E.g., 09/26/2016
E.g., 09/26/2016

Smart Inclusive Cities: How New Apps, Big Data, and Collaborative Technologies Are Transforming Immigrant Integration

Reports
September 2014

Smart Inclusive Cities: How New Apps, Big Data, and Collaborative Technologies Are Transforming Immigrant Integration

The spread of smartphones—cellphones with high-speed Internet access and geolocation technology—is transforming urban life. While many smartphone apps are largely about convenience, policymakers are beginning to explore their potential to address social challenges from disaster response to public health. And cities, in North America and Europe alike, are in the vanguard in exploring creative uses for these apps, including how to improve engagement.

For disadvantaged and diverse populations, accessing city services through a smartphone can help overcome language or literacy barriers and thus increase interactions with city officials. For those with language needs, smartphones allow language training to be accessed anywhere and at any time. More broadly, cities have begun mining the rich datasets that smartphones collect, to help attune services to the needs of their whole population. A new crop of social and civic apps offer new tools to penetrate hard-to-reach populations, including newly arrived and transient groups.

While these digital developments offer promising opportunities for immigrant integration efforts, smartphone apps’ potential to address social problems should not be overstated. In spite of potential shortcomings, since immigrant integration requires a multipronged policy response, any additional tools—especially inexpensive ones—should be examined. 

This report explores the kinds of opportunities smartphones and apps are creating for the immigrant integration field. It provides a first look at the opportunities and tradeoffs that smartphones and emerging technologies offer for immigrant integration, and how they might deepen—or weaken—city residents’ sense of belonging.

This report was commissioned for the eleventh plenary meeting of MPI's Transatlantic Council on Migration, which focused on how cities and regions can more fully reap the benefits of immigration.

Table of Contents 

I. Introduction

II. "Smart" Approaches to Immigrant Integration

A. Improving Access to Services

B. Tailored Apps for New Arrivals

C. Strengthening Urban Citizenship through Collaborative Technologies

III. Tradeoffs and Challenges

A. Addressing the Digital Divide

B. The Unintended Consequences of Big Data

C. Sustainable Solutions versus Quick Fixes

IV. Conclusions and Recommendations