Filed under: Human rights and rule of law Poverty Roma Social inclusion

Roma family, Cserehat, Hungary - from a series of photos taken by Roma kids

Roma family, Cserehat, Hungary. From a series of photos taken by Roma kids

National Roma integration strategies – which are supposed to guide and secure the process of Roma inclusion within European Union (EU) countries – have been duly submitted and diplomatically praised by the European Commission.

They are what they are, and can always be improved. Proposals have already been voiced about the need to review the strategies with a stronger role for civil society in mind.

At this point, taking more time to improve the strategies would be wrong.

The strategies are official documents submitted by governments, making them accountable for progress on Roma inclusion. “Getting serious” about Roma inclusion is related both to political will and capacities.

The work of international organizations involved in Roma inclusion and pressure from the European Commission helped to increase the political commitment on the part of national governments – adoption of the strategies is proof of their commitment.

Unlike twenty years ago, the question is not “Shall we be doing anything in regards Roma inclusion?” but rather “What to do and how to produce results?”

The strategies are a minor step in that direction. They are the starting point of a long process of implementing the strategies. The European Commission’s recent Communication on Roma issues is explicit about that (or at least as explicit as it can be):

“Member States… need stronger efforts to live up to their responsibilities, by adopting more concrete measures, explicit targets for measurable deliverables, clearly earmarked funding at national level and a sound national monitoring and evaluation system.”

But the European Commissions’s plea must not be interpreted as a call to revise the strategies. The real shortcomings are not related to strategies, but to implementation, most notably:

  • The lack of a clear set of implementation mechanisms and sound monitoring and evaluation frameworks; and
  • Significant gaps in local stakeholders’ capacity for getting things done.

The strategies need to be matched with a clear implementation infrastructure that produces results. Such infrastructure should include

  1. National action plans
  2. Local action plans
  3. Local-level projects and initiatives that contribute to the overall goals of the strategies.

The funding should be not just earmarked at the national level – rather, it should be linked to the needs and local initiatives within specific areas and communities. National funding should be seen as a total of the resources needed to carry out the initiatives at the local level – where real life and real exclusion take place.

This is the ABC of results-based planning and if we (governments, civil society, the European Commission, international organizations) are serious about results, we should be pressing for exactly that.

The same applies to monitoring and evaluation systems, which should cover three levels:

  1. The strategies – they should be evaluated from the perspective of the aggregate outcomes a few years from now. That is the task delegated to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), to be realized though regular surveys similar to the recent 2011 regional UNDP/FRA/World Bank survey that built on a UNDP pilot from 2004.
  2. National and local action plans – need a monitoring and evaluation system more closely linked to the plans’ targets and milestones.
  3. Projects and initiatives – monitoring the outputs and outcomes of individual projects and their efficiency in terms of cost.

Too complicated? Actually not at all if we keep the simple logic: the strategic goals belong to the strategies; the more specific targets (that should lead to achieving the goals) and the milestones (the specific stages on the way of achieving the targets) belong to the plans; the targets and the milestones are accomplished through individual interventions. The implementation, budgeting and evaluation should be built bottom-up (at least ideally).

It is important to bear in mind that none of these – national plans, local plans, individual projects – would be sufficient on their own for achieving the goals governments committed to in their strategies. Unless all three are in place, the strategies will share the same fate as the many other documents that preceded them. And all three need to be linked to the system of regional development planning in each country. Only then will the issue of Roma inclusion become visible for administrative and budgetary processes.

Such implementation infrastructure will not emerge automatically after adoption of the strategies. The assumption that they will automatically be translated into practical action at the local level is a myth.

If we are serious about addressing the challenge of Roma inclusion within one generation, national, regional and local governments should be deliberately supported to localize their national strategies, put in place (and in operation) their implementation structures and integrate them into the national regional development mechanisms.

See: Europe’s biggest societal problem – The plight of Europe’s Roma, featured in the Economist.

Would that be sufficient? No. Even if implementation infrastructure is in place, it is does not ensure a successful outcome, given shortcomings to get the job done. Both at national and local levels, people face difficulties with results-based thinking (clearly defined goals, and knowledge of possible approaches, resources and time needed).

Whatever the reason—decades of a central planning culture, the emergence of a “project industry,” in which absorption and delivery are more important than making a real difference in peoples’ lives—the capacity shortcomings need to be addressed.

Supporting local partners with change in their communities, and getting things done is as important for the success of Roma inclusion as establishing the implementation infrastructure behind the strategies. This would also give real meaning to ownership of the process by the Roma themselves, that both Roma and non-Roma would like to see.

The freshly adopted strategies are important. Monitoring and evaluation frameworks and regular data collection on the status of Roma are important as well. But even more important is the implementation infrastructure and the capacities of the people on the ground to do the job of inclusion. Without them, we won’t have much to monitor and evaluate.

Coming back to the issue of the strategies and their relevance – there is one good proxy indicator in that matter: whether the strategies have a supportive infrastructure in place, and if support is provided to local partners to implement projects and initiatives. If yes, then the strategy drafting process has accomplished its mission.

Do you agree? How do we ensure that the strategies make a difference in people’s lives?

