OpenGov Voices: Using Data to Tackle Migration: #AmericasDF


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the guest blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not reflect the opinions of the Sunlight Foundation or any employee thereof. Sunlight Foundation is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information within the guest blog.Kathryn Striffolino

Kathryn Striffolino is the Advocate & Science for Human Rights Project Coordinator for Amnesty International. You can follow her @katiestriff. Ella Kirchner, an intern at Amnesty, contributed to this post.

Take a moment to imagine the possibilities if you were to gather individuals with a variety of skillsets—from migration policy experts, to migrants who have experienced the oftentimes deadly journey from Central America to the U.S., to technologists — in an attempt to tackle some of the most pressing migration related issues in our own hemisphere and leveraging technology and data whilst doing so.

The weekend of November 2-3 will do just this at the Americas Datafest — a 48-hour hackathon bringing together programmers, engineers, journalists, NGOs, human rights defenders, data scientists and migration experts around the Americas region to join forces to make a difference. We will collaborate in both physical and digital spaces in over 20 locations across the hemisphere (including Washington, D.C.) with the goal of making an actual impact on migration challenges in the Americas.

Teresa Bouza, the deputy Washington, D.C. bureau chief of Spain’s global news agency EFE and a recent alumna of the Knight fellowship program at Stanford University, is the lead organizer of the Americas Datafest. (She also worked with Sunlight to organize the Bicoastal Datafest we held in February.) Microsoft Research, Facebook, Univision, Intridea and Data Community DC are some of the organizations supporting the event, that also has the strong backing of Amnesty International.

Hackathons are increasingly being utilized by local and international communities as a means to address entrenched human rights challenges.

What is the problem we seek to tackle?

The world has 214 million migrants, but without enough information and data on these migrants, no one alone can adequately tackle the challenges that migrants in our hemisphere face. Bela Hovy, chief of migration at the United Nations, told Americas Datafest in an interview that “Misconceptions about immigration can only be dispelled through getting the facts on the table.” Computer scientists, software developers, data scientists and others can help tackle the issues of getting data online and analyzing the data to better solve the issues.

Thousands of people migrate across Mexico every year, most from Central America. This is a dangerous and often deadly journey; thousands are beaten, raped, kidnapped or murdered as they make their way across Mexico. They suffer these abuses mostly at the hands of criminal drug cartels, but officials are also complicit in these crimes. Hundreds of migrants die every year along the US-Mexico border alone and many more die while crossing Central America and Mexico. The importance of gathering, analyzing and leveraging data on abuses committed against migrants cannot be overstated.

Please join us in developing solutions!

Whether in person or virtually, please join us to collaborate with others across the Americas to make a difference – write code, build apps, create tools and resources to address the migration challenges in our hemisphere. You might even win an award! The top two winning teams at each location will be nominated for a global award—judged by an esteemed panel of international judges—including Amnesty International’s Frank Jannuzi.

Americas Datafest. (Photo credit: Amnesty International)

In addition to making a difference and possibly winning an award, Americas Datafest is an opportunity to show off your skills and network with like-minded people to create products for good.

There are 4 ways to get involved:

  1. Find a location in your city and join an event, or organize one yourself
  2. Follow the conversation on Twitter: @datafest2013 and join the conversation using  #americasDF
  3. Learn more on the main webpage
  4. Contribute and offer your own challenge and check out the challenges which have already been submitted here.

Together we can make a difference.

At Americas Datafest, we will use collaboration and open innovation, similar to what Amnesty International and our partners CommunityRed, the Sunlight Foundation and many more did at #Freedomhack in August: to harness technology to develop or better enable digital tools for those who need them the most.

To do this, we need technologists to work with activists and migration experts to write code and analyze data to develop solutions to the submitted challenges. (Amnesty International will be submitting a challenge which should be online soon so stay tuned!) The emphasis will be on analyzing data to help researchers, policy makers and journalists, as well as on building the actual apps for migrants, the nonprofits that work with them, researchers and reporters in the field–the possibilities are endless.

Amnesty International, our colleagues at the Sunlight Foundation, Americas Datafest organizers and many others hope to see, or virtually connect with you, at Americas Datafest 2013!

Interested in writing a guest blog for Sunlight? Email us at