Digitalization in Migration and Refugee Processes: Assessing the role of technology in mixed migration in Kenya. 2018-2019

This project will focus on the lives of migrants and refugees in Kenya, looking specifically at how digital technology and information affect mobility decisions. This topic speaks directly to both work packages in the “Reducing root causes of forced displacement and managing migration project.” It will address the root causes of displacement component by exploring the ways that digital tools influence migrants’ and refugees’ perceptions of risk, economic opportunity, and access to social networks. In terms of the regional migration policy side, this research will shed light on how governance organizations are using digital technologies to support migration policies, for example through digital registration of refugees or e-visas for migrants. Taken together the project will provide an individual-to-policy-level picture of how digital tools fit into mobility decisions and policy responses.

The project will look at this from two perspectives:

  1. How do individual migrants and refugees use technology and information to make mobility decisions?
  2. How do institutions such as the Kenyan government, IGAD and UNHCR integrate digital tools into their migration and refugee policies?

The project draws on the research approach from Alexander Betts, Louise Bloom, Josiah Kaplan, and Naohiko Omata’s book Refugee Economies. Betts et al’s research strategy used case studies of urban, rural and camp refugee communities to understand household-level economic behaviour of refugees in Uganda. Our main three focus areas will be:

  • How do differences in urban, rural and camp environments influence refugees’ and migrants’ use of digital tools? In a highly administered setting like a camp digital information may be used for registration, whereas in an urban setting migrants may use digital tools to find social networks or make migration decisions.
  • How do institutional actors in the migration and refugee spaces use digital tools in their administrative processes and service provision? UNHCR has ongoing processes for integrating digital tools into their work; the team will gather comparative information about how, or if, the Kenyan Government, IGAD and local NGO actors are also using digital tools to support refugee and displaced populations.
  • Development of a framework for refugee and migration digitalization, both as a theoretical and policy guidance tool. The analysis will focus on how refugees and migrants can use digital tools to make safe, regular migration decisions, and inform donors’ digital strategies in migrant and refugee support programs.

Reducing Root Causes of Forced Displacement and Managing Migration
Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik. 2017-2020

This project is hosted is funded by the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), and focuses on understanding the drivers of forced displacement and migration. The project is being led by Dr. Jörn Grävingholt. There are two work streams; the first is managed by Dr. Eva Dick and Dr. Benjamin Schraven and focuses on regional migration governance in the ECOWAS and IGAD regions. The second focuses on understanding the drivers of forced displacement, and is managed by Dr. Charles Martin-Shields and Dr. Constantin Ruhe. The project has thus far lead to publications by Drs. Schraven and Dick on regional migration policy efforts in the IGAD region, as well as shorter opinion pieces on economic development and migration. Further empirical research, particularly surveys, are planned for the 2018 project period.

The Relationship Between Food Security and Violence Conflict
International Security and Development Center. 2016-2017

Funded by the Food and Agriculture Organization, and led by Prof. Dr. Tilman Brück, this project looked at cross national and subnational empirical evidence around the impact of food security on conflict. The final report will be published by ISDC in September 2017, and the contents of the report are under review as a special issue in the journal World Development. The project team included Negar Habibi, Dr. Charles Martin-Shields, Astrid Sneyers, Dr. Wolfgang Stojetz, and Dr. Stijn van Weezel.

When Information Becomes Action: How information communication technologies affect collective action during crises.
George Mason University, Dissertation Project. 2011-2016

This dissertation contributes deeper theorization of the role of ICTs in crisis response, drawing on the political science and sociology literature on collective action and violence prevention. This social-theoretical grounding is important because while technologists and engineers have pushed for innovative use of ICTs in crisis response and international development more widely, there remains limited understanding of how these technologies, and the information shared across them, are used by communities to support socio-political processes, including violence prevention and disaster response. The research was funded by a Fulbright Fellowship. The findings from this dissertation project have been published in International Studies Perspectives, Business Peace and Sustainable Development, and are forthcoming in Disasters Journal.