Sonia Vargas and Shubh Panwala recently shared their experiences of developing a digital platform designed to assist migrants and refugees integrate into German society at the Open Social Summit 2023
Bridging Barriers and Empowering Communities using Open Source technology
Together in Germany is an integral part of the larger project called “Central digital hub -Handbook Germany : Together (HBGT)”. Developed by the Neue deutsche Medienmacher*innen e.V. (NdM), this initiative aims to create a centralized digital infrastructure by leveraging and developing the existing platforms and resources of the Handbook Germany (HBG) and “Together in Germany” (TiG) projects. A team of 40 colleagues from content creators, journalists, and community managers, to IT-specialists form part of this cross-functional unit, which focuses on empowering migrants and refugees to access reliable information and resources to aid their integration into German society.
“Together in Germany” was established as a response to the overwhelming need for a dedicated, safe digital space where refugees and migrants could seek reliable information about the intricacies of life in Germany. The idea to create this community platform was born from an abundance of personal queries the team received via their social media channels in response to the shared content provided by Handbook Germany.
The Open Social platform, which uses the open-source version of Open Social’s Drupal distribution, offers answers to questions, curated by community managers and experts, about various aspects of German life, from using public transport to school registration for children. The data is available in eight different languages, making it accessible to people from various backgrounds.
Exploring the Interactive Features of Open Social
The platform was launched in May 2022, beginning with five languages and adding more over time. It experienced some technical difficulties initially, especially with right-to-left languages such as Arabic and Farsi. Despite these challenges, the team has remained dedicated to refining the system and expanding its language options. As of June 2023, the platform is available in nine languages, with Pashto which is recently included.
An interesting feature of the platform is the forum that allows users to post questions and get answers from other community members. A group of community managers oversees the forum, accepting correct answers and correcting inaccurate ones. This aspect ensures the reliability of the information provided on the platform.
In addition to the forum, the Central digital hub – Handbook Germany: Together (HBGT) project plans to introduce one-on-one counseling services where users can book appointments with experts for personalized advice.
The team acknowledges that the project’s development has been hindered due to funding limitations. However, they have great plans for the future, including updating their systems to the latest versions of Drupal and Open Social to access new features and improve user experience.
The project is since 01/2023 funded by the European Union, the German federal Ministry of Interior and home affairs, the German federal government commissioner for Migration, refugees, and Integration, the German federal government commissioner for Anti-racism, and the international rescue committee.