Scottish connections (diaspora) work: literature review

Reports on findings from a literature review looking at international examples of engagement activities, initiatives and strategies in relation to various diasporic communities.

1. Introduction

Aims and objectives

18. We were commisioned by the Scottish Government to conduct an international literature review of disapora strategies from a sample of countries.

19. The research had two overall aims:

  • To conduct a robust literature review around different diaspora engagement strategies, which;
  • Maps what other countries with successful diaspora strategies have done, and explains why and how these approaches have been successful with reference to their specific situation (cultural norms, location of diaspora, etc.).

20. The objectives of the research were to:

  • Provide a high-level summary of various approaches taken by different state and sub-state actors toward diasporic communities;
  • Provide detailed case studies into different approaches to engaging with the diaspora;
  • Understand how success is measured with regard to different approaches to engaging with diasporic communities;
  • Identify specific elements of a successful diaspora approach;
  • Contextualise the different case studies by taking into account the historical and current context of any engagement strategies;
  • Detail, where possible, the resource implications of the different initiatives;
  • Compare the balance between states’/sub-states’ use of a broad range of approaches versus focusing on a limited number of approaches, and the respective impact of having a broad or deep strategy.

21. The Scottish Government’s aim was to help develop their Scottish Connections work by providing:

“...timely, robust information on engagement activities, initiatives and strategies undertaken by various state and sub-state actors with regard to diasporic communities.”

22. The brief was clear that we should take a broad definition of what constitutes a diaspora community. It was also clear as to what was required, namely a literature review which provides:

“...a clear overview of such strategies, as well as...detailed case studies.”

23. There is no single definition of a diaspora. The definition used here is that of the International Organization for Migration who define diasporas as “migrants or descendants of migrants, whose identity and sense of belonging have been shaped by their migration experience and background.”[7]

Policy context

24. The Scottish Government expressed the following aspirations in the 2017 International Framework to:

“ with our people, diaspora and partners outside Scotland to share local knowledge and build long-term relationships and networks.”

25. As noted on page 6, the desire for relationship building is included in the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government 2021-22:

“Welcoming the world also means renewing and reaffirming our auld acquaintance. We will engage with our Scottish Connections international community and expand on our work with Scottish diaspora networks across the world.” (Chapter 6)

26. The wider policy context also needed to be considered. There are new global conditions including a rapidly changing geopolitical context, COVID-19, Brexit, new developments in digital communications technology which permit new modes of engagement, and challenges to traditional values and histories especially the rise of identity politics and the legacy of colonialism.

27. The task was to recognise these changing conditions, build on previous research and existing strategy, and identify, from the practical point of view, “what works” in other countries’ arrangements that can contribute to a new strategy for developing meaningful connections with the Scottish diaspora, as part of the Programme for Government’s aim that Scotland should be:

“open, connected and make a positive contribution internationally.”

Policy aims

28. The focus of this report is on the policy direction for Scotland’s international engagement set out in the Programme for Government 2021-22, Chapter 6, Scotland in the World. Scotland’s international engagement has the overall aim to:

“...embrace the opportunities of international connection and cooperation, acting as a good global citizen to champion our values-based approach on the world stage...”

29. The commitment to “expand on our work with Scottish diaspora networks across the world” is situated within the section “Strengthening our world-class culture offer”, alongside commitments to develop a Cultural Diplomacy strategy, “refresh and reinvigorate our successful Brand Scotland activity” and “enhance Scotland's international reputation and our position as an attractive place to live, work, study, visit and do business.”

30. In addition, we recognise that “heritage diasporas” are relevant to this study. Individuals living in diasporas return to their homeland to retrace ancestries and identity. Members of the homeland also travel to the diaspora to gain perspectives on their identity. These are important ways in which diaspora identities are engaged for political, social, educational, linguistic, and economic goals (Berg, 2018).

31. We also took the view that meaningful connections” implied two-way engagement based on mutuality and reciprocity. This informed the view that we took of countries’ activities, particularly their communications and digital initiatives.

The evidence

32. Countries, including Scotland, have been engaging with diasporas for a long time. There is a substantial amount of academic literature on the Scottish diaspora, on diasporas in general, and on those of other countries. We were therefore able to draw on earlier research, especially work which the Scottish Government itself had carried out in two earlier reports.[8]

33. However, as our research progressed, we found that there was a significant gap in the data on the size, demographics, and geography of diaspora populations. It was a serious concern to us that the statistics used were so incomplete and on occasion contradictory. For example, the estimates of the size of the Scottish diaspora vary enormously, from 40 to 80 million people, in comparison to a “home” population of 5.25 million. Either way, the numbers are huge, relative to the size of the population in Scotland itself.[9]

34. There was also very little information on countries’ current policies and strategies. With the major exceptions of France (which, as already noted, is a special case), and Ireland, policies were very brief and unspecific (Japan), under development and therefore vague (Denmark, Flanders, Québec) or non-existent (New Zealand, USA). This required us to infer what the strategies were from what institutions they have, and what they do, rather than from clearly articulated and published policies and strategies.

35. Most noticeably, there was scant evidence of any evaluation activity that would enable us to assess what worked and what didn’t.

36. The authors have therefore used their judgement in this report, based on a review of information from official websites. A systematic and structured comparative analysis was carried out against agreed criteria, chosen because of their relevance to Scottish priorities and aspirations. The authors drew on their experience of similar comparative studies and, where relevant, from academic and other research. This allowed the authors to come to conclusions and make recommendations, but further work needs to be done to look beneath the surface and identify with more clarity and depth what lessons Scotland can and should learn from other countries.

Our approach

37. Recognising these limitations, three research questions were asked:

  • Who has a successful diaspora strategy and what does it consist of?
  • What themes emerge from the review of the comparator countries?
  • What can be learned from a more detailed assessment of the themes that emerged from the first two questions?

38. These questions were asked in full awareness that diasporas resemble each other in some respects, but differ enormously in their scale, history, culture, and importance to their home country. This led us early on to be wary of two risks:

  • Assuming that where two countries (in this case Scotland and Ireland) have a close relationship and entangled histories, their diasporas and their policy aims will and should resemble each other,[10] and
  • Looking for lessons where the data and evidence were most plentiful or where the comparisons to Scotland seemed at first sight to be most evident.

This could lead us to miss important lessons from countries such as Japan, which are in many ways less obvious but nevertheless valuable.

39. Another issue requiring further consideration was how to compare the approaches of states and sub-states. What is possible is constrained by constitutional competence – sub-states cannot draw on ideas of citizenship or on networks of Embassies and Consulates in the same way that states can. This matters because the single most important official channel for diaspora engagement globally is through these diplomatic structures.[11]

40. Having said that, states and sub-states face many of the same challenges today, and their policies and strategies reflect these, recognising the constraints of their constitutional status, the path dependencies generated by historical approaches and institutions (which apply both to states and sub-states), and their differing imaginaries of who they are.

41. That alignment of circumstances generates opportunities for fresh thinking about diaspora engagement. This report therefore seeks to focus on practical lessons that Scotland can learn from other states and sub-states, which address common challenges. This report has identified many potential areas for further consideration.



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