The Potential and Practice of Data Collaboratives for Migration

Essay by Stefaan Verhulst and Andrew Young in the Stanford Social Innovation Review: “According to recent United Nations estimates, there are globally about 258 million international migrants, meaning people who live in a country other than the one in which they were born; this represents an increase of 49 percent since 2000. Of those, 26 million people have been forcibly displaced across borders, having migrated either as refugees or asylum seekers. An additional 40 million or so people are internally displaced due to conflict and violence, and millions more are displaced each year because of natural disasters. It is sobering, then, to consider that, according to many observers, global warming is likely to make the situation worse.

Migration flows of all kinds—for work, family reunification, or political or environmental reasons—create a range of both opportunities and challenges for nation states and international actors. But the issues associated with refugees and asylum seekers are particularly complex. Despite the high stakes and increased attention to the issue, our understanding of the full dimensions and root causes of refugee movements remains limited. Refugee flows arise in response to not only push factors like wars and economic insecurity, but also powerful pull factors in recipient countries, including economic opportunities, and perceived goods like greater tolerance and rule of law. In addition, more objectively measurable variables like border barriers, topography, and even the weather, play an important role in determining the number and pattern of refugee flows. These push and pull factors interact in complex and often unpredictable ways. Further complicating matters, some experts argue that push-pull research on migration is dogged by a number of conceptual and methodological limitations.

To mitigate negative impacts and anticipate opportunities arising from high levels of global migration, we need a better understanding of the various factors contributing to the international movement of people and how they work together.

Data—specifically, the widely dispersed data sets that exist across governments, the private sector, and civil society—can help alleviate today’s information shortcoming. Several recent initiatives show the potential of using data to address some of the underlying informational gaps. In particular, there is an important role for a new form of data-driven problem-solving and policymaking—what we call “data collaboratives.” Data collaboratives offer the potential for inter-sectoral collaboration, and for the merging and augmentation of otherwise siloed data sets. While public and private actors are increasingly experimenting with various types of data in a variety of sectors and geographies—including sharing disease data to accelerate disease treatments and leveraging private bus data to improve urban planning—we are only beginning to understand the potential of data collaboration in the context of migration and refugee issues….(More)”.