which will go some way in addressing existing ambiguities and inconsistencies between policy and outcomes concerning immigrant integration.

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