What did we hope to get out of #MigrahackTO

By: Amir@mcis.on.ca

If you had asked me 6 months ago what a Migrahack was, I would have drawn a blank.  My daughter who works in the technology space ran a hackathon 2 years ago and explained to me its purpose is to get together programmers, designers and project managers for an intensely short period of time, to create usable software.

So what did MCIS hope to get out of MigrahackTO?  Did we get achieve it?


Claudia Nunez created the Migrahack project when she was a fellow at the JSK School of Journalism at Stanford in 2012.  She had been at several hackathons in Silicon Valley and had found them to be intimidating and unwelcome.  However, she decided to borrow the format of intensely working over a short period with data and software, to visualise migration data to tell interesting journalistic stories.  So ideally we wanted to recreate the spirit of what Claudia had envisioned, providing a comfortable space, laptops, some clean data sets, people from non- profits eager to visualise their data and tell stories about the issues they address or don’t, some journalists to help them do it and, finally, mentors and facilitators who could guide us in the use of Tableau software to do all that.

MigrahackTO happened over 3 days from November 3rd to 5th, 2017 at the beautiful space donated to us by Mozilla at their prime downtown Toronto location.  Our primary purpose was to gather all relevant folks, as above, in that space to see what could emerge from that.  Not to intimidate, but to make it a fun event in a welcoming environment where everyone collaborates and each person’s contribution is valued.   All we needed was open minded people and a willingness to learn Tableau software, license to use for which had been generously donated to us, and share in a collaborative environment.  We did not have an end goal.  Attending all days, staying committed and trusting in the process was all we had hoped for.  We got that and much more.  The projects that emerged at the end of the three days were great and spoke of the passion, effort, thought and research people had put into them.  They tackled a wide spectrum of issues ranging from domestic violence, linguistic access and employment barriers newcomers face.

MigrahackTO drew to close with a lively discussion which was livestreamed.  Bianca Wylie (Bianca) ably facilitated an animated discussion on participants’ experience and where we go from here.  Septembre Anderson, web developer, journalist and activist) joined us for this segment and stirred up a number of topics relating to access to data including the politics around data collection and Freedom of Information requests.  We also talked about language policy and the need for bilingualism to give way to multilingualism given the evolving linguistic and demographic diversity of Canada.   I said in closing that I hoped MigrahackTO had started a movement.  That everyone in the room would stay connected and would bring more people from other networks into the fold to continue on this journey of hacking data to tell stories about our communities, especially as it related to migration and settlement.

This was MCIS’ maiden effort.  It surfaced my own feelings of inadequacy.  I was not quick on my feet adapting to this new collaborative learning environment.  I found its unstructured quality a bit unnerving, especially when I stacked myself against the young folks in my group who did not miss a beat.  It made me realise firsthand that there is a generational divide between the old school way of doing and the “dive in and learn” approach that millennials take with all things tech.  For myself, surfacing my vulnerabilities was probably the best outcome I could have hoped for.  However, I also realised the valuable contribution folks from my generation can bring to this endeavour.  We are able to fill in some important knowledge gaps given our historical perspective, our understanding of systemic constraints and our knowledge of how bureaucracy works.   Migrahacks are particularly great because they are transgenerational and span several sectoral perspectives.

MigraBlog3For some of the reasons stated above, this project took a lot of courage to conceive and execute.  Credit goes to Eliana Trinaistic, MCIS’ Social Impact Manager for her vision and her willingness to wade into this space which is uncharted territory.  WHTO (Welcome Home Toronto) gave us all the support to realise Eliana’s grand vision, with logistics, contacts, social media support, sheer presence/energy and lots of ideas.  Our thanks to Craig Carter- Edwards, Founder, and Kitty Shephard, Director of Communications and Outreach.  We had amazing facilitators/mentors/motivators guiding us through the process –  Bianca Wylie, Howard T. Tam, Claudia Nunez , Patricia Carbajales-Dale, David Dou, Nadia Caidi, Niel Chah, Obim Okongwu, Alexander Lovell, Ramzi Jaber and Saadia Muzaffar.  We had a wonderful gang of committed volunteers whose activities were streamlined and ably coordinated by Coordinator Zoya Khan.

Our profound thanks also goes out to all the agencies whose staff stepped up to the challenge to participate – Lifeline Syria, Fred Victor Centre, Sojourn House and Agincourt Community Services Association, besides MCIS, and students from Ischool University of Toronto and  Ryerson’s Journalism program.