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

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 project 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 project 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.

Successfully used qualitative methods
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 timelines 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.

Trust underestimated
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. The project findings suggest that trust is greatly underestimated within SLOs, with distrust disrupting the success of the integration process, often resulting in project failure. This project will make suggestions 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. 
Keywords: integration; trust; street-level approach; immigration; nonparticipation observation

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