2022 tested our resilience in new ways, but we found inspiration in our brilliant peers and partners and strength in one another. We remain convinced that transparency and equity are the cornerstone of every healthy organisation, and that power sharing is a must, not a luxury.
To live our values and respond to the challenges facing our team, 2022 saw us strengthen the systems that support our work by implementing a new compensation structure, modernising our operations, implementing strategic targets and milestones to guide our work, and evolving our team structure to more intentionally share power and responsibilities.
Resilience, equity and sustainability were central to our programmatic work as well. In 2022 we produced path-breaking research at the intersection of climate and digital rights, identified what digital IDs rooted in justice could look like, shared our own journey towards increased resilience, and provided support to over 50 organisations from across the world.
Thanks to our work, many organisations have strengthened their technical infrastructure this year, developed responsible data management strategies and gone on to share their learnings with their communities; our research continues to influence the tech and data decisions of foundations, humanitarians and smaller grassroots groups alike.
We’re ending the year with a strong and vibrant team, and a vision for 2023 filled with power sharing, new pathways for growth and collaboration, and fresh minds to support the movements and ecosystems that move our work forward.
In the wake of COVID-19, many organisations and activists increased their dependence on digital technologies. With support from Sigrid Rausing Trust, we supported over 50 social justice organisations – many of whom serve marginalised communities – who were facing challenges incorporating technologies into their work.
In a new Frequently Asked Questions guide, we compiled some of the key questions we tend to get asked by those we support. Available in English, Spanish, Portuguese and French, it walks organisations and activists through reflecting on their own tech landscape, aligning tech to their mission and values, and centering safety and care. There are additional resources linked throughout, for further reading. We hope this work will complement the tailored support we give through our Light-Touch Support programme.
In 2022, we wrapped up our work with HURIDOCS and PILPG researching tech tools for human rights documentation in the context of transitional justice.
The findings from our research were initially published in 2020 and 2021 as PDF reports. This year, we worked on adapting and translating our findings to create an online resource for documenters, tool developers and others working in the field of human rights documentation.
Along with summaries of our research findings, it includes practical guidance fordocumenters and an accompanying tools table with an overview of some of the tools currently available for different aspects of documentation.
The website is available in English, Arabic and French
We started the year with a revamped Matchbox programme: after months of research and reflection, we decided to make our Light Touch Support programme (LiTS) the primary channel through which we select Matchbox partnerships. This means that potential partners can now get our in-depth support without having to go through a lengthy application process.
Our new approach involves working with potential partners in non-intensive ways first – a process that has given us space to deepen our relationships in more organic and flexible ways, and that has allowed our partners to have even more agency in how our collaboration unfolds.
Y-Fem is a feminist organisation promoting sexual and reproductive health and fighting against gender-based violence. Our partnership with Y-Fem focused on establishing a safer tech and data environment both for the team and for the feminist activists in their networks.
After surfacing key challenges for the organisation, we developed a report with activities Y-FEM can carry out to strengthen their internal security and data management practices.
In 2022, we worked with two Matchbox partners:
Albinism Umbrella works to protect the rights of people with Albinism. Our work together focused on strengthening data collection and data management practices across the organisation, as well as among their peers.
Together, we held a community call on responsible data for social justice organisations in June, and developed an introductory guide for Albinism Umbrella’s peer organisations who wanted to implement more responsible data practices in their work.
Lastly, we supported Albinism Umbrella to assess their data management practices internally, providing them with short, medium and long term recommendations on strengthening them.
- Olive Namutebi, Executive Director at Albinism Umbrella
Through our Light-Touch Support (LiTS) programme, we supported over 50 organisations in 18 countries. Areas where partners most requested support included:
One of our partners this year was Fashion Revolution, who publish an annual Fashion Transparency Index that reviews brands and retailers’ social and environmental policies, practices and impacts. We supported them as they looked for tech partners to support building the Index.
- Liv Simpliciano, Fashion Revolution
B4P CodeFound works to support women and girls through peacebuilding processes specifically in Liberia and the Diaspora. During our partnership, we worked to find ways for B4P Codefound to best manage their data in responsible and effective ways.
–Lindora Kolu Howard-Diawara, B4P Code Found
Twerwaneho Listeners Club is a grassroots organisation based in Uganda that focuses on transparency and accountability for local government by publishing reports of malpractice. Through their work they have experienced intimidation and threats by the government. We supported them by providing light touch security resources and connecting them with security experts for more intense support and training.
We also published a number of resources based on our learnings gained over years of providingsupport to civil society and social justice organisations:
Keep an eye on our blog for updates!
We started the year by celebrating the eight year anniversary of the RD community through a Responsible Data Community Retrospective: 12 articles offering thoughts and
reflections on Responsible Data, written by members of the RD community.
Other thought-provoking conversations and reflections published during the course of 2022 included:
Our RD listserv fostered healthy debate, and members discussed topics like what justice means when working with data (especially data that belongs to or impacts vulnerable populations) and when partnering with tech companies, responsible data practices in research and, more recently, how to responsibly work with vulnerable populations (and protect sensitive data and communications) on Twitter.
