The Engine Room’s Matchbox programme is our primary intensive support format. Through Matchbox, we work with organisations and teams that have in-depth, nuanced understandings of their contexts to design and implement projects with technology or data elements.
Our latest cycle of Matchbox partnerships took place within the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has forced quick transitions to remote work. Alongside this shift, the pandemic has also affected the broader environment within which civil society operates, accelerating the rise in state and corporate surveillance, making data collected by civil society ripe for misuse, and aggravating the scale of the challenge for civil society to keep pace with developments in emerging technologies.
It is against this backdrop that we wrapped up Matchbox partnerships with six organisations. Learn about them in this series of posts, which also includes:
– How we supported CELS to migrate their database to Uwazi
Through their legal empowerment work, South African organisation Legal Advisory Information Center (LAIC) aims to make land tenure rights in South Africa more inclusive, just and equitable. They engage in public interest litigation, conduct policy research, carry out legal education work and advocate for changes in property rights. With The Engine Room, LAIC explored ways in which data and technology could give access to justice to underserved communities in South Africa. Together we sought to make their work more efficient, safe and organised, looking at responsible data management and investigating technology-driven solutions for case management and legal empowerment.
Starting with responsible data
During our partnership, the Engine Room shared its resources and experience around responsible data, while LAIC led a drafting process to create contextually relevant responsible data policies and practices. As a small organisation, LAIC relies on volunteers and paralegals to deliver its mandate, and the responsible data guidelines developed were aimed at training and supporting staff to handle data and technology tools responsibly.
The guidelines included a detailed Data Management Policy to protect the privacy of the communities LAIC serves and make sure the organisation’s treatment of data is in compliance with the Protection of Personal Information Act.
Sustainable platforms and hardware
We were aware of the barriers that exist in the adoption of technology for legal practitioners in South Africa, which include fears around cost and technological expertise involved. We also knew LAIC needed a case management tool that would be sustainable for the organisation, one with low user costs and without requirements for in-house technological expertise. After assessing different options, we supported LAIC in adopting Baobab Connect. Baobab provides a collection of tools that allow organisations to refer to and track cases, manage teams remotely and measure impact related to access to justice. LAIC also received pro-bono access to the use of Baobab. During the partnership, The Engine Room procured hardware for LAIC that was essential to sustaining their use of Baobab, including two laptops and a scanner/printer, which now form part of their core set of tools and are a solid investment for the organisation.
To make sure that LAIC would continue to receive support after the end of this cycle of Matchbox, The Engine Room registered LAIC with TechSoup South Africa, which runs a technology donation programme and provides its partners with ongoing opportunities for support in building capacity around technology. LAIC received a Box donation through TechSoup, after which we worked closely with them to set up backup of LAIC’s data, providing them with the security and assurance they needed to fully transition to online case management.
Ultimately, through our partnership, LAIC enhanced their use of tech and data in support of their core mission. They adopted responsible data policies and practices, moved to digital case management, increased their data protection through establishing a backup system, and forged links with a sustainable source of ongoing tech support in their region.
Our learnings gained in the last Matchbox cycle will inform how the format of the next iteration of Matchbox is shaped, and we look forward to continuing to learn and grow with local activists and organisations as we strive to contribute to developing a more equitable tech and human rights ecosystem.