27 August 2011

UK Immigration

The latest report from the UK Office of National Statistics (ONS) shows immigration figures for 2010 at much the same as 2009, but a 21% increase in net immigration because of a significant reduction in emigration. All the national papers covered this story, but the ones I looked at all misrepresented the data to a greater or lesser extent. This is the norm for newspapers I find, so I usually try to go back to the original data. Surprisingly, and despite the fact that it is a major story in all the newspapers, the data is difficult to find on the ONS web site. When you do find it, the figures show that immigration for the last seven years shows no overall trend. The actual figures in thousands are 589, 567, 596, 574, 590, 567, 575; the last two show an increase in 2010 over 2009 of 1.4%.

Unfortunately coverage of immigration in some newspapers is coloured by an unattractive xenophobic agenda, which invariably leads to widespread misrepresentation of the data. The Daily Express, for example, claimed the 21% increase was on immigration rather than net immigration. To be fair both the Express and the Mail quoted the correct figures in the bodies of their articles, but how many of their readers would have noticed this?

The Coalition may be regretting targetting a reduction in net immigration as they have no real control over emigration. I believe that in practice it will be difficult to make significant reductions in immigration levels because so many people have legitimate cases. The Government cannot do anything about EU immigration, so it is concentrating on capping non-EU immigration. Despite what many tabloid newspapers claim, immigration controls are very tight in the UK, and potential immigrants, who are not coming to study or for family reasons (for example marriage visas), have to show they have a job or can otherwise support themselves. It is likely that capping non-EU numbers will simply result in increased immigration from the EU.

05 January 2011

Adopting Modern Communication

With the growth of social networking, we now have a large and diverse range of tools for communication: at one end there are traditional methods such as face-to-face meetings, telephone calls, letters and memos, and at the other there is instant messaging, micro-blogging, and e-mail. Unfortunately the natural conservatism of most people means that it is hard to get buy-in to use modern social networking methods. A problem here is that if you propose to a group of, say, 10 people, a meeting using some form of online discussion, then one or two are likely to refuse to take part and suggest a conventional meeting instead. Even if a conventional meeting is agreed, an online calendar could be used to arrange it and distribute any papers, but I go to some meetings where our calendar system is not used; the reason usually given is that one or two attendees refuse to use it. This sort of minority rule is holding back the adoption of modern methods of communication in many organisations, although in some places it works because management make executive decisions that certain technologies have to be used.

The one (relatively) modern communication method with widespread acceptance is e-mail, and this can sometimes be a compromise solution, but as I have written elsewhere it is, in my opinion, an unsuitable tool for discussion.

The reason frequently given for refusing to take part in on-line discussions is that the person prefers to talk to others, either directly or by telephone. The implication here is that they feel that methods such as instant messaging are always inferior, however it is voice communication that is often unsatisfactory. Consider, for example, a simple telephone call where one person rings another with a question, or to make a proposal. Sometimes the recipient can respond adequately without needing any time to think, but all too often the receiver would like a minute or two to consider their reply, or even look something up. The social dynamics of a voice conversation, however, demand the the responder replies immediately, even if only to say “I’ll call you back”. Also if the intended recipient is not by the telephone, the conversation cannot even start, and if they are, it may not be convenient for them to stop what they are doing to enter into a conversation. Conventional meetings can have similar problems: unless there is a strong chairperson who can control the discussion (rare in my experience), it is usually necessary to jump in quickly if you want to respond to something, to have any chance of being heard.

Tools such as Skype allow a combination of text messaging, voice and even live video. The addition of voice to text messaging adds an immediacy to the discussion, but may not enhance its quality. Instant messaging does not imply instant replying, and I believe in general you get a higher quality of discussion when people are given the chance to think before they respond.