To improve security among Venezuelan migrants in Colombia, Pact develops innovative index

March 16, 2023
A young girl takes part in an integration event in Cúcuta, part of the Conectando Caminos por los Derechos program. Credit: Alianza El Derecho a No Obedecer – CCD

Since 2015, more than 6 million migrants have fled Venezuela's humanitarian crisis, with many seeking refuge in neighboring countries including Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile. So far, Colombian migration authorities have registered more than 2 million Venezuelan migrants in the country, making it a key receptor country.

Large-scale migration brings many challenges. In response, with funding from USAID, the Conectando Caminos por los Derechos program (CCD) is working to improve citizen security, community cohesion and social integration in migrant receptor communities – communities that have experienced an influx of migrants – in Colombia. Our interventions are strengthening local systems using a “prevent, protect and respond” approach to human rights violations against migrants. CCD is implemented by a consortium led by Pact that includes the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative, Freedom House and Internews.

When Pact and our partners designed CCD, we knew a human-centered perspective would be important in addressing citizen security as it relates to migrants, which historically has focused on safety and policing. For this reason, the project deviates from the traditional concept of citizen security by focusing on the importance of social cohesion, with the key element being social capital, or trust.

Social cohesion is not easy to measure: It is a complex concept, not a tangible product. To know if we are increasing social cohesion, we needed to operationalize the concept and build a tool to measure it.

This is why we created a quantitative index for assessing the complex outcome of social cohesion, called RUMBOS. (Rumbos means “roads” or “paths” in Spanish, recognizing social cohesion as a path to security.) The index measures citizen security based on our comprehensive human rights approach, enabling us to assess security within the migration context from a perspective of social cohesion. This means that citizen security is understood not only in terms of crime and violence but also from a framework of social and institutional relations that prevent violence, protect migrants and provide an effective response when their rights are violated. This recognizes social integration as a process of mutual transformation in which both the migrant population and the host community and institutions adapt to build a new reality: inclusive, supportive and protective. In this sense, RUMBOS assesses one unified concept rather than two separate concepts: citizen security understood as social cohesion.

The data collected and analyzed through RUMBOS have provided instrumental insight for strategic decision-making and for validating our theory of change.

Students take part in a CCD initiative for the prevention of human rights violations in Bayunca, Cartagena. Credit: Astrid Villegas/Pact.

To design the index, we gathered feedback from and tested proposed dimensions with local protection networks, civil society organizations and relevant government institutions. We landed on three dimensions: social inclusion, governance and social cohesion. Each dimension has various sub-dimensions, and each sub-dimension has its own indicator(s) and data collection and analysis methods. These methods are a mix of quantitative and qualitative.

To gather data for the index across the 11 Colombian municipalities in which CCD works, we collected qualitative data related to the human rights context, risks of human rights violations and barriers to accessing services and justice mechanisms, among others, and quantified those data for purposes of longitudinal study. Additionally, the project conducted quantitative surveys with a sample of 1,800 migrant and receptor community members to measure their perceptions and awareness, including regarding trust and levels of community participation.  

By specifying the complex concept in a relevant and operational manner, we were able to quantify it for purposes of comparison over time. For this reason, the index is designed to produce a measure of between 0 and 1, where 1 represents an ideal level of cohesion, and therefore of citizen security through a more holistic human rights perspective.

Since we began using the index, it has proven extremely valuable. Specifically, it unpacks various elements of citizen security. For example, in 2022, although the overall percentage of citizen security had not changed from the baseline value  of 68%, there was an increase from 51% to 66% in the domain of social cohesion across the 11 CCD municipalities. This quantitative change suggests that the aspect of citizen security related to social cohesion improved, and is attributable to CCD interventions. These interventions focused on strengthening trust between institutions and communities, ensuring access to justice and reliable information flows, and strengthening the capacity of civil society as a mechanism for protecting the most vulnerable populations. These improvements were particularly pronounced in the municipalities of Pasto (80% improvement), Maicao (71% impovement) and Riohacha (63% improvement).

Importantly, the data collected and analyzed through RUMBOS have provided us with instrumental insight for strategic decision-making and for validating our theory of change. For example, we have learned that governance and social cohesion are indeed correlated dimensions. Governance will improve if social cohesion is bolstered, and vice versa. We have also learned that to improve social inclusion, we must strengthen prevention, protection and responsiveness to human rights violations; that an increase in legal status is not enough to improve social inclusion; and that to advance social cohesion, we must understand how xenophobia affects trust within and between communities.

RUMBOS has also helped Pact to advance our engaged communities approach, under which we strive to ensure that local communities are active participants in development programming at every step, from design to implementation to evaluation. Besides participating in the index’s design, local communities – including migrants – provide critical data for the index through consultations. And they take part in data interpretation, which increases the quality of findings and the practicality of resulting recommendations.

One example is our work with our partner organization El Derecho a No Obedecer- Otra Parte. To improve community cohesion and to understand xenophobia at the community level, Otra Parte and CCD developed a tool to measure xenophobia within communities. In doing so, Otra Parte improved the data collection process that feeds the index and provided rich data for partners to use to combat xenophobia.

One of our most important achievements has been in regard to sustainability. We partnered with the Colombian government to improve the data feeding into the social cohesion aspect of their Multidimensional Index for Socio-Economic Integration (IMI). Through technical working sessions, together we assessed comparability between the indexes. We established that RUMBOS is more accurate in its measurement of social cohesion and variables such as trust among communities, participation and perception of citizen security, than the IMI. This realization led to the co-creation of a combined IMI+ index, which was implemented this year. This work has improved the capacity of the national government to use data for policy design and decision-making on migration management.

We hope, too, that the index will serve as a model for development practitioners working with migrant and vulnerable populations outside of Colombia.

To learn more about RUMBOS, visit the index’s website.