>> Find out about UNDP work on Roma issues

The situation of Roma in 11 EU Member States

Development and transition: Opportunities for Roma inclusion

  • Valeriu


    The monitoring through the fundamental rights agency is ridiculous. FRA has tons of other things to do and has no expertise within on Roma. There is ONE employee that has some exposure to Roma issues but she does another 10 things at the same time. How on earth would the FRA that let’s pretend very optimistically will dedicate a full 4 -5 people ( with no expertise as I wrote before) could monitor the strategies of 26 Member States ?Only to go an see what happens for real in the 26 Member States will take one at the very minimum a 78 working days per year ( and that only if she/he visits the capital and one other city outside of the capital…). EU institutions and UNDP has been very productive in producing paper and hot words but I expect at one moment the same institutions will start to be realistic about what is going on . To monitor one EU project in Romania requires the work of 3-4 people for 10 days – and we somehow believe that all the strategies for 10 million people all around Europe could be monitor by a similar team that sits in Vienna and has no expertise whatsoever besides reading all kind of copy and paste reports sent by governments or people that have very limited experience in producing reports that make sense.
    We do not have the EU mechanisms or the national mechanisms to implement Roma strategies. What happens at this moment is a great word-producing industry that does nothing but frustrates even more everybody around. As long as decisions about Roma at the EU level continue to be taken by people that has nothing to do with Roma whatsoever and Commissioner Reding is a very stark example of such a person we will continue to go backwards in the social inclusion and very much forward with the empty and useless rhetoric.

    Valeriu Nicolae

    • Andrey Ivanov

      Dear Valeriu, I share your frustration about the slow
      progress in regards Roma inclusion. Indeed, too much words, strategies, policy
      papers and too little results.
      I believe this frustration today is shared more
      broadly than it looks and this is the reason why international organizations
      like UNDP are involved in Roma inclusion. There are arguments in favor of our
      optimism – and arguments that could tone down our enthusiasm.

      I don’t share though your skepticism about FRA and other “internationals”
      involved. If we apply your argument more broadly, we could look at every
      European institution as obsolete.
      They are not as effective and efficient as we
      might wish them to be – but not obsolete. Institutional actors’ strength and
      relevance stems from the networks they use and can mobilize in their work, their
      political weight and the relevance of their message. Having people like you
      part of those networks is what makes the institutions relevant and powerful,
      not the number of staff “deployed” to work on Roma inclusion.

  • AB

    I agree there should be decentralization and deconcentration
    of the policies. Having a strategy, earmarked budget or unit dealing with Roma issues
    in the Government are not results. Result would be if a homeless family acquires
    roof over their heads with minimalized insecurity of tenure and ability to
    sustain and even develop it (which is then related to getting quality education,
    dignified job providing for dignified life…).


    On the ground Roma are getting more marginalized, excluded,
    discriminated and even harassed, and this is a result of the general increase
    of intolerance in the societies (intolerance towards Roma is very specific and
    more dreadful than any other manifestation).


    In circumstances where society has mounted fear and repulsion
    into the Roma communities (nowadays even more so), one cannot expect that any
    offer to these communities would be welcomed without doubts to the honest
    intentions and potential to change. And who would offer? There is notion on the
    implementing mechanism going to the lowest level… Good! But, even the best
    intended people working on the field need a lot of time to build trust, pilot
    various solutions, deal case-by-case (since happy people look alike, but
    troubled are all troubled in all the different ways). One should also not
    forget that those people willing to change the situation are also, as any
    other, limited in terms of good will (as in terms of resources). How many times
    I have heard “Yes, we tried, but they don’t want it” (both from Roma and
    non-Roma service providers or similar). Of course they don’t! Try again! I even
    heard from authorities that they had a range of integration measures in place
    and were willing to include Roma, but Roma were hiding from them! Again… of
    course! Roma don’t trust your intentions! Why – because of previous experiences,
    because of community memory.


    Another crucial element that everyone seems to forget is
    that Roma are different than others: Roma have language, traditions, culture,
    values, etc. I have heard of a number of initiatives failing because of not
    taking into account the identity of the Roma. One cannot use similar measures
    for Roma, just because these work for other. Even the simple outreach (which is
    quite standardized) doesn’t work the same. If you are used to publishing announcements
    on web-site or public broadcast, you might reach mainstream, but not Roma (in a
    number of cases). And, your language might be simple for average person to
    understand, but it might not be Romanes, for a Roma person to understand… Policies
    for integration of Roma should be just as the title says: for integration. This
    is not only an issue of provision of services, such as employment, housing,
    etc., but actual genuine reconciliation and acceptance of differences.


    So, besides your points, I would add that in order to have
    results on the ground, implementation has to consider (besides those things
    mentioned so many times) trust-building and Roma identity.


    Only when I’m convinced that you are appreciating me for who
    I am, and are willing to help with what I need how I need it, I could join your
    effort and at the end be useful for you as you have been for me… and we could
    live together.


    • Andrey Ivanov

      Dear Alexandra, thank you for your thoughtful comments! I
      cannot agree more with what you say – yes, the general increase of intolerance is
      an issue. And yes, any inclusion policy should be taking into consideration the
      diversity and the uniqueness of the respective group – Roma or any other
      excluded population.
      The respect for diversity and taking diversity seriously into
      consideration is what makes ‘inclusion’ different from ‘integration’ and ‘assimilation’.
      Or at least this is what should make it different – we are not there yet
      unfortunately. And the national strategies – that are supposed to be strategies
      of Roma inclusion – are called National Roma Integration Strategies.

      So, yes, there is a lot to do in that regard. It takes time –
      but I am optimistic because there is a change in the right direction. It is
      slower that we would like it to be, but it is there. The fact that we are
      engaged in this exchange is a minor indicator of that change.

      Actually the respect to diversity is crucial and critical for
      reasons going beyond Roma. I see Roma inclusion not just as an agenda for ‘including
      the Roma’ but as a part of the broader changes in European societies necessary to
      accommodate diversity. Post-modern societies are increasingly diverse and
      unless the institutional frameworks, attitudes, social norms accommodate, we
      will be in trouble.
      In that regard Roma inclusion agenda is just the top of the
      iceberg. The entire idea of common Europe is at stake. As simple as that…