CrossMigration: Standing on the shoulders of giants

2019-05-03 10:17:25

“All knowledge about migration under one roof.” That is the ambitious goal of IMISCOE’s CrossMigration project, and the execution is well under way in the shape of the Migration Research Hub. Peter Scholten, Chair of IMISCOE, and researchers Asya Pisarevskaya and Nathan Levy talk more about what makes this project so relevant for researchers, policy makers and society at large. 

Why do you believe the type of work that you are carrying out is necessary?

Peter Scholten: Well, the idea was already floating within the migration research community at large, and we just happened to consolidate it through the IMISCOE research network. Migration research is very popular, it is very interdisciplinary, and the field keeps on growing. And having more people studying migration from different angles is great, but it comes at the cost of accessibility. We are losing overview of what is in the field. So to ensure that migration studies develops further, it is clear that we need something that promotes access, especially for newcomers in the field. 

So it is only in the interest of academics?

PS: Not at all. IMISCOE, as a network of researchers is well placed to help shape it. But the European Commission gave the project funding to set it up, in the understanding that IMISCOE will continue to sustain it. Having projects that promote the accumulation of good knowledge can benefit the European Union and policy makers more generally. They will be able to get the facts they need, from sources that use a scientific approach. And in the case of the Migration Research Hub, researchers and policy makers are working together without jeopardizing the independence of the former. 

It sounds like the project is European based, what about migration outside of Europe?

PS: Migration knows no borders and academia knows no borders. Research is never bound by geographical scope and for Europe it is important to have global knowledge of migration. Whatever happens in South East Asia or in Africa in terms of migration is relevant to Europe and North America, and the reverse is also true. Also, the essence of academia, of university research is global.

Nathan Levy: Yes, and for this project we had input from beyond EU countries for the taxonomy. The advisory board had people that are doing research in Asia, South America, and Africa. And the input of these scholars, part of the global migration research community is crucial to the project and to a better understanding of migration.

Considering the scope of the project, what are the challenges to realizing the goal of a truly global place for people to share and build up on knowledge about migration? 

PS: Migration research has been funded mainly from the US and Europe. So there is bias there of course. And while we are a global, and globalizing community, our publication language continues to be English. So sometimes it is difficult to connect languages. But we truly believe that a project like ours can facilitate this exchange: our project aims to be this one place that puts migration studies under one roof, and that can work wonders for migration scholars from Bangkok to Buenos Aires.Often, researchers who are not closer to the hubs in Europe and North America can find it difficult to, for example, afford going to a conference. So now we can help provide the infrastructure so they can get closer to other researchers at a lower cost. 

You’ve been working on this project for a year. What do you think are the highlights up to now?

PS: We are bringing together an immense and fragmented research field. So rolling out the taxonomy, getting all the experts to agree on what that should look like has been a great milestone. But also, and very important, we are trying to introduce a model that is not based on a competitive relationship. 

This is open access. It’s all about sharing knowledge, providing access to knowledge, making it easier for academics to find and read the work of others. In a way, we are going back to the fundamentals of academic life. If we pull it off, and I am sure we are on the right track, it can be a model for other disciplines on how to set up a research infrastructure that works to promote knowledge exchange. 

And promoting multidisciplinary research, is that a goal?

Asya Pisarevskaya: Definitely, this project has great potential for facilitating interdisciplinary and global collaboration. In fact, one of the taxonomy branches is disciplines and subject areas. We hope users will be better able to get an overview of projects, publications and experts focused on similar topics but from different disciplinary perspectives, and that this helps foster online and offline groups. Working together across disciplines is difficult, there are fundamental issues about terminology, about scope and about interpretation. But ultimately it is necessary, because the different angles lead to a more nuanced picture of social reality. 

PS: Yes, and adding to that, having this type of overview can help us to stop reinventing the wheel every time. Having more insight into what has been done can help researchers stand on the shoulders of giants, so to speak, and continue to build and refine existing knowledge. 

How can you translate these benefits to something that will benefit society more broadly? Do you expect others to use this knowledge hub?

PS: We have noticed that we now live in a world of alternative facts. Migration is a very politicized issue, so the problem is severe when it comes to the topic. Academics should, of course, keep a distance and provide factual information, and this is crucial to have policies that are founded on facts, where research can provide a reality check. We also want the platform to be accessible to people beyond policy fields. We want journalists, politicians and NGOs, and really anybody with an interest in the field, to be able to trust the information that they find. As academics we need to be realistic, we don’t live in an age of technocracy, luckily, if I may add. We don’t know the answers to all questions, and we are not those who will be making policy. But what we can offer is a place where people can go to for information, where we make it harder to ignore facts. A place where we ensure that there is knowledge, rather than opinion, and data instead of gut feelings. 

What about the disconnect between academic results and social developments. Academia tends to move much slower, according to some?

PS: I fundamentally disagree with this view. In academia there is a lot of very relevant knowledge because history repeats itself, and having information about what happened before can help us analyze the situation when the phenomenon presents itself again. We have had refugee crises before, dozens of times. Migration due to environmental factors is also not as new as some make it out to be. We’ve been there before, and we have knowledge about what worked and what didn’t, so policy makers can put that information together and find the solutions that the situation requires. But for that, there needs to be interest from non-academic professionals for your platform. This project is all about academics not hiding in the ivory tower, but building connections and becoming very accessible to the non-academic world. We want people to use the knowledge that we are accumulating, to help us build up the resource, and to contribute to its success. 

And what’s next for CrossMigration?

AP: We will be focusing now on getting the database filled with more resources on specific themes, particularly migration drivers, infrastructures, forms and governance, as well as integration processes related to migration. So we will be exploring the areas that scholarship has covered and, in the longer term, coming up with a strategic agenda for migration studies.  The project is all about identifying gaps in knowledge, what are the trends and what needs to be researched further. 

NL: And very important to add, we are planning to launch the Migration Research Hub halfway through the year, so our technical and thematic experts are working hard to define how the algorithm that forms the core of the Hub is finding and refining the knowledge that is out there. We are very excited to come out with the tool and continue to fill it, build it up, get to a place where everyone interested in migration thinks about and comes to the Hub for knowledge first. 

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