In 2021, with support from Open Society Foundations and in partnership with ELSAM and Pollicy, we set out to investigate civil society advocacy around digital IDs. The research looked at how civil society actors have influenced the design, implementation and oversight of digital systems globally. The report [English] [Bahasa] [Urdu] focused on cases from Jamaica, Indonesia, Pakistan and Uganda, highlighting struggles and successes.
One of our research findings was that where digital ID systems are being planned or implemented,civil society needs support to proactively advocate for systems that meet their needs (or for the reform or dismantling of systems that don’t!).
With this in mind, we partnered with A People’s Guide to Tech to create a handbook for civil society to better visualise what digital ID systems rooted in justice could look like, and how we can advocate for them. The handbook [English] contains a primer on digital ID systems, activities to support civil society organisations in developing advocacy strategies, and case studies.
With support from Ford Foundation, Ariadne and the Mozilla Foundation, we worked on a research project
looking at the intersections of digital rights and environmental and climate justice.
Our research unearthed five key intersections; the info sheets listed below give a brief introduction to each one.
The full report and executive summary are both available in English; you can also sign up for our six-week propeller newsletter series covering the highlights of the research.
As part of this project, OEDP & Open Climate, BSR and APC published issue briefs that cover key issues for environmental justice and tech - these can be downloaded from Ford Foundation’s website.
Since the research was published, conversations have continued in many spaces: in our recent community call, we were joined by activists, researchers and practitioners to discuss priority areas for growth and future work.
In 2022, we built upon our 2018 research with Oxfam to dive deeper into the harms and benefits of biometric technologies in humanitarian contexts. With support from Open Society Foundations’ Migration Initiative, we have been looking at humanitarian organisations’ policies guiding biometric collection and assessing how data is stored and used, as well as mapping existing evidence on the benefits, harms and risks of these technologies and considering regulatory frameworks which might better guide decision-making practices around the collection of biometric data.
As part of this work, we’ve hosted multiple community calls where experts, academics, impacted communities and civil society members have provided valuable insights.
In early 2022, we published our research on collaborations between social justice organisations and digital rights communities. Our research showed that digital inequities have deepened during the pandemic, and many activists are facing challenges related to digital technologies.
Available in English and Spanish, our report highlights that intersectional collaboration between social justice and digital rights activists is critical going forward. In February 2022, we held a community call to discuss our findings and areas for future growth. The main takeaways from the call were that:
The collection, analysis and publication of publicly-available information by journalists, human rights investigators and others is commonly known as open source investigation. In March, the Human Rights, Big Data and Technology Project published a report and accompanying workbook, created with support from our team, outlining the ethical considerations that should be taken into account when conducting open source investigations for human rights advocacy or legal accountability. The workbook was designed specifically as a practical resource to support human rights researchers using open source information to make the best possible judgements in the particular context they are working in.
One of our organisational priorities over the past year has been strengthening The Engine Room’s internal digital resilience, as well as the digital resilience of our partners. We’ve done so through mapping what digital resilience means for our team, and building infrastructure to adapt and self-host open source technology that aligns with our values.
As a start, after conducting a needs assessment we decided to adopt two new video conferencing platforms: Jitsi Meet and Big Blue Button, platforms that are encrypted and open-source and that incorporate privacy by design. We’ve also launched a new internal wiki, which we’re using to host documentation about our organisational security, tool user guides and internal processes.
Externally, we’ve gathered data from across our research and consulting projects and support programmes to identify common struggles other organisations are facing. These included issues related to tool selection, tech in low-tech environments, access to information, digital threats and access to resources.
These are just the first steps of an ongoing effort to integrate social justice principles more fully into our tech choices, as well as our capacity to support partners.
This year we also partnered with Human Rights Funders Network (HRFN) to strengthen their organisational security practices. After spending four months assessing the team’s infrastructure needs and getting to know their staff and workflows, we created a roadmap for how their team can improve organisational security practices moving forward, and helped them prioritise activities for the coming year.
We have been supporting HRFN as they implement these changes and sharing some of what we’re learning as we go (including this blog post with tips on how teams can successfully adopt new tech).
- Debbie Zamd, Director of Operations at HRFN
SumOfUs works to curb the growing power of big multinational corporations. The Engine Room has been working with the organisation since 2015, and in 2022 we partnered to support them in strengthening their organisational security.
The Global Network for People Living with HIV (GNP+) is a network of people and organisations engaging in evidence-based policy advocacy to improve access to quality HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services. In 2022, we partnered with GNP+ to develop and facilitate workshops for the network: these were designed to strengthen their ability to protect themselves online and to assert their rights when accessing digital health tools and initiatives, and were focused on mis- and disinformation, digital resilience, digital rights and data justice. The final workshop materials (along with translations) will be published by GNP+ soon. Sign up to our newsletter to get updates about this project.
