Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Dilemmas of Doing Diversity (DiDi) - diversity policies and practices in Dutch towns in the past, present, and future

How can we promote social cohesion in a society that is culturally and religiously diverse?

2022 - 2027
Marlou Schrover
Dutch National Research Agenda - NWA NWA.1389.20.002


One of the most complex and interesting social challenges of today is how to establish and sustain a society that is cohesive and inclusive. NWA question 047 asks: ‘How can we promote social cohesion in a society that is culturally and religiously diverse’. By moving beyond cultural and religious diversity, this NWA project takes on this question and explores intersections of multiple categories of identity and power, such as class, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, age, health and (dis)ability. DiDi is part of a collaboration between the LDE (Leiden, Delft, Erasmus) research center Governance of migration and diversity, Leyden Academy on Vitality and Ageing, the Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (NIDI) and the University of Applied Sciences Utrecht. By looking at multiple diversities and their intersections from various disciplinary perspectives, this project leads to a more complete understanding of diversity policies and practices and related dilemmas in a society of multiple diversities. Increasing the understanding of doing diversity in practice will help grasp how policies can enhance social cohesion and identify why diversity policies are so often discarded as ‘failing.’ 


Group photo DiDi team

The concrete societal problem that DiDi addresses is that diversity policies are meant to enhance social cohesion, but in practice they oftentimes do not work as intended or planned. This is a severe problem because the idea that policies are 'failing', and that part of the people are excluded, undermines trust in and the resilience of democracy

Taking this problem as a starting point, we ask:

  1. Which diversity policies were and are made, and for which groups?
  2. Which actors play what roles in implementing policies?
  3. How do citizens respond and shape policies, and what explains their choices?
  4. How do Policy Practitioners (PPs) perceive and explain the choices they make regarding implementation?
  5. How do PPs anticipate and accommodate public criticism regarding their choices in doing diversity?
  6. How do policies and their implementation relate to social cohesion, inequality and trust in democracy?
  7. How can we promote an intersectional approach to doing diversity and what tools can we use to improve diversity policy implementation in the future?
  8. What diversity policies are needed in future Dutch society?

We identify three causes of this societal problem that are related to a lack of knowledge:

1) Policies addressing inclusion and diversity have changed very frequently over the last decades, influenced by ideological and political shifts, and this provides insufficient time for bearing and analysing results. Overall, there is a lack of knowledge about the long-term outcomes of policies, and about how policies and recommendations were put into practices.

2) Underlying these frequent changes in policy directions is the real difficulty of serving people with an attention to diversity that takes into account their multiple, intersecting identities rather than flattening them into one category. There is a lack of knowledge on when, why and by whom choices are made to prioritize one category over another.

3) In democratic societies, citizens can participate and respond to the policies which target them either formally or informally. There is a lack of knowledge about how citizens influence policy choices and choices of implementation. This is an important facet of the problem we address.

DiDi contributes to the promotion of greater inclusion of all people by improving diversity policy and policy implementation in co-production with Policy Practitioners (PPs) and citizens. DiDi aims to create opportunities for people from all segments of society and with different backgrounds, including those citizens who now remain largely unheard. First, DiDi engages in an in-depth analysis of the challenges of doing diversity via a close collaboration between researchers, citizens and PPs, which will promote mutual learning, discussion and evaluation of strategies. Second, through these varied activities, DiDi engenders dialogues among stakeholders and generates hands-on materials, such as toolkits and future scenarios on doing diversity. DIDI seeks to contribute to a change in policy and public discourses on diversity by changing the dominant normative discourses with broad diversity categories to an approach that is grounded in knowledge of how to do diversity. With all this, DiDi will be able to reach its high ambitions for societal impact: increase social cohesion, create inclusive communities, and enhance the trust in the working of democracies.

In this subproject Postdoc Liesbeth Rosen Jacobson and PhD candidate Suzan Abozyid study the approaches taken since 1945 to address diversity and encourage social cohesion as well as dilemmas faced by Policy Practitioners (PPs) and forms of resistance by citizens.

The researchers use policy-tracing techniques to answer questions such as: who formulated which idea first? How was it adapted and adopted by others? Which elements and arguments were changed along the way? Using the approach of problematization the researchers identify: what or who was seen as a problem, by whom, what is seen as the cause of the problem and what as the solution, and whose problem is it? Furthermore, the researchers seek to examine how the answers to these questions changed over time.

The researchers identify organizations that have been involved in diversity issues, their protests and support of diversity policies (multiplier effect), and their relations with authorities and the public. This will show how diversity has been perceived and how it has been done over time. In the research (former) members of these organizations will also be involved in exercises that promote reflection on the history of diversity in their city and how various forms of diversity have been addressed in the policy sphere. In this way, historical shifts will be identified and comparisons between cities will be made. Such reflections will be used by the Postdoc and PhD candidate to include various perspectives and to encourage the engagement of partners and other relevant organizations in thinking about current challenges and possible co-created solutions.

