Posted 21 March, 2022 by Barbara Paes, Joshua Sehoole and Quito Tsui

Takeaways from our community call on intersections between data & digital rights and social justice

On February 15, we held a community call to discuss our newly-published research findings on intersectional collaboration between social justice communities and data and digital rights (DDR) communities. We were joined by speakers Temi Lasade-Anderson from Alaase Lab, Luã Cruz from IDEC, Patronella Nqaba from Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity and Paromita Shah from Just Futures Law

Below we share three key takeaways from the call, alongside a list of readings and projects shared by participants. 

1. Intersectional approaches to data and digital rights work must centre the priorities of social justice communities 

Despite doing important work monitoring the impact of digital technologies and fighting potential harms related to their use, many DDR organisations are not working with social justice groups from impacted  communities. This lack of connection between issues and communities came up in the call (and in our research) as something that needs to be addressed. 

All our speakers talked about how social justice groups are equipped to build solutions that are right for their communities, and suggested that the priorities of these groups should be the compass that guides future organising in the DDR ecosystem. As one speaker said, “let’s strive to put grassroots groups’ priorities first, and not what ‘sounds best’ from a policy perspective.” 

2. Strong collaboration requires trust, patience, understanding, and prioritising health and safety 

  • Successful collaboration takes time. In our research, we looked into how collaborations have been built between social justice and DDR groups in the past.  In this area, we found the principle of ‘moving at the speed of trust’ (as articulated by writer adrienne maree brown in her book Emergent Strategy) to be ever-present. During the call, speakers brought this up as well, highlighting that meaningful collaboration – relationship building, knowledge sharing, designing common agendas and co-creating advocacy strategies  – are all things that take time. Building connections can be difficult, stressful and resource-consuming, especially under difficult political circumstances. Approaching collaboration as a process – as opposed to an outcome –  is the way to go.
  • Identifying the strengths and challenges of each community is key. There are areas in which both DDR and social justice actors need to build their capacities. Our speakers pointed out that it’s important to recognise the challenges and strengths within each community, as this enables more nuanced perspectives on emergent issues and more fluid joint action.
  • The health of movements should be prioritised. More and more social justice actors are dealing with threats to their security and wellbeing, from state surveillance and persecution to burnout and fatigue. Protecting social justice actors and ensuring their health and safety should be a priority if we want to build strong, long-lasting collaborations. 

3. Sharing information is a key part of building connections 

Our speakers emphasised that there’s a lot of work to be done around knowledge sharing between DDR organisations and social justice groups. As one said, “It’s hard to create meaningful collaborations when there is no equal sharing of information.” The lack of accessible knowledge about the impact of data and tech on communities across a variety of geographies (and not just in the global north) was highlighted as one of the obstacles social justice groups face when seeking to take part in DDR advocacy. 

Our speakers also noted a need for, among other things: 

  • more cross-sector dialogue between DDR groups and social justice groups
  • more actors who are dedicated to building connections between digital rights and social justice communities, and
  • more spaces where people from different communities can be creative and come up with innovative solutions to the DDR challenges they’re facing. 

All of the above could work to strengthen social justice groups as they use tech and data in ways that are aligned with their work, and support them in resisting and rejecting technologies that could potentially harm their communities. 

Reading list:

Below are some readings and projects that came up during the call. 

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