Published on People Move

Longitudinal Research on Environmental Change and Migration: A Workshop on Objectives, Methods, and Applicability to Policy and Practice (March 19-20, 2015 -- Washington, DC)

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KNOMAD’s workshop focused on the role of longitudinal data collection and analysis in improving understanding of three principal issues: the determinants of environmentally-induced migration, the impacts of these movements on the migrants as well as communities of origin and destination, and the long-term efficacy of migration as an adaptation mechanism as well as the long-term efficacy of strategies to reduce emigration pressures. 

The workshop’s four major findings are:
  1. Longitudinal studies are needed to understand more precisely the processes through which environmental change influences decisions to migrate. Recognizing that environmental change intersects with economic, political, social and demographic factors, longitudinal research helps unpack these factors. Longitudinal research is particularly important in understanding the effects of slow-onset environmental processes, such as rising sea levels, and recurrent acute environmental events, such as floods, cyclones, and heat waves, by identifying tipping points influencing the decision to migrate. This research also helps identify the long-term human-made environmental challenges that speed up the process of degradation in many regions, such as the depletion of mangroves or the construction of infrastructure projects.                                                                                                
  2. Longitudinal research allows for better understanding of the long-term effects of different migration-related adaptation strategies, both at the household and national or governmental levels. These strategies may aim at reducing or mitigating emigration pressures, including the economic and social factors that interact with environmental change factors, to permit people to remain in situ, or they may facilitate migration as part of a mix of strategies to promote adaptive capacity. Understanding the long term impacts will help policymakers and practitioners undertake better planning and implementation.                                                                                                               
  3. Methodologies for longitudinal research differ from traditional migration research. Traditional research often provides a snapshot rather than perspective on change in migration patterns or their impacts over time. Longitudinal research requires baseline information and subsequent data points to better capture when people move, under what circumstances and with what impacts. This type of research is able to highlight whether migration and mobility are occurring for the first time or are part of an existing migration system. Longitudinal data is also more precise than short-term data because it excludes assumptions that are associated with seasonal occurrences of environmental change, such as the shifting of the coastline.                                                                                           
  4. Longitudinal evaluation of migration as an adaptation strategy in the context of environmental change is extremely important. Evaluation should inform program and research design and provide information to governments about best practices for addressing migration in the context of environmental change. Such evaluation is particularly important in the context of planned relocation, in which governments play a role in facilitating or even requiring that people move because of environmental changes that preclude continued residence in a particular location. Longitudinal data is particularly useful in identifying the long-term gendered impacts of adaptation programs on the affected populations, and longitudinal data, unlike short-term data, can address the complexity of the migration process itself. Only longitudinal research can identify the long-term impacts of adaptation programs on the affected populations.
Next steps: meeting with governments affected by environmental change as well as donors about the importance of longitudinal research; improving research designs, including standardization of terms and identification of best ways to measure change; stocktaking of existing programs, surveys, and statistical technology that can inform new programs and research; and creation of toolkits for local governments and civil society for addressing migration in the context of environmental change.
The workshop was organized by KNOMAD’s Thematic Working Group on Environmental Change and Migration (Susan Martin, Chair, Koko Warner, Vice-Chair, Kanta Kumari Rigaud, Co-Chair, and Hanspeter Wyss, KNOMAD’s Secretariat Focal Point)
The full workshop report and other products from KNOMAD can be downloaded from


Hanspeter Wyss

Senior Program Officer, DECIG/KNOMAD, World Bank

Susan Martin

Director, Institute for the Study of International Migration, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University

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