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Download the full report migration and integration report from the DSI website.

In the summer of 2015, the extraordinary wave of digital projects launched in response to the so-called “refugee crisis” appeared to herald a new era for DSI: more dynamic, more responsive, more mainstream. The burst of projects focusing on short-term challenges related to receiving newcomers (volunteer coordination, donation platforms, orientation information for new arrivals, accommodation projects) received widespread coverage and attention.

However, this analysis, led by betterplace lab, shows that in recent months we’ve seen a shift towards technology being used to tackle longer-term integration challenges, such as education and training, community integration and participation, language learning and – above all – labour market integration, which includes the recognition of already acquired skills, job-matching platforms, incubators and coding schools.

The technologies most widely used are apps and online platforms; there have been some experiments with emerging technologies (such as Building Blocks, a blockchain based project launched by the World Food Programme in a refugee camp in Jordan); and there is now a Europe-wide network of refugee coding schools based in Germany, Austria, the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark and Finland.

Germany remains a hotspot of activities, although the initial “explosion phase” of new projects (up to four a week!) was followed by a period of consolidation, focusing on financial stability and stronger partnerships, and discontinuation of unviable or obsolete projects. Outside Germany, our analysis finds the Netherlands and the UK to be the most active; the former also received a high number of newcomers, leading to labour market integration projects (such as Hack Your Future) to apps offering information on welfare and law (such as NL Help U), to information on accommodation, while in the latter, which did not take in many newcomers, projects tended to be more advocacy-focused or intended for implementation elsewhere (e.g. refugee camps). Our analysis finds little activity originating in countries like Greece, Malta or Cyprus, which have had high numbers of newcomers; this is most likely because of the generally less-developed civic tech scene, and because most refugees do not stay there long-term.

Case study: Chatterbox

Chatterbox matches refugees with language skills with opportunities to provide tutoring for individuals, education providers and workplaces. It thereby provides training opportunities for refugees, integrates them into the labour market, and helps them earn a living, while beginning to address the significant lack of language skills within the UK workforce. While most Chatterbox sessions are in person, it uses an online booking platform and also allowed for online tutoring through video classrooms. Refugees charge at least the UK Living Wage and further income funds the project’s operations. Chatterbox’s two-way mechanism for integration helps us see refugees as an asset rather than a burden on host communities. Therefore, as an additional impact, Chatterbox aims to change the conversation around refugees by highlighting the significant untapped talent in the refugee community.

Case study: NL Help U

Refugees often face very bureaucratic procedures when arriving in new countries and accessing services, including piles of documents in a language which is often foreign to them. NL Help U aims to address this by providing refugees with information about services including DigiD (the government’s identity management platform), social welfare payments, bank accounts and health insurance. This helps in finding out what kind of social services should be considered, and how they can be arranged. The app also allows users to take pictures of the documents and store them locally on the phone, so that they can be managed more easily and emailed for processing. NL Help U is an open-source project which is being continuously improved and updated on GitHub. The app provides a user friendly experience and easily digestible information and orientation to navigate the new environment.

Case study: Kiron

Kiron Open Higher Education is a German non-profit organisation, founded in March 2015, with a mission to enable access to higher education and successful learning for refugees through digital solutions. Through an innovative model of blended learning, Kiron offers tailor-made MOOCs from renowned educational platforms like Coursera and edX so that refugees can start studying regardless of their asylum status. The courses offered through Kiron are entirely free of charge and accessible via the learning platform ‘Kiron Campus.’ Furthermore, through strong partnerships with accredited universities worldwide, students have the opportunity to finish their studies offline with the goal of earning a regular bachelor’s degree. So far, 3000 students - mainly from Syria, but also Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan - are currently studying on their online platform, Kiron Campus, with completion rates that are significantly higher than average online course completion rates (29% versus 2-10%). Alongside the online and offline learning, students become part of an interactive community and gain the opportunity to enrol in courses o general skills and languages.

The widespread coverage of the refugee crisis, and shocking images and stories, led to intense engagement including from people who were completely new to DSI and migration, refugee and asylum issues. With their hearts in the right place, this unfortunately led to some naivety regarding the complexities of integration and therefore misguided or simplistic solutions. Luckily, now there is increasing awareness of the need for target-group engagement, co-creation and diversity within operational teams, leading to solutions more closely tailored to the actual needs of migrants and newcomers.

We are also witnessing a trend towards opening up DSI products initially aimed solely at refugees and migrants to other socially disadvantaged groups. The project HiMate, for example, offers free vouchers for cultural activities to increase social integration. This is a highly welcome development, particularly as there are some concerns that refugee-focused services could in fact isolate them further by treating them as “others”.

Overall DSI in this field has moved from a highly reactive approach, responding to emergency needs by creating tools to bring structure into apparent chaos, to being more focused, adaptive and proactive.

Challenges for DSI in the field of integration centre around funding (particularly for growth and scaling), relationships with civil society (with many organisations unaware of the potential of digital or lacking the skills to implement it effectively, or even remaining sceptical of its promise), policy developments and public discourse (which can change rapidly and have a huge effect on the feasibility of projects and on citizens’ attitudes and generosity).

The main role of policy, which we will be delving into further over the coming months, is to enable better collaboration and networking, to enable the most successful projects to scale and to avoid fragmentation, duplication and wasted time, effort and money. Furthermore, the public sector, the private sector and foundations must provide more agile, longer-term funding rather than just funding stipends and incubators. Finally, governments at national and city level and large civil society organisations should advocate for and support the most successful DSI projects, working in more networked ways to address what will be one of the defining challenges of our time.

DSI4EU aims to support the growth and scale of digital social innovation (DSI), tech for good and civic tech in Europe through a programme of policy, research and practical support. This feature is part of a series of introductory texts exploring the landscape, challenges and opportunities for DSI in different social areas. You can find the other features in the series on our main feature page.

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