Case study ● Communities


Asylos, a network of researchers assisting asylum seekers, was at a pivotal growth stage. We worked with them to explore how to strengthen their work gathering evidence for asylum seekers and advocating for refugee rights.

Asylum seekers in Europe are up against a dysfunctional system

The global refugee crisis is one of the biggest humanitarian disasters in history. Asylum lawyers in Europe deal with dysfunctional legal systems and have little support. Asylos is an network of volunteer researchers who assist lawyers in gathering evidence to help people fleeing violence and persecution claim their right to asylum.

In the face of an unprecedented surge of refugees, Asylos sought our help in June 2014 to identify ways to strengthen their community through new skills, tactics and relationships to connect researchers, lawyers, and managing staff.

What are the best ways to build strong ties within the community? How could Asylos best communicate their efforts to the public? What new skills and tactics would improve the research results? How best to protect sensitive information about asylum seekers? How to search for, and present evidence to lawyers so that it’s most useful to them? What are the best ways to empower autonomy in a decentralised network with a shared purpose?

From concept to pilot


Identify skills and techniques that could turbocharge Asylos’ members work


Prep a group of leading experts to inspire inspiration and deliver practical advice


Facilitate an Asylos gathering for skills building, bonding, and new tactics for collaboration.

Assessing needs, sourcing experts, bringing the community together


The first step in the process was to spend extensive time with Asylos’ managing staff and volunteers to understand all the pieces of the puzzle: What are the most pressing issues? What is not working, or might be working better? What are the biggest strengths of the community? We also focused on learning as much as possible about the context.

We created a list of skills and techniques that have worked for other networks, such as creative campaigning, networks visualisation techniques, secure communications, and community management tools and techniques, and built a meeting agenda that would fit in as much learning as possible, while leaving ample time for community building.

Through our own networks and trusted partners, we identified a dozen domain experts that could help bring practical experience to the Asylos network. We took the time to have a one-on-one with each expert to explain the context and describe Asylos’ needs, so their sessions would be as focused as possible.

The Engine Room’s strength was on the effort put into understanding what we are about and what we really want to achieve, to make us focus on why we are doing the event, and think through with us how we can use the occasion to build and strengthen our internal community. They went way beyond the usual facilitation, were able to understand our issue and content extremely quickly. We would not have been able to pull together such an interesting event without them.

- Ellen Riotte, Asylos

The Engine Room facilitated a two-day event for more than 30 members of the Asylos community in Berlin, Germany in July 2015, bringing together experts and volunteers, and helping the managing staff of Asylos to make the best out of the opportunity to impart skills and strengthen network autonomy. The workshops, team gatherings and conversations with asylum lawyers triggered exciting discussions about Asylos’ work and many new ideas on how to develop their network.

Related projects