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Aspiration helps nonprofits and foundations use software tools more effectively and sustainably. We serve as ally, coach, strategist, mentor and facilitator to those trying to make more impactful use of information technology in their social change effort



 



Is there a long term strategy in human rights technology?

Wed, 01 Nov 2017 17:00:00 +0000

Over the past decade, Aspiration has worked with a range of partners and allies across the human rights sector on a wide spectrum of technology projects and events. During that time, we have observed a recurring dynamic. Most human rights technology efforts—whether responding to an incident and mitigating a specific threat, working on technology features and usability, or doing evaluation and risk assessment—tend to focus on short-term horizons and/or be reactive in nature. This led us to consider how stakeholders in the sector might make use of more proactive approaches to technology planning and preparation. The Ford Foundation generously funded this research and the subsequent report. We are deeply grateful to the interviewees who contributed their knowledge to this research. Exploring the viability of a Research & Development Lab for Human Rights Technology One concept that has surfaced in a number of conversations is a long-term "Research and Development Lab" (R&D Lab) for Human Rights Technology. We decided to employ this concept as a lens through which to explore how such an enterprise might create new space and opportunities for stakeholders across the field to strengthen digital security capacity and operate more sustainably in their ongoing programmatic work. Building on this concept, we designed the framework of a study focusing on whether there are both a need and a role for an R&D Lab in this ecosystem. The idea was strictly conceptual and was utilized with the aim to drive a cross-field and forward-looking discussion. To conduct the investigation, we consulted with a range of stakeholders operating across the sector in different disciplines, roles, and geography. To guide us through the interviews, the venture was described as aiming to: Model potential future threats and adversaries and their capabilities;Anticipate tool, process, and capacity needs NGOs and other human rights stakeholders will face; andModel how actions we take in the present and near-term may eventually have adverse or unanticipated consequences. Our research worked towards envisioning the foundation of an innovation center, operating in the long term, with a proactive approach to technology and scenario modeling. We also aimed to gather reflections and feedback on the possible forms and focus areas such a Lab might take on. The research did not aim to be a comprehensive investigation, and we engaged the pool of practitioners as a representative sampling. It is a snapshot of what our selected group of stakeholders prioritized in their thinking at the time of the interviews. Power, threats, and rulings shift and change continuously, and themes that might have not emerged prominently in the conversations we had only a few months ago could be front and center today. In any case, we believe the insights gathered could be useful to many interested in starting a conversation about the opportunities and impediments lying ahead for the human rights technology sector. What we explored We invited the interviewees to share their input on two main themes: general aspects of longer-term thinking applied to the context of human rights technology and the more specific Research and Development Lab concept. Exploring the general idea of a long-term horizon outlook on the sector allowed us to inquire into: Reflections on the meaning of a long-term effort in the human rights technology space,Thoughts on long-term approaches currently present in the field,Questions to address regarding the future state of play, andConsiderations about actions that could help anticipate future contexts. Evaluating the viability of a Human Rights Technology Research and Development Lab proved to be a multifaceted endeavor. While sharing reflections and questions on the viability of the project, our interlocutors also provided more specific considerations about the project's framework. In particular, their observations focused on: Guiding and foundational principles,Strategic focal points,Programmatic design principles,Gove[...]



Nonprofit tech capacity building; our CA road trip dispatch

Wed, 29 Jun 2016 16:05:56 +0000

We had a great time visiting with folks working at social justice nonprofits and organizations in Oakland, Santa Cruz, Watsonville, Fresno, and Los Angeles on several coffee-fueled road trips to inform and help shape our CA Tech Capacity Building program. We loved hearing about the many organizational and technological projects that people are developing to advance their mission-oriented work. We learned that numerous organizations are focusing on strengthening online communications strategies, better utilizing data management systems, moving toward better information security practices, and overall implementing more effective and sustainable processes. We are thankful for these conversations that are cultivating the capacity building elements of our program. Here's a closer look at some of the awesome organizations we visited on the road: Black Organizing Project is a Black member-led community organization working for racial, social, and economic justice through grassroots organizing and community-building in Oakland.Digital NEST (Nurturing Entrepreneurial Skills with Technology) is a non-profit technology center that is breaking down technological barriers that many young people living in under-served agricultural communities face by connecting them to high technology platforms through skills trainings, peer collaboration opportunities, and to local businesses and entrepreneurs looking for a capable local workforce in Watsonville and Salinas.YouthWire, California Next Generation of Community Media, provides a unique lens into the issues that matter most to young people by unifying and showcasing their stories through youth-led journalism and media projects across California. Check out their youth-media network: The kNOw Youth Media in Fresno, VoiceWaves in Long Beach, Coachella Unincorporated in Coachella, and We'Ced Youth Media in Merced.Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE) builds grassroots power to create social and economic justice for low-income, female, immigrant, black, and brown communities in Los Angeles.California Latinas for Reproductive Justice is a statewide organization that is committed to honoring the experiences of Latinas to uphold their dignity, bodies, sexuality, and families. They build Latinas’ power and cultivate leadership through community education, policy advocacy, and community-informed research to achieve reproductive justice. We are also grateful for the valuable insights from Information Ecology, Save the Waves, Center for Multicultural Cooperation, Central California Environmental Justice Network (CCEJN), Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE), Dr. Pop, Weingart East LA YMCA Youth Institute, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and East LA Community Corporation. Special thanks to those who joined us on calls, connected us with their networks, and shared their own tech capacity building passions and experiences. We also spent some time in the Central Valley checking out venues for our next CA Nonprofit Technology Festival for early 2018. We are excited about the possibility of returning to where we held our first ever #CATechFest. We returned from our road trip inspired by the programs and campaigns that folks are working on to strengthen community leadership and advance social, reproductive, economic, housing, and environmental justice, and look forward to supporting these efforts with our program. Want to learn more, request a training, or know someone who would benefit from our program? Get in touch with us.Want to get involved in our next CA Nonprofit Tech Fest? Let us know!Our 14th annual Nonprofit Software Development Summit is coming up on November 15-17, 2017! Register now or email us to learn about travel scholarships and sliding scale registration.Join our CA Capacity Building Network mailing list to stay in the loop about live workshops, webinars, and events. Sign up now. California Mailing List* requiredEmail Address:* Enter the letters shown above:* Together, we know a[...]



