Bringing high-skill refugees and jobs together through diverse hackathon teams

Hackathons are multi-day events where digital prototypes are developed. We test whether hackathons can help high-skill refugees find better jobs and whether deferred acceptance algorithms can generate diverse, stable, and productive teams.


  • Lead school School of Social Work
  • Institute Institute for Social Security and Social Policy
  • Strategic thematic field Thematic field "Humane Digital Transformation"
  • Funding organisation Innosuisse
  • Duration (planned) 01.04.2024 - 31.03.2027
  • Project management Prof. Dr. Tobias Fritschi
  • Head of project Prof. Dr. Debra Hevenstone
  • Project staff Prof. Dr. Tobias Fritschi
  • Partner Staatssekretariat für Migration SEM
    Datalets, Oleg Lavrovsky
    Prof. Dr. Marek Pycia (Universität Zürich)
  • Keywords hackathons, labor market integration, refugees, team formation, deferred acceptance algorithm


Many high-skill occupations currently have low unemployment and high vacancy rates, with the government forecasting that migration is necessary to fill vacancies. At the same time, high-skill refugees generally find jobs well below their qualifications for multiple reasons including labor market integration programs that target lower skill jobs and social networks that connect them to jobs within their migrant communities. One potential way to address these issues is to encourage high-skill refugees to attend hackathon events where they can directly demonstrate their skills to potential future colleagues and employers.
At the same time, larger hackathons face the challenge of how to form diverse teams—a critical building block given evidence that diverse teams are more effective—and more specifically hackathon projects often need a specific skill mix. While algorithms are already used for team formation in other contexts, these ignore participant characteristics and preferences, likely leading to participant dissatisfaction and less productive teams. Team formation algorithms that consider characteristics and preferences could yield diverse, stable, and productive teams. Such algorithms could be used not only at hackathons, but also in education and the corporate sector—really any context in which diverse and stable teams are important.

Course of action

First, the hackathon hosting software is expanded to incorporate two team suggestion tools, one using a deferred acceptance algorithm and another using random assignment while also expanding data collection. At the same time, the project creates a website offering searchable event information and participant registration, including a transparent data agreement and reimbursement form. In the second phase, high-skill refugees are recruited to attend hackathon events and hackathon events implement the two suggested team algorithms. Finally, the interventions are evaluated using project and administrative data, testing:

  1. Were teams at events with the deferred acceptance algorithm more stable (e.g., less team-switching) and more productive (e.g., creating proto-types).
  2. Did high-skill refugees attending hackathons attain higher employment or wages than comparable high-skill refugees who did not attend?

Looking ahead

With positive results, dribdat and will take over the event website, and Capacity and Powercoders will integrate hackathons into their toolbox, and the publication of team-formation results will result in broader adoption.