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Hacking Immigration

Forrest Blount

When I first heard about Chicago's MigraHack event, it was clear that this was an event LexSpot had to participate in. We've been thinking about community services for immigrants for the past 9 months (since we first heard about DACA and created our DACA Approvals Tracker), but almost all of our conversations center around functionality that assists immigrants navigating the USCIS application process. MigraHack was an opportunity to figure out what problems the larger immigrant community has and hear from brilliant problem solvers about what they want to create to address these issues.

As soon as I arrived on Friday evening it was clear I was in the right place. Conversation ranged from gathering existing service information to make them more available to exploring large scale (10-20 year) immigration trends. My goals for the weekend were 1) to meet and engage immigration advocates, 2) find a technically challenging project to dig into, and 3) learn some new data visualisation technologies to apply to future projects. After working the room and discussing multiple projects, I threw my hat in with a group that started calling themselves "The Dandelion Project."

The Dandelion Project

The Dandelion Project got me on board because, in short, I'm a sucker for data. They wanted to use census data to explore the migration of immigrant communities from the city of Chicago to its suburbs. We would be digging into a ton of data, playing with data visualization tools (Tableau being the primary focus) and looking for a human story about the transformations of these towns.

Before I talk about what I wish we'd done differently, check out what we were able to accomplish at The Dandelion Project.

The weekend was intense. More than anything else, I wish we'd had more time. The datasets we used to create our massive exploration tool were cumbersome to work with and I think we dedicated too much time to finding, cleaning, and exploring this data. Data is phenomenally important and building better tools to explore it is, I believe, incredibly valuable, but without capturing the human stories that lead to the spreading and discovery of new datasets and tools, these projects are fundamentally limited. I'm proud of what we accomplished this weekend, especially our teams sprint in the final hours of the competition, but I think there's a lesson that can be learned from the competitions winners (and many of the other participants): start with your products purpose.

Purpose First

I applaud the other participants -- they chose great projects and managed to both find excellent data and communicate a clear sense of purpose. When you look at projects like ICE Breakers you can see that they've managed to convey a sense of purpose, quite viscerally, as the stories of so many detainees unfold across their map.

Purpose doesn't always mean raising serious issues. Another application I loved from the weekend was Naco or Naco?, a very simple game that both engages and questions the user about their preconceived notions of life on the "other side" of the border.

Lastly, the winning project of the competition was Finding Care, which instantly conveys their purpose, enabling access to health care for the undocumented. They take you through a beautifully shot and told story, providing a snapshot of the data to support their efforts. In a competition where time is so scarce, this was a brilliant choice. They could have combed through mountains of data, but would it have improved the scope of their project? I hope they use their winnings to continue developing this project. I could see a lot of good in a kickstarter-like application that enabled the undocumented to tell their stories and raise funds (or solicit other donations) for procedures.

Other MigraHack Projects

Some other projects from the weekend (MigraHack Participants -- if you're not listed below, add a comment with your website and I'll update this post):

We're always looking for new ideas for free community services to add at LexSpot - what service do you want to see us build next?


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