Civic tech and digital response

Thu, 26 May 2016 17:31:17 +0000

We are preparing for the Humanitarian Technology Festival on June 4th and 5th in Cambridge, Mass. This participatory event is for field practitioners, media makers and storytellers, technology developers, information security practitioners, members of affected populations, researchers, and everyone in between. We are hoping for a strong contingent of civic tech and civic media folk as well, for reasons we hope this post will make clear. Humanitarian and disaster response deals with exceptional situations. But whether through historical happenstance or through poor design, response also tends to be short-sighted and deeply siloed. As crises are by definition beyond the capacity of "the norm" (existing infrastructure like governments), responders are often military or nongovernment organizations (NGOs). We deploy into places we do not fully understand the histories of, where we are not well connected with pre-existing efforts, and when we leave we often take our data and gained understanding with us. We too often make poor choices which deeply affect the future lives of a frontline community because "it is better than doing nothing." I generally find the whole thing paternalistic and incremental when we should instead be focusing on systemic interventions to long-term issues of inequity by working with local populations to increase their capacity. A combination of coping with exceptional circumstances in a way which actively works with, depends on, and returns to pre-existing efforts is what I see in the overlap of civics and response. Where one ends and the other begins Civic tech is technology which enables engagement or participation of the public for stronger development, enhancing citizen communications, improving government infrastructure, and generally improving the public good. Civic media is any form of communication that strengthens the social bonds within a community or creates a strong sense of civic engagement among its residents. Then civic media and tech are deeply linked with digital disaster and humanitarian response. All are about how people work with each other and with institutions, each is about more intentional infrastructure, and each is about having an empowered public supported by institutions and a global public. The excellent book Building Resilience gives a precise overview of the strength of social capital and community ties as the leading indicator to a region's ability to cope with shocks and stressors, regardless of access to other resources. We anticipate the scenario we will be playing through at the event will get at these social ties as well as laying a baseline of understanding for those new to response. From that background theory, the practice looks like responders working with already established civic infrastructure in order to bolster those networks of trust, to benefit from that knowledge, and to have a place to return created data and delivered resources into for post-response sustainability. But where do humanitarian aid/development, civic engagement, and disaster response transition into one another? Civics and humanitarian aid Digital humanitarian response could be seen as civics in places where there is not yet established technical, physical, or possibly even political infrastructure to bolster or route around. In this case, considering how the civic tools you are building apply to other locations is a useful theoretical framework. Perhaps more importantly — how could tools built elsewhere apply here? (Spoiler alert: Kenya and Tanzania have had mobile money for a looooong time, and we are only just starting to get it in the States — we have plenty to learn from other places.) Improving infrastructure is more and more grounded on baseline data, which can be collected for development purposes or as a means of civic engagement. When the creation of baseline data is happening for civic reasons, it indicates those social ties are being formed around local political empowerment, versus (the still wor[...]



