The engine room is a new organization that’s trying to improve coordination between advocates, technologists and support organizations so that more digital advocacy projects can get off the ground. We’re starting out by getting a lay of the land – what existing resources already exist? Where do you go for support in your town, city, or country when you want to incorporate digital media into your work? A lot of really helpful feedback has come in already but we’re still looking for new information and collaborators.
First, a little about the challenges that led us to get this venture off the ground. Last October we brought together our advisors for the first time to discuss how our work could help them. A few central challenges emerged, and all spoke to the need for building bridges between advocates and tech-focused support organizations. The Social Tech Census is our first step towards doing that. But how, exactly, will collaborators be able to use it?
We asked our partners, who all work with technology for advocacy, and here's what they said.
1. Launch New Programs of Support Based on Hard Data About Who Needs What and Where
Where are all the francophone tech trainings on mapping tools? Is it easier in North Africa to access offline training opportunities about digital security than, say, strategy for online video? Why are there only ad hoc communities and no formal organizations providing social media support in South Asia? By shedding light on these gaps (the above are examples only – we haven’t found anything out yet!), the Census should make it easier for our partners to better identify and understand demand in order to meet it.
2. Adapt Existing Training Programs to On-The-Ground Contexts
The first step in launching any capacity building program (technology-focused or otherwise) is often to identify local stakeholders. By making it easier for trainers to get necessary information from the ground, we hope to maximize the reach of their projects. New Tactics in Human Rights, for example, could use it to connect its on the ground trainers with people who are already providing support – helping both to maximize their impact.
3. Get Resources for Remote Learning Into the Hands of Those Who Need Them Most
A lot of our partners have put laudable effort into creating resources like online guides in order to help more people to become effective digital advocates. Take WITNESS’ Video Advocacy Toolkit, Access’ guide to addressing DDoS attacks or the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Surveillance Self Defense project. If they’re going to have as much impact as possible, these resources need to get into the hands of those who need them most. Partners should be able to use the Social Tech Census to identify outreach partners who clearly understand information needs in target communities.
4. Connect Local Trainers to Local Advocates
Trainers are too often flown in from thousands of miles away for a few days of workshopping with no incentive to remain in contact with the advocates they trained. The best thing we heard from one of our partners was that they didn’t want to fly across the world to give a training (or send one of their staff). They’d rather use the Social Tech Census to connect local need to local support. We hope that the Census can help minimize the degree to which trainers have to be parachuted into new contexts for a few days of training.
A version of this post also appeared at WITNESS, Small World News and other engine room partners