Civil Rights Defenders supports human rights defenders who work in some of the world’s most repressive regions. In 2022, they hosted Defenders’ Days in Stockholm, where over 200 human rights defenders gathered to strengthen capacity and protection and to exchange knowledge. During the conference, The Engine Room hosted three digital security sessions aimed at enabling participants to improve their protection and security (at both an individual and organisational level), as well as inspire longer term strategies. After our sessions, participants shared that they would be working to adopt more secure digital communication tools in their work.
This year, we spent quite some time improving our digital infrastructure, as well as supporting our partners as they navigated tech-related challenges. In doing that work, we’ve been reflecting on how building up digital resilience isn’t a straightforward process.
Strengthening organisational digital infrastructure is about balancing technical needs, aligning tech with mission and values and keeping staff contexts and preferences in check. Addressing all of that can be difficult. In our case, adopting free and open-source software tools (and self-hosting them!) has been a process that has taken quite some time and planning.
The same goes for our partners and peers. Becoming more digitally resilient requires a lot of trial and error, and the path to digital resilience isn’t always clear-cut. Despite these challenges, however, it’s still something that needs to be prioritised, as digital resilience is an important part of fighting injustices: whether we’re thinking about security for activists working against climate injustices, or how the right tech can strengthen human rights documentation efforts, or why technologies like VPNs and encryption can be crucial for those organising in repressive contexts, among many other examples.
This year has also been one of learning, adapting to new challenges, and growth for us! As an organisation, we’re taking steps to better align our practices and our values: We’ve started a process of financial reorganisation and rolled out a new compensation package. We’ve also migrated our operations platforms, which has had a positive impact in how our processes run.
On a programmatic level, we went through a process of setting targets for the whole organisation, in an effort to ensure we spend our time in ways that get us closer to our vision. Finally, we are wrapping up our first full year of practising co-leadership between our two Co-Deputy Directors, which has been a more sustainable and collaborative model for shaping our programmes.
As we navigated (another) year of what often felt like global (and sometimes internal) chaos,
resilience and flexibility have been fundamental to our ability to deal with uncertainty and change.
Accomplishing all we did in 2022 wasn’t a seamless process - it took focus, intentionality, rest and strategic decisions on how to best support our partners and how to work together internally in ways that prioritise well-being.
We have continued to learn the value of pausing when necessary, whether due to fatigue or health issues. We’ve been trying to work in more spacious ways to allow for recovery and rest, adapting projects when needed.
We have also decided to extend our organisational strategy for another year, to the end of 2023, given that the need to build a strong, resilient and well-networked movement of social justice activists is as relevant as ever.
Spread across 11 countries, the 17 of us worked with partners around the world, gathered for two organisational virtual retreats, and, though we didn’t have a team-wide in person gathering, met bilaterally and in small groups in São Paulo, London, Berlin, Madrid, Los Angeles, New York, Johannesburg and Stockholm.
Our collective year was also filled with personal accomplishments: kayaking around a Greek island, having papers published, getting new tattoos, going back to in-person community spaces (like the Feminist TransHack gathering), going on amazing (and tough) hikes, surfing on different continents, seeing sharks and stingrays at the beach, travelling to meet friends, completing cross-stitches, crocheting blankets and celebrating loved ones.
This work wouldn’t have been possible without:
Talented people like Alan Zard, Alicja Peszkowska, Ana Polanco (Polanco Consulting), Carolina Hadad, Charlotte Andersson, Dr. Madhuri Karak, Jen Lynn, Juan Arellano, La Propia Agencia (Ana María Ramírez, María Paola Herrera, Cristina Ramírez, Linda K. Ruiz), Luis Romero, Martu Mojica, Nasoan Sheftel-Gomes (Transformative Leadership Collective), Samuel Singler, Santiago Lorente, Shatha Sheikh Yousef, Surasti Kaur Puri, Tamas Szemann, Teresa Perosa, Zara Rahman.
Funders such as Ford Foundation, New Venture Fund, Open Society Foundations, Ariadne Network, Mozilla Foundation, Luminate, Sigrid Rausing Trust and SumofUs.
And wonderful partners including A People's Guide to Tech, Civil Rights Defenders, Global Dialogue, GSMA, IFRC, StopAids, Transform Health, GNP+, and Epic Africa.
2023 will be a year of continued change, deeper engagement, greater collaboration, and hopefully more in-person events and gatherings. We are excited to dig deeper into themes that have emerged from previous work related to migration, health, climate justice and digital resilience.
We are looking forward to finishing ongoing projects on humanitarian use of technologies. On an internal level, we are working to make sure our workflows are more flexible, allowing for more effective collaboration, and we are putting in place structures of shared leadership that will move us away from traditional hierarchical leadership models.
As a team, we’re also feeling optimistic about the possibility of in-person all-team retreats for the first time since 2020, and cannot wait to see each other as a group again!
Retrospective site design & illustration: Salam Shokor, assisted by Marie Dumont and Jihad Shokor. Development: Tim Alder