Tough Choices: The Reality of Refugee Policy

By: Jyotishka Biswas, Kalki Seksaria, Mike Drachkovitch, and Felipe Lozano-Landinez

The data says that there are thousands of refugees entering the European Union every week. The current massive migration of refugees to the EU presents both a moral and resource-constraint issue to the countries receiving the influx. Decisions about how to balance the inherent trade-off are made by political leaders in all of these countries in a real-time, imperfect information environment. We want to tell this story to unpack the static-ness of the numbers and show the human decisions that underly a country’s response to try and best manage this challenge. The country that we decided to go with for this game prototype is Austria.

Our audience for this project is one placed within an educational setting, with the idea being that the participatory data game serves as a simulation of the types of decisions that a political leader would have to make during this crisis and will help students (who are immediately affected in some way by the EU refugee criss and would find themselves in similar tough situations in their future careers) better understand the complexities of the issue at hand for a government decision-maker. As an example group of this abstract decision, we have chosen University of Vienna Political Science Masters Students.

For this project, we imagined that we were the International Organization for Migration, and intergovernmental body focused on addressing migration issues throughout the world. With that lens, our goals for this project were to 1) Help students better understand the underlying complexities of the EU refugee crisis challenge in a more visceral, interactive manner.

Then, if our goal was to be successful, we had two calls to action for the students: 1) Push them towards advocating for better data collection capabilities by the European Union AND/OR 2)Encourage them to help the efforts of the IOM by working with the organization (internships, full-time, etc.).

Our data source for this game was the Refugee Arrivals along the Balkan Route data set from the UNHRC (link here). It presents information on number of refugees arriving every day to multiple countries from October 1st, 2015 through today.

The biggest aspect of the data, our data story, that we wanted to highlight was the inherent uncertainty and incredible difficulty inferencing anything about the future with past data (ex. What will be the number of refugees coming in next week based on what we know now?), and how that results in an incredibly complex decision-making challenge for a political leader.

Our choice of country meant that we segmented the information just for Austria. We focused on using the data from the first seven weeks (so from the first week of October 2015 through the third week of November 2015), and calculated a confidence interval of 95% for the # of incoming refugees for each of the weeks. This was meant to represent the data set that a political leader would be looking at when making a decision about how many refugees to plan for in the future (mean and uncertainty in the numbers over the last week). In the game, we then have a leader make a decision based off of that range (we constrained the decision set to five possible choices), and then matched the leader’s choice to the real # of refugees that came in the next week, which we know from the data set.

The setup of the game was that a decision’s consequences were determined by the difference between a leader’s decision (# of refugees to prepare for for next week) and the actual number of refugees that came in. The consequences manifest in the approval rating of the political leader, which is meant to show the political reality of making decisions that, while morally good, take away resources from your country/constituency. The player has two main objectives for the game: To help as many refugees as possible while also managing their approval rating.

We think this is an appropriate and effective way to tell the data story because it is reflective of a process that has a high amount of uncertainty inherently and that has to deal with the political realities of situations, no matter how well intended the decisions were. Essentially, the result is not fully in your control, and you just have to do your best. This creates both empathy with the political leader’s role and shows the complexity of an issue like the refugee crisis in a way that can only be really seen when being part of the decision-making process. In addition, the game has the intention on focusing on human lives and not equating them to capital explicitly, which humanizes the numbers and respects the lives of the people that the numbers represent.

At the end of the day, players come out with a better understanding of the issue and a more human view of numbers that they may have heard on the news and/or seen on TV due to their immersion into the decision-making process.

You can see our presentation and simulation at this link.

Donate by Playing – A Fundraising Board Game for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

Group Members: Argyro Nicolaou, Reem Alfaiz, Phillip Graham, Gary Burnett

The data say that there are many people immigrating to Europe. In 2015 alone, more than 1 million people arrived to Europe by sea. The numbers are increasing every year. In the first 3 months of 2016 the number of sea arrivals was 6 times greater, than the same time in the previous year. This influx of refugees will put a lot of stress on relief organizations, as they will now be even more limited in the number of resources they have available.

The goal of our project is to increase funding for these organizations via a game. Our audience are donors attending a fundraising event for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. These people are at the benefit because they want to donate and have some level of investment in the cause. Our goal is to encourage the attendees to donate by eliciting an emotional response via game play. Our game puts them in the position of refugees and shows them how the money they donate to IRFC will directly impact the lives of people trying to immigrate to Germany.

We want to tell this story to highlight the impact that relief aid can have on the life of a refugee. The journey to asylum can be painful and exhausting. Often times it leads to separation from one’s family, and sometimes it can even lead to death. We want to show that this is not how it has to be. There are organizations out there that provide relief and make the lives of refugees more bearable, and donating to organizations such as IRFC can have a direct impact on the lives of real people.  

One of the most powerful data sources we used for our project were personal stories found online, that were documented by real life refugees. This helped a lot in the creation of our characters and what sorts of events can occur during an immigration across Europe. These personal stories both contribute to the accuracy of the journey and also help the players sympathize with situation and feel an emotional connection to the player.

Another useful data source was the UNHCR database of the popularity of various routes across Europe. These helped with the design of the gameboard. There are many paths the players could traverse, however we only decided to include those that were actually feasible. To achieve this we removed routes that included borders that were closed. We also chose to only include paths that many people have travelled across according to the dataset, as opposed to less popular options.

The rules of the game are simple. You are a refugee from Syria trying to get to Germany. Along the way you encounter various obstacles but also different kinds of help. Each player will be assigned a character. The characters are: Malika – a 26-year-old nurse from Aleppo, Adnan – a 10-year old boy from Latakia, Youssef – a 30-year-old man from Homs and the Alsouki family – a family of 4 from Damascus

All players start with 10 stamina points. You draw a card at every location, starting from the common starting point that is Syria. The card has 2 kinds of information on it: it tells you where to go next, and it also tells you how each transition affects your stamina points.  Some cards give the player the option to purchase stamina points. These real-life donations all go towards the IFRC fundraising effort to help the national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies in Europe to deal with the unprecedented number of refugees and migrants arriving from the Middle East and Africa.

We want the players to empathize with the obstacles and the hardship that migration involves.

We want people to encounter obstacles in the game that will motivate them to donate small amounts of money that can make a big difference.

We did not want to create a competitive game – buying stamina points benefits everyone on the table, so to speak.

Below are Dropbox links to the pdfs of cards we used for the game:
First Half of Cards
Second Half of Cards

Also, the PDF of Game Board

Playing Game Example Donate By Playing Game Board