Exploring social relations among participants to a social inclusion project

Francesca Odella

Contact: francesca.odella@unitn.it

The paper analyses personal relationship of participants to a two-year training project for social inclusion of migrants and non-migrants; specifically it focuses on the participatory research process that allowed to study the participants' relational networks for exploring and evaluating motivations and interest in the project. Training and inclusion projects aimed at migrants are frequently evaluated in terms of effectiveness such as the rate of participation or labour market outcomes. For a series of reasons this perspective may not prove completely advisable: time constraints such as the limited period when participants are monitored on the labour market, diversity of participants in terms of language competence and previous education or professionalization, and most of all, the different expectations and intentions that participants can have to engage in a collective activity. Motivation to participate and reciprocal commitment in personal relations, instead, thought expressed in different forms, are ‘di per se’ an important element of socialization and a prerequisite for a complete participation of migrants. According to this last perspective the research design was developed during a two years training project and included participated activities such as focus groups and discussions with the participants about the study’s contents and its preliminary results. Moreover, since reciprocal knowledge would happen more frequently among people who already share similar background and life experiences (economic migration, refugee status or foreign resident), the research was designed to integrate multiple approaches in data collection. Specifically, a personal networks survey and a series of qualitative interviews with both migrants and non-migrants involved in the project were integrated to put in evidence individual and social interactions among participants and to evaluate their evolution during the two years of the project. The interviews evaluated also how much commitment in the project could be constrained by institutional and contextual factors (change of status, gender and age, place of temporary residence). Assessment of relational diversity in a group, in fact, implies to pay attention to the quantitative aspects of personal connections (who do you know, the intensity and frequency of relations) as well to the qualitative aspects, such as the identity and personal trajectory of participants, and the content and type of personal relations. Results shows that using multiple approaches to study relational networks among participants, as well as merging different data collection instruments, enriched the outcomes of the study and provided new insight about the process of skills attainment of the participants. In terms of assessing and evaluating social inclusion and participation the research provided the opportunity to a) understand the experience of each participant both as individual (‘my story’) and as member of a temporary group (the project) and b) produce narrative networks of social inclusion and insights about future possible significance of migrants’ contribute to community.

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