Engineering for a resilient world

Registration systems influence migrant perception and opportunities

With the grant of up to 1.5 million euros that Pelizza won, she and her team are now conducting research in different countries. ‘We interview civil servants who register migrants, IT developers who design and work with the registration systems, and migrants themselves,’ she explains. ‘The research provides a wealth of information about how Europe and our countries see themselves, how we view migrants and how migrants depend on the data we collect, store and share about them. The European national state as we know it started in the 17th century as a well-oiled machine designed to manage information about territory and population. Today, digitalization, migration flows and changing demographics have produced far more complex information systems, with many differences between countries.  I’m interested in finding out how the machinery has changed.’

Science, government and migrants

Pelizza aims to help three target groups with her research. ‘I want to offer scientists and researchers a ‘history of the present’, with which they can use current social and technological developments as a benchmark for assessing and anticipating future forms of population management. I want to give governments insight into the future consequences of technological choices made today: for example, regarding the exchange of data between countries, or the type of data we register and the purposes for which we use it. And finally, I want to help migrants, by contributing to a richer and fairer representation of their identities in our systems – so that they will have a fair chance of building up an existence in Europe.’

Better registration, higher resilience

It is beyond doubt that data registration impacts migrants’ image and opportunities, says Pelizza. ‘Migrants are faced with the challenge of resuming their lives after their journey. The extent to which they succeed in Europe depends partly on our perception of their past. And that, in turn, is linked with the data we register. Sometimes, for example, data on jobs, training or family is not, or unclearly, registered, which means migrants do not get adequate opportunities. Registration can also make the authorities’ work more complicated. This can also reduce migrants’ opportunities, while reinforcing the notion that migrants are a burden. In that respect, our registration methods reveal a lot about us, too. This is another area I believe needs researching. It appears that migrants whose data suggest a certain passivity are automatically perceived by us as a burden to our society. So we then develop policies aimed at mitigating the problem rather than looking for ways to benefit what migrants might have to offer society. Better registration makes them more resilient – and it does the same for Europe.’


DR. ANNALISA PELIZZA

Associate professor of Science, Technology and Policy Studies (STePS) at the University of Twente

Studied Media and Communication at the University of Bologna and Information Society at the University of Milano-Bicocca, and worked for governments and industry to develop large-scale data infrastructures

Fields of interest: digital media and data structures, management (of) technologies, the politics of information infrastructures and online communities

‘The stories we tell each other determine who we are. We are profoundly shaped by the technologies we use to do this. Similarly, the stories of migrants stored in European information systems have a major influence on the limitations or possibilities they encounter here. The data we register also shape Europe itself. Because of the systems we use, some stories and fragments disappear, while others rise to prominence. I’m interested in finding out how this works and what the consequences are – for migrants and for Europe.’