By Anna Ayers, Senior Research Executive

Photo 1: Russian Matryoshka dolls

ORB has a wealth of experience in conducting qualitative research with diasporas of many different nations across the world. Diasporas are made up of people and communities who have been spread or dispersed from their native homeland; this can include individuals who have recently moved or those who have been settled in another country for over 20 years.

There are numerous benefits to conducting research with diasporas. It offers an opportunity to better understand public sentiment in tightly controlled and hard to reach authoritarian regimes such as Russia or hostile environments ruled by conflict such as Afghanistan. This is not to say that using diasporas in such a way does not come with its own complications and risks. Different locations can attract subgroups of diasporas that diverge in sentiments and profiles. Therefore, diasporas should not be treated as a homogenous group. Nevertheless, research provides a crucial gateway to understand these elusive audiences, offering intelligence to inform effective messaging and policy. Diasporas can also act as a key tool for communication with such audiences as they are often perceived as trusted messengers. A compelling case that shows the benefits of conducting such research is the work ORB have done with the Russian diaspora.


Russian diaspora populations as a gateway to domestic Russian audiences

Russia is a primary example where research into its diaspora enables deeper infiltration into the domestic audience. The Russian diaspora can be utilised as a trusted messenger for communications campaigns, whether this be directly or indirectly. ORB’s research has identified that Russians trust their friends and family more than any media source they consume. Moreover, just under half of all Russians know someone close to them who lives abroad and around 22 million talk to these people at least once a month. Therefore, targeting Russian diaspora can allow for messages to reach back to the Russian domestic audience with these messages having a high potential to be perceived as trustworthy information. This is crucial as the Russian population is very sensitive to the disinformation environment and often reject any messaging that comes from what they perceive as an external or Western source.

When looking at the nuances between Russian diaspora groups, insights from in-depth interviews conducted by ORB International have illuminated the difficulties and hardships Russians face because of the War in Ukraine and the extent of Kremlin narrative penetration. The interviews uncovered the different layers of Russian society and the discrepancies in their motivations for leaving Russia as well as political stances. Russian diaspora that has settled in Western countries, for instance, are much more likely to hold anti-War views and have limited contact with those in Russia who are of opposite opinions. Those who are settled in the Baltic states, or other former Soviet states may be more inclined to support the Kremlin and, therefore, be in contact with friends and family with similar sentiments. They also have greater exposure to Russia’s soft power policies that work on establishing the ‘Russkii Mir’ (Russian World) – Russia’s sphere of cultural, political and military influence – among diaspora groups and promoting support for the current Russian regime.

Photo 2: Moscow Kremlin 


ORB will continue to execute research with diaspora groups and advocate for its importance. The consequences of globalisation will mean these audiences will become more important in the future and provide creative and innovative methods for messaging and information gathering.