Tools for change

Owen Valentine Pringle is Amnesty International’s Director of Digital Communications at the International Secretariat. Owen lead the Tech for human rights plenary session today.

At Amnesty International’s recently held Global Digital Skillshare in London the fifty delegates in attendance applied their technological expertise to a series of real-world scenarios experienced by rights-holders. The brief was as follows: how could technology be utilized to address the problems facing the individuals in question. Now, of course I’m biased, but in over three years since joining Amnesty, I’ve never seen a group come alive with ideas  in the way it did during this session. However, this wasn’t just a workshop as part of the Skillshare, it was intended to be the very beginning of a process in which we would like to build continual innovation into how we work. Our aim was to take one of these ideas and develop it into something tangible, something that would benefit those living through the real situation we had presented as a hypothetical.

In terms of ground rules, firstly, we felt it was imperative to focus on the brief, making sure we were trying to solve the right problem. Secondly, we wanted to think big, but start small. Could we produce a prototype in one part of the world with the aim of improving and replicating the model as we deployed it elsewhere? Third, it was more important to strive for constant evolution than to go for instant perfection. Great, as they say, is the enemy of good. A process of learning quickly and building on ideas would mean fewer delays to getting something out there. Fourth, we accepted that ideas can and do come from everywhere, not just those wearing a professional hat, so how could we encourage ideas from a variety of sources? Lastly, we needed to embrace failure, albeit with we ll-manage d risks , with a view to improving the tools created.

A panel of experts from AccessNow , Dell , Greenpeace  and IDEO  interrogated the ideas presented and helped us to identify which of them had the most potential in terms of necessity, viability and scalability, but the project we chose to take to the next stage was selected by the Skillshare delegates themselves. Of the three scenarios presented, problem 3 – a blogger is under threat of unlawful detention for criticizing the government – was chosen as a pilot. So, where do we go from here?

Well this is where it gets exciting. Today, we’re thrilled to announce the launch of an open innovation challenge to develop technology-based solutions for rights-holders under our Security with Human Rights  campaign. In the coming months, we will tap into the wisdom of researchers, campaigners, communicators, technologists, our supporters and, of course, rights-holders for whom these solutions are to be developed, in order to create a blueprint for the design and build of dedicated digital tools to support their human rights work.

Over the past fortnight, a team at IDEO has been working with the Security with Human Rights team at the International Secretariat to fine-tune the brief presented at the Skillshare. Once finalised, Amnesty International will present the challenge via OpenIDEO, IDEO’s dedicated open innovation platform, which currently has 18,000 members in 170 countries. But this isn’t a closed shop, this is open to everyone, everywhere. And if there’s one thing I’d like from the ICM, it’s for the delegates who attended to think about how their Section or Structure, and members can take part in this process.

Of course, the idea is not just to launch one product or service, we’d like to do this in every area of our work where technology can make a difference. As Amnesty International moves closer to the ground, it’s worth remembering that technology also has to do so as well, whilst drawing upon the global influence we are privileged to have at our disposal. With the help of those we work for and with, we can initiate the design and build of digital services for self-sustaining communities, whether this means through the development of technology for rights-holders or the development of digital platforms and tools for the movement.

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2 Responses to Tools for change

  1. Is it possible that OpenIDEO could be the implementation of the Global Forum that was approved in 2009 ICM but not yet materialised?


  2. Mukta Das says:

    Hi Owen,

    Many thanks for posting this summary of the plenary.

    OpenIdeo is a great idea – I’m already contributing ideas on the platform as a result of my interest in climate change and food security – and I can imagine that I’m not alone among AI staff, volunteers and members. Its great to harness the skills and expertise of the movement in this way to come up with a topflight, bespoke solution.

    Tactical Technology Collective already do a fair amount of capacity building in this area e.g. supporting young bloggers in the Africa region to safely harness tools for online activism.

    See you on OpenIdeo.


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