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MCIS Language Solutions will host #MigrahackTO on November 3rd – 5th. This community hackathon brings together journalists, web developers and non-profit organizations. Together they will be educated on visualizing data, the stories behind the numbers and experience how working collectively they can develop solutions to real-life immigration challenges.


We sat down with Eliana Trinaistic to understand more about MCIS Language Solutions role in hosting the event, the benefits of visualizing data and why uniting diverse professionals can help develop solutions to social challenges.



How was MCIS chosen as host and why do you think they will be a good host?

Exactly a year ago Myseum was hosting am event at the Toronto Reference Library under the umbrella of Cosmopolis Toronto featuring various projects related to immigration. Bianca from the Open Data Institute and Andi Argast were sharing the stage with the Migrahack founder, Claudia so I thought, it would be fantastic to gather people from the non-profit sector, academia, tech end journalists in Toronto and work on joint story projects.

However, what actually encouraged MCIS to go ahead with this project is an internal focus on what type of organization we wanted to be. We discovered that we wanted, and needed, to take an active role in advocating for individuals who face language barriers, but also to serve as a connector between a variety of organizations in the private and public sector. Advocating for collaboration and open data is one of our strategic goals.  We are lucky enough to have a budget, dedicated resources and staff, as well as a work culture that supports innovation. We are lucky to have a large number of incredible community partners, WelcomHomeTo in particular that helped us organize #MigrahackTo from  day one. RyersonU and Ischool (UofT) have supported us by connecting us with mentors, developers and donating their time to help with the event. It has been interesting working with groups across sectors and uniting to find solutions to  migration issues in our community.


In your experience what are the advantages of visualizing data?

We live in a predominantly visual culture. Our brains are wired to process 93% of the information we receive. Because our brains need less than 13 milliseconds to process an image, we tend to think in visual terms first. We understand maps and pie charts better than words. Most of us are not skilled statisticians, so when we are faced with the complexity of large datasets we have difficulties connecting the dots.

For most of us, it is not the numbers, but shapes or colours that will tell the story. We have a human need to relate to the information we gather, so we need to have data converted into an image. To relate, we need a story behind the numbers. Once we have a story that is based on evidence we are in a position to communicate social issues behind the numbers to our audience. In my opinion, data visualization is a crucial skill to have for any social issues advocate. To understand the data and, the different angles from which it could be represented for better impact leads to a grounded ability to influence policies and create change.










How is Migrahack engineered to ensure a greater likelihood of real social change?

 What is real social change? I believe that real change depends on policy and culture change.

At the policy level, our hope is that Migrahack will contribute to the ongoing discussion around social innovation and social finance that is currently curated at the federal level. We encourage participants to monitor this discussion and contribute their points of view. Sufficient expertise can be found at the every level, inside and outside the governance, and outside expertise is crucial for identifying gaps. That being said, immigration in particular is an important, almost unavoidable part of the pan-Canadian conversation and it needs to be included in any reflection on social innovation and social finance.

A large part of creating real social change on immigration issues is for non-profits to own the data they generate. Our hope with #MigrahackTO is for agencies to start asking for all “social” data to be open by default so that each NPO, irrespective of size, will have one or two dedicated data storytellers, or evidence-based advocates. What we need is a grassroots approach to sharing data. As a first step Migrahack aims to break the barriers between academia, tech developers, journalists, government and non-profits and their datasets. Events nurture connections, and connections motivate us to work together.

For more details on #MigrahackTO and full schedule click here

Kitty Shephard is the director of communications and outreach for Welcome Home TO