Posted 22 July, 2015 by Tin Geber

From a button to a PACT: scaling security through design

This article tells the story of how the engine room collaborated with Amnesty International and media activist Mushon Zer-Aviv to create the Panic Button Training Kit, a collection of training tools for human rights defenders at risk.

Panic Button, courtesy of

Panic Button, courtesy of

In March of 2014, Amnesty International (AI) released the first roll-out of Panic Button, an Android app devised to help protect human rights defenders (HRDs) by turning the smartphone into an alarm beacon that notifies a trusted group of individuals (called a PACT) of the phone owner’s position and situation. If you want to know more about how Panic Button was designed, read this article.

The effectiveness of Panic Button relies on the human rights defenders’ ability to respond smartly and safely to potentially dangerous and stressful situations, as well as identifying the right people to choose as part of their PACT. For this reason, in tandem with training on how to use the app, Amnesty International trained HRDs extensively on assessing risk, responding to threat, and PACT planning. Understanding who the actors are, what they can do for (and against) you, and planning beforehand is as important as learning how to use the app. Amnesty just released an evaluation report (executive summary) documenting the methodology and approach adopted by AI and partners, and presenting feedback from users who took part in the global testing phase.

The Panic Button Training Kit

Who is in your PACT?

Who is in your PACT?

Amnesty saw the potential to extend the impact of Panic Button training sessions beyond the app itself. They recognized the opportunity to offer accessible and structured ways to help HRDs think critically about their threat models, even when hands-on training isn’t possible; the output of these insights is the Panic Button Training Kit.

We have had the distinct pleasure of working with Amnesty International, as well as media activist and designer-extraordinaire Mushon Zer-Aviv on developing the kit, transforming workshop ideas into an open, standalone training package.

It’s all cards and games: smart packaging and experiential learning

We wanted to create something that was interactive and educational, but also easily accessible in low-bandwidth environments. We also wanted to make something that could accommodate a large number of participants and not require them to have prior familiarity with the AI’s Panic Button workshop.

With these requirements in mind, we agreed to help design two things: a set of simple and visually compelling training cards, and a role playing game called imPACT.

The content of the cards and the game were based on the methodology Amnesty International fine-tuned over months of assisting communities at risk to integrate the Panic Button into their work. It is aimed at providing participants with tools and activities to assess threats, map their risks, and understand what kind of support they would need from their PACT in case of emergency.

Training cards

Risk Mapping

Risk Mapping

We packaged the training activities in a set of simple cards that can be printed and carried to workshops. Each activity has an overview defining goals, methodology, materials and timespan, followed by a step-by-step explanation. We also chose illustrations that are more abstract so that they can prime the mind without dictating or directing what mapping risk or what a PACT may look like. This abstract approach also helped us avoid producing content that is tied to a specific cultural background, or exclusionary in some way.

imPACT: the role playing game



The game puts participants in a simulated high-pressure situation where the strength of their PACT will be put to the test. Teams set up, set off and respond to the Panic Button. Participants play a variety of characters, such as lawyers, friends, and Partner NGO members, who are required to think and act fast to ensure key actions take place and key figures get involved in order to liberate the HRD who has been forcibly taken.

We believe that by moving discussions on security risk away from online tool-specific solutions and towards more offline, interactive venues, we begin to include communities who otherwise might not have been able to participate.

How did we build it?

PACT action plan

PACT action plan

Our design decisions were primarily based on the understanding that we cannot predict the kind of technology the participants will have on hand. For this reason, we do not want to mandate that they use a projector or remain online for the duration of the workshop. This was the impetus to create printable cards with a cheat sheet for the facilitator that includes components they may need to rely on during the workshop.

The site was built on Github using the static site generator Jekyll which converts markdown files into posts and pages. It was important for us that updating the content be as simple as possible in order to easily handover the site to Amnesty and for the benefit of any new contributors to the site’s training content.

We developed a separate stylesheet that upon hitting “Print” would turn each web page into a foldable card. This made the web and the print design a simultaneous process. We were actually hoping we’ll be able to include a button on the website that would take the newly updated page, including any recent changes to the markdown on Github, and output a PDF of the page on the fly. This would mean that the new content could be immediately available and useful. As it turns out, there are very few options for on-the-fly html-to-pdf creation and the ones we explored were not quite there yet.

In the end, we choose to do the minimal yet necessary cleanup and export the html to PDF ourselves so to allow visitors to download that file. Our decision was one that prioritizes accessibility of the information over the inclusion of fancy, new tools that require the most modern, up-to-date web architecture and a strong connection.

What would we like from you?

Take it, try it, break it, let us know! We think that resources to help assess risk and plan accordingly should be free and available to all who need them. Because the workshop materials are available online, rather than solely through in-person training, more HRDs will have access to the content. In addition, all workshop materials available in the kit, as well as the code for the website, can be found on Github. This means the content and site can be forked (or copied to another user’s account on Github) so others can make their own localized versions. We hope that this open process will encourage collaboration that will help the Panic Button Training Kit fit in many varied contexts and optimize usefulness for HRD’s around the world!

Does the content make sense?

As much as Amnesty International polished and tested the content and methodology in real-life trainings, we’re sure there are many more ways in which it can be improved and adapted.

How can we improve the design?

Are the cards useful and informative enough? Should we add more, less, different information?

Can it be used without the app?

We believe it can, but want to hear from you!

Anything missing?

Let us know! Leave a comment, open an issue on GitHub, or drop us a line:

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