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Where DSI for integration is headed: Time for a transnational approach to a transnational issue

18th September 2018

Lavinia Schwedersky reflects on betterplace lab’s summer DSI for integration meetup.

It’s been over a year since we published our report Digital routes to integration, in which we explored how DSI can support newly arrived refugees in Germany. Back then around 60 of an initial over 120 DSI projects that had emerged between 2015 and 2017 working on issues of refugee integration were still active. We presented our findings at the digital refugee summit and talked about the potential of DSI in this field. One of our predictions was that after the initial “explosion phase”, where numerous projects emerged at the same time that often trying to tackle similar issues, a phase of consolidation would follow. This phase would be characterised by projects merging, others discontinuing their work and the remaining ones gaining more stability, forging new partnerships and scaling their activities.

So when we planned our Summer Meetup of DSI for integration projects together with our friends at GoVolunteer and HiMate this August, we had three things in mind. Firstly, we wanted to celebrate the achievements made so far and honour the efforts of everyone working in this field. Secondly, we wanted to hear how the projects had experienced the past year and talk about the successes they had celebrated and the challenges they had struggled with. Thirdly, we wanted to know how we can assist and how a Europe-wide network of DSI for integration initiatives could benefit the projects.

We gathered around 50 people from DSI for integration projects (among others from KironKonfetti AppDatteltäterInfocompass and RefugeeAcademy) alongside researchers and policymakers to discuss these and other topics.

 

What the community celebrated

After giving a brief recap of our past year and a glimpse into the topics on our radar at the moment, we kicked our meetup off by asking about the biggest successes of the past year, moments and achievements that the community had celebrated. The stories we heard focused highly on building networks and partnerships, both inside and outside of the DSI community.

Some mentioned that the mere fact that their project had made it this far had been cause for celebration, others talked about managing to build important partnerships and new cooperations, meeting interesting stakeholders and exchanging ideas in various settings. Others were proud of having successfully scaled their efforts, broadening their user base or expanding to new locations. Finally, many were thankful for the continuous support they were receiving from a loyal volunteer community. Overall we felt the relief of those who had managed to move from constant uncertainty and financial insecurity to a feeling of stabilisation.

 

The biggest challenges and perspectives on an international DSI for integration network

The overarching challenges discussed in our second round were in line with what we had predicted in our report: there was frustration about the large number of promising projects that had to discontinue their efforts due to lack of funding. Even those that have survived are still struggling to obtain long-term funding, hindering their efforts to scale and increase their user-base.

Some participants were brave enough to talk about how hard it had been for them to admit that their ideas had not worked out out as planned, how they realised that their concepts were flawed and that they needed to change their approach if they wanted their project to succeed. Listening more closely to the needs of newcomers and understanding the importance of complementing digital solutions with analogue exchanges were two examples of learnings mentioned in this regard. Broadening the scope of projects so that they are not only targeted at newcomers, but also other groups in need of support, was another development a few projects mentioned as challenging but highly rewarding.

One topic on everyone’s mind was the increasingly hostile political climate that has made working on the topic of integration and refugee support much more challenging. Since the summer of 2015 the discourse has shifted from welcoming refugees and showing impressive amounts of support to portraying them as a threat and burden to European societies and economies. Many of the projects are confronted with online hate speech and say the rise of right-wing populism and resulting atmosphere has made it even harder for them to obtain funds and other kinds of support for their work.

As this is something several other European countries are currently grappling with, it seems to be one of the aspects where a European DSI network capable of lending support, fostering the exchange of ideas and learnings might be just what is needed. This could be formed of different “sub-networks”, each connecting projects focusing on a particular thematic area within the area of DSI for Integration such as labour market integration, qualifications and education. This may also aid attempts to lobby for better European migration policies regarding theses focus areas, something that is desperately needed in a situation where Europe is threatened by policies of division. This is something we will build upon and further explore in 2019.

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