New project: strengthening our digital resilience

Carolina Hadad

Part of how we try to make sure we stay current and helpful to others is by being curious and thoughtful about our own internal practices here at The Engine Room. With this in mind, we are starting a three-year project to examine and strengthen our own digital resilience and, in doing so, increase our capacity to support others. 

Through this work we hope to, among other things: 

  • improve the ways we address complex digital resilience challenges in different contexts,
  • further integrate social justice principles into our tech choices and practices,
  • learn strategies to further a values-based approach to our infrastructure, and 
  • deepen our capacity to work with partners on their path to do so as well. 

Support from the Ford Foundation has enabled us to carry out this work. 

Why digital resilience? 

Since the pandemic began, many social justice organisations and activists have increased their reliance on digital technologies: developing new ways of working and re-shaping programs while supporting staff members’ and communities’ wellbeing. But while using technology and data can increase impact, it can also bring risks. For us, it is important that social justice movements are able to use technology and data in safe, responsible and strategic ways, while also actively mitigating the vulnerabilities created by digital systems. 

For this work (and this blog post), we’re using the term ‘digital resilience’ to refer to “a set of practices that support the ability of an organisation to protect itself from – and respond to – digital security threats, to ensure the wellbeing of its members/individuals, and to adopt infrastructures that respond to the ever-changing needs and contexts of the organisation and its members.” (This is at this point still an incomplete definition that will likely evolve and change over time, as we work on this project and mature our own digital resilience practices)

Getting started: mapping out what digital resilience means for our team 

For this project, we have created an internal, cross-team working group that meets monthly to discuss our digital resilience challenges and potential ways we can address them. In addition to deepening our technical expertise to strengthen our own infrastructure, we are also working on improving the ways in which we offer advice and support for partners on organisational security and technical infrastructure choices. 

The working group’s first step was defining what digital resilience means to us. Here’s some of what came up: 

  • Ensuring that there is redundancy of knowledge and documentation of processes where possible. For example, making sure that information about infrastructure management is documented clearly, and not held by only one individual; 
  • Striving for an evolving use of tech and data in response to our ever-changing contexts;
  • Being able to more proactively prepare for emergency scenarios that would impact our digital infrastructure, such as internet shutdowns, social revolts or crises, as well as for connectivity challenges;
  • Approaching the concept of digital resilience holistically, prioritising people’s wellbeing and ensuring staff’s experiences are reflected in the organisation’s tech choices and policies; and
  • Considering learning around tech and data, and its surrounding organisational practices, as an ongoing strategy that involves accessible ways of capacity building. 

We will iterate upon these themes as our work in this area progresses: during the next few months, we will continue to strengthen our infrastructure and we plan on sharing our key findings in this space.

Strengthening our infrastructures  

After conducting a deeper needs assessment within the team, we’ve already started to make some changes to our tech infrastructure (led by our Resilient Infrastructure Manager). 

The first change has been to our video conferencing infrastructure. As a remote organisation, video conferencing is integral to our day to day operations, and we want to use tools that are privacy-respecting and strengthen our organisational security. To this end,  we decided to set up our own instances of two tools: Big Blue Button and Jitsi Meet

Both of these tools are encrypted, open source, and incorporate privacy by design. User data is not shared or sold to third parties, both tools have active communities of developers and users, and both have a good reputation among social justice organisations and peers we work with. 

After testing these tools for a few weeks, we are currently assessing how implementation went and figuring out what adjustments are needed going forward. Watch this space for updates! 

Connect with us

We are interested in hearing about any digital resilience strengthening processes other social justice organisations are going through, so please don’t hesitate to reach out! And if you need help defining your digital resilience path, feel free schedule a support call with us. We look forward to hearing from you! 

Image by Alejandro Barba via Unsplash.