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On a surpassingly sunny 29th June 2021, three members of Trilateral staff in a socially distanced manner walked into a room in Manchester.
It was the first time they had been in an external in-person meeting since March 2020, but that was not the reason for their excitement. The excitement stemmed from the purpose for which they were there. To run an end-user workshop for project Honeycomb. An innovative but grounded in subject matter expertise project that the co-ordinator, Dr Muraszkiewicz, has waited for, for many years. Finally, thanks to funding from Greater Manchester Combined Authority, and in partnership with the University of Manchester, it was happening.
Dr Muraszkiewicz has worked on human trafficking issues since the first day of her PhD in 2013. Trilateral Research has worked on the issue since their first EU-funded project on this subject in 2014, when they studied traffickers and how they run their operations. For years both knew it was time to do more. It was time to run a project that fully utilises opportunities presented by social studies research, data science, privacy know-how and campaign perspicacity. It was time for Project Honeycomb.
Project Honeycomb combines all relevant disciplines and skills to help better understand human trafficking and modern slavery across Greater Manchester in order to influence change. Not an easy task but a needed one.
Domestic servitude, forced labour, sexual exploitation and other forms of human trafficking conducted by means of fraud, coercion or the threat of violence, are not easy to spot or even understand. Particularly when human trafficking is by its nature a cross-cutting and ‘hidden’ crime’, it becomes difficult to untangle some of the root causes and contributing factors and then to know what to do about it. But, the murky water of human trafficking can become clearer if we use all the tools we have: technology, data, subject matter knowledge and, of course, willingness. Improving data-literacy and making use of the diverse information sources across sectors (while following best ethical and data protection practice) shows how we can paint a fuller picture. In Greater Manchester there is plenty of will – they have been hard at work on addressing human trafficking since 2012 and their work and multidisciplinary approach is often hailed as a best practice – and plenty of data (both held by stakeholders and open).
In Honeycomb, Trilateral and the University of Manchester want to pull together disparate types of information (often held within tons of data) in all areas relevant to human trafficking and modern slavery, so that dots can be joint. But there is no point just gathering data, for gathering sake. It needs to help those on the ground working on the issue.
And so Project Honeycomb first started- even before we built a project webpage – with asking end-users: What do you do? What challenges are you facing? What do you use in your current role? What do you need? Why do you need it? What can your infrastructure stomach? These were the questions that took us to Manchester. If you looked at our plan for the day – carefully documented on a fancy Confluence page – the objectives were more formal:
Kept on a strict and pressing deadline of the 5pm kick-off for the England vs Germany match at the Euro, the end users were able to articulate their contexts, expectations and needs. This information allows us at Trilateral Research to know where we can slot in, where we can support and where we can constructively chart the path forward, whilst remaining grounded in the end users’ capacities and objectives. This has often been a challenge when developing innovation data-driven services. There will always be expectations that a system akin to the products shown on films like Minority Report will be produced while we remain battling the very real limitations of technical and procedural set up.
The conversations at our end user workshop showed that Honeycomb can come in at both ends, improving the current practical demands, and also producing state-of-the-art innovations in understanding human trafficking and modern slavery.
So what now? Now we turn what our end users told us into requirements and we begin to build a socio-tech solution to better understand human trafficking and modern slavery across Greater Manchester so that policy, campaigns and influence can come to fruition.