Under the supervision of Marlou Schrover, Postdoc Liesbeth Rosen Jacobson and PhD candidate Suzan Abozyid look at all selected Dutch localities, as well as Antwerp and Hamburg. The research for Antwerp and Hamburg will be less detailed, and will rely on published research.

In this subproject Postdoc Lieke van der Veer and PhD candidate Kay Mars examine how Policy Practitioners (PPs) managing spaces of sports and recreation have understood diversity and approached it with regulations and initiatives to enhance inclusion and social cohesion. They also look at how citizens have perceived these regulations and initiatives.

The research focuses on the period 2000-2020 and includes research in spaces of encounter such as swimming pools, sports halls, sports associations, public libraries, community gardens and public parks. By focusing on more current developments, which have close links to present dilemmas of diversity, the research will reveal how PPs interpret diversity, their role in managing diversity to ensure social harmony and how they do diversity through the programs and initiatives they design and implement. The research will also consider how citizens perceive diversity, whether it is a concern or not, how it has been addressed by PPs, and their perceptions of diversity policy interventions and their effects.

Under the supervision of Peter Scholten and Marlou Schrover, Postdoc Lieke van der Veer and PhD candidate Kay Mars look at selected Dutch localities as well as Antwerp and Hamburg. Research in Antwerp and Hamburg will be based on secondary literature and on exchanges with experts on those cities, while for the Netherlands the researchers conduct primary research and involve partners.

PhD candidate Lara Fizaine analyzes how Policy Practitioners (PPs) that manage care and welfare service provision have understood diversity and governed it with initiatives to ensure health and quality of life among diverse members of the population. The research also explores how care and welfare beneficiaries and citizens have perceived the same regulations and initiatives.

This research focuses on the 2000-2020 period and includes research in spaces such as health care centers, early-life consultation bureaus and residential homes for seniors. In a sector that provides fundamental services to people that differ according to age, gender, class, religion, sexuality, ethnicity and abilities, PPs in the care and welfare sectors face dilemmas of diversity that can be of vital importance. The research explores how these PPs interpret the needs of diverse social groups, the interaction with these groups and how they manage the wide variety of needs to ensure appropriate service. Researchers will inquire how these PPs, together with those concerned, do diversity through the regulations they follow and the programs and initiatives they design and implement. The research will study how patients, clients, residents and other citizens perceive diversity, whether they perceive it as a concern, how it has been addressed by PPs and the impact of such interventions.

Under the supervision of Tineke Fokkema, Nina Conkova and Marlou Schrover and the close collaboration of Jolanda Lindenberg and, research will be carried out in all selected Dutch localities as well as Antwerp and Hamburg. For Antwerp and Hamburg research will be based on secondary literature and on exchanges with experts on those cities. In all the Dutch localities the researchers will conduct primary research with the partners.

PhD candidate Cas Vercruysse examines how Policy Practitioners that govern housing and are engaged in community-based initiatives, address dilemmas raised by diversity in housing and local communities. He also studies how housing beneficiaries and community-organizers perceive these interventions.

This research focuses on the 2000-2020 period and includes research in organizations concerned with housing and rights to housing. Moreover, it looks at perspectives on diversity policies and diversity in practice held by community-based initiatives engaged in voicing the needs of specific groups of citizens. Key to this research is the identification of moments of change – concerning housing and other social issues taken up by community-based organizations, including protests against housing shortages and the housing of refugees, which will allow the research team to analyze the interface of diversity policy on paper, PPs’ implementation choices and the public’s reaction.

Under the supervision of Reinout Kleinhans and Marlou Schrover in collaboration with Patricia Wijntuin, the PhD candidate carries out research in the selected Dutch localities and Antwerp and Hamburg. For Antwerp and Hamburg research will be based on secondary literature and on exchanges with experts on those cities.

This research aims to develop future scenarios that present possible changes in diversity in cities in the next 15-20 years and that explore diversity policies and practices suitable for such futures.

This research is based on the Global Migration Futures (GMF) Scenario Methodology, which is a systematic process to explore possible future social changes that involves deep discussions carried out during scenario workshops with a broad range of social actors. A wide range of stakeholders - from citizens and care providers to policymakers and the business community - will take part in discussions that help identify factors that are uncertain, underestimated, but potentially highly significant in changing diversity in our cities in the next 15 to 20 years. The workshop discussions include reflections on changes that took place in the past as to ground discussions on what changes are possible, yet unexpected, in the upcoming future. One of the main goals of the GMF Scenario Methodology is to be prepared for major social changes, including having a set of flexible policies that can guide policymakers and PPs.

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