Drafting an introductory handbook for Digital Response

Wed, 25 May 2016 14:13:50 +0000

We're getting ready for the Humanitarian Technology Festival in Cambridge, Mass June 4th and 5th. We've already talked about our potential sessions (let us know if you have more ideas!), how civic tech and media are related to response, and the scenario/game we are going to play. Another opportunity presented by having so many diverse folk in a room is that of creating an introductory handbook for digital responders. We will benefit especially from having folk present who haven't been through a response deployment before. A surge of interest and attention Humanitarian and disaster response sees large influxes of attention and funding during high-stress situations, the navigation of which creates one more factor for those already doing logistics. These sudden influxes are called "surges," and the sudden but disproportionate shifts in what is possible with those increases is called "surge capacity." Digital response sees an even larger influx of attention, as it's easier to log in to a readily handy device to sort data than it is to fly to an affected region. But while much of traditional response has some history in coping with and utilizing surges through protocols and expectations of how volunteers should (and shouldn't) engage in the field, the digital space lacks that onboarding infrastructure and expectation setting. What if we had a communally-held introductory guide/handbook to send the wonderful new people invested in helping out digitally when things get additionally chaotic through people's good will? The next layer to add to this is how we can be better prepared to contribute both digitally and locally to disaster risk management. Imagine that digital contributors collaborated in parallel and, even, inside local and global organizations to help make a difference. The beauty of seeing ourselves as global citizens But what is digital response? The excellent Heather Leson has already said it far better than I ever could in this WeForum piece: Seeking a way to “do something,” more and more people are answering the call to action on social media after each emergency. Digital responders or “digital humanitarians“ immediately log on when news breaks about a natural disaster or human-created catastrophe. Individuals and teams “activate” based on skill sets of volunteer and technical communities (VTCs). These digital responders use their time and technical skills, as well as their personal networks in an attempt to help mitigate information overload for formal humanitarian aid in the field. The terms often used to define these contributors in the humanitarian space are remote help, citizen engagement, citizen response, localized community, civil society and global civic technology. Some participants are new to online humanitarian response, but have found a topic or location that drives their passion to get involved. This surge of action by participants is often just as chaotic as the actual physical emergency response. People are compelled to work, at a dizzying pace, by the fact that many parties involved in first response require valid, urgent and usable data. Focused on the needs of the citizens in affected areas, informal and formal networks collaborate and sometimes collide in an effort to make sense of and identify needs or stories from this user-generated content. With a combination of will and skill, they create updated maps, datasets, information products, and even communities (both online and offline). The global growth of these activities is based on access to information, connectivity and language skills as well as digital literacy levels. These groups are making efforts to become more inclusive while respecting local language, culture and knowledge. The mantra of most digital responders is “support” not “supplant” local citizens, humanitarians and emergency responders. The complication of churn As a coordinator across these groups, with their new members, and for unaffiliated individu[...]



Communicating and coordinating without the internet at HumTechFest

Mon, 25 Apr 2016 16:07:53 +0000

We are preparing for the Humanitarian Technology Festival on June 4th and 5th in Cambridge, Mass. During our initial discussions, we connected with Heather (Text on Techs), Nathan (Guardian and Wind Farm), Jamila (Palante Technology Cooperative and SciFi Action & Apocalypse Preparedness Queer Club), Damien (FemmeTech and the same SciFi Action Club), and Mikel (MapBox). Our hope is to discover and bring together those working on the core challenges of digital humanitarian response in effective, interesting, and playful ways. During humanitarian and disaster response, taking care with people while in the midst of chaos is the name of the game. Core challenges to delivering goods and services are coordination and communication. Instead of market-created scarcity, people have to decide how to send what limited materials have been delivered on a narrow runway out over damaged roads and with limited gas. It's also about knowing where those limited goods should be going. Many might theorize about how to get what is called "situational awareness" (knowing who needs what and where in a chaotic situation) in order to deliver resources accurately, but being in the chaos is different. Because (thankfully) only a few of us have experienced that chaos and need ourselves, it can be difficult to build appropriate tools and workflows for response. But if we're going to work on just that while at the Humanitarian Technology Festival, we need to be sure we're grounded in at least a proximity of reality. A big chunk of our first day will be comprised of playful workshops. Who needs what, where... and getting it to them First, let's talk about coordination. Affected populations and responders have to deal with scarcity. Rather than having the option of picking up what someone needs from a store or website, we must instead find those materials on site from people we already know (or are willing to get to know). It's fun to think about this like a recipe: finding individual components and interacting with others to combine those components into what you all need to survive. Maybe one person has a generator, and another person has gallons of water, and a third has a backyard farm. People in crisis don't all actually go rogue (sorry, Mad Max), but tend to join together to help one another out, those in our example would make soup together. Pre-existing networks of trust make this easier, but issues of scarcity and access still arise which require people-interfacing and problem-solving skills. It's hard to know what these circumstances are like until you're in them. Or until you pretend you're in them. The SciFi Action & Apocalypse Preparedness Queer Club has devised a live-action role playing game for just that - problem solving through the self-imposed limitations of games. They ran one of these games one day in NYC this past year, and we're thrilled to be working with them on this project and to have access to their gaming framework to help HumTechFest attendees have a safe but proximal experience to a response situation. Hello? Is anyone there? Secondly, let's talk about connectivity. When we are connected, we can communicate about what we need and what we have, and we can coordinate with each other about matching those haves and needs. When the communications infrastructure (the internet and/or cell phone data) we've come to rely on so heavily goes down (or was never there to begin with, as in some austere areas), issues of timing (sometimes called "gaps") emerge—a request for food in one region might be addressed through other means by the time the message reaches its target audience, or perhaps diapers become even more necessary than soup as the soup delivery starts on its path to the point of stated need. If communication infrastructure is up, the delivery person can be called to come back or to reroute to a place that needs their payload more. If the centralized data pipes go down in these times, [...]