The project evaluated the potential of refugee tech initiatives, aimed at increasing network building (outside of the tech-sector), peer-to-peer learning as well as newcomer lead innovation. It started in November 2016 and is still running.
This case study is part of a report we published in April 2018, exploring how “super nodes” support DSI initiatives to grow and scale. You can read the full report here.
Super node: betterplace lab
Issue to be resolved
2015 saw a steep rise in efforts from within the civic tech scene to build digital solutions to the so called “refugee crisis.” Over 100 new digital projects were started to help refugees get oriented in Germany. While admirable, a lack of networking and communication amongst different projects and above all contact with the target group – refugees – lead to many well-meaning but not very useful digital tools. Our research came to the conclusion that refugees do use their smartphone a lot and that digital approaches to integration do have potential, but what is needed is a closer exchange with refugees to get an idea of their needs, better communication amongst projects, and better intersectoral cooperation with charities and public institutions.
The project was funded by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The goal was to structure what had happened in the last year and a half, to evaluate the potential of digital approaches to integration, and to come up with recommendations.
Role of the super node
Our research was the first comprehensive overview of the landscape of refugee tech in Germany. We showed what aspects of life and what particular problems the projects tried to tackle (e.g. housing, language learning, orientation). We interviewed 48 project representatives as well as other stakeholders and commissioned a network analysis to find out whether strong networks already existed among projects and with established actors like charities or government entities. The research was presented at the digital refugee summit in the summer of 2017 that we helped to organise together with the ministry. Around 150 people attended the conference and the audience ranged from tech entrepreneurs to refugees to government employees and charities. In order to tackle the topic of intersectoral cooperation we organised a roundtable event in December 2017 where we invited stakeholders from charities, the communes, government agencies and tech projects to talk about benefits and hindrances when it comes to intersectoral cooperation. The preliminary results were published in a short paper (only available in German).
- The research report was widely read and used as a starting point when talking about the refugee tech scene in Germany.
- A few projects have since the start of our research merged their efforts or discontinued their projects after realising that they were not on the right track. Others have increased their cooperation and are looking for ways to scale.
- We aim for newly established cooperation between the public sector, established charities and the social start-up scene, working together towards a common goal rather than in parallels structures so that both sides can benefit from the knowlt 46 edge of the other. A few positive examples should then lead to a ripple effect. It now seems clear that digital solutions alone will not have any impact if they are not embedded within established structures through intersectoral cooperation.
- Conducting field research in up to four municipalities in Germany in order to get an idea of what integration looks like at a the local level.
- Find out whether there are municipalities that can already act as best practice examples when it comes to intersectoral cooperation.
- Organising a workshop with integration officers to identify potential best practice examples.
- Apart from documenting our research via blogposts, at the end of the year we will be publishing a report that is intended as a kind of instruction manual for intersectoral cooperation, detailing the ways of thinking and working in the different sectors and how to communicate with and understand one another.
The most important but also the most difficult aspect of this work is to keep the target group involved; it is important to include their voice and not just talk about them but with them. We mentioned this to the projects that had not spoken to refugees before getting started on their project idea. But we realised that even knowing this, it’s easier said than done. For our research we had the assistance of a colleague from Syria who helped us conduct the interviews with refugees. Still for our event, we struggled to get refugees to attend—even though we had organised a panel in Arabic and translations for all the others. In our current approach the language barrier should be less of an issue as we are now looking at people who have been in Germany for a few years.
The other lesson we learnt with our focus on intersectoral cooperation is that our network within the civic tech scene is really solid, but that this network with stakeholders from charities or the municipalities is weaker. We have learnt that building new relationships and trust takes time and that needs to be taken into account when planning events or interviews. As a coping strategy for our current project we are partnering with a foundation that has a strong network within the “established” scene.