Connecting the field and academia: exploring options for collaboration

By Nani Jansen Reventlow, 27th June 2019

What can we do to create greater connectivity between the digital rights field and academia? What untapped potential is there in collaboration with law clinics in the area of digital rights? And how can we see to it that academic research and work “on the ground” positively reinforce each other?

These questions were asked at the first DFF strategy meeting in February 2018. Following up on this idea –– which could not only potentially add additional capacity to organisations working to advance digital rights, but also help lift the playing field for all –– we started a number of conversations with litigators, advocacy organisations and academics in both the US and Europe to explore the options. There was a shared enthusiasm to have a broader conversation, in which we could explore best practices in academia-field collaboration, which led to the convening by DFF, the Amsterdam Legal Practice (University of Amsterdam), and the Cyberlaw Clinic at the Berkman Klein Center, Harvard University of a group of 18 practitioners, academics and law clinic innovators from across Europe and the United States.

In the course of two days, we covered a substantial amount of ground, under the energetic guidance of Gunner from Aspiration in the creative environment of the University of Amsterdam’s recently opened Amsterdam Law Hub. The first day focused on the sharing of insights from existing projects, and the building of collaborative relationships and mapping the needs of academia, practitioners, NGOs and communities. On the second day, concrete ways to work together in the near and longer term were explored, which included conversations on concrete thematic issues such as collaboration around the use of technology in social benefits fraud detection, but also ways for US and EU law clinics to work together, “hacking” the European clinic system to make it easier to launch and establish new law clinics, and what might be possible “easy wins” to pursue across jurisdictions via collaboration between academia and the digital rights field.

Next steps identified included mapping options for expanding the number of European digital rights clinics, mapping the different modalities of clinic-practice collaboration, collaboration on European-US clinical capacity building, as well as focusing on concrete thematic projects, such as new surveillance techniques. 

There is much more that can be said about the individual conversations, but we would much rather leave it to the event participants to speak for themselves; watch this space for guest posts that will be published over the coming days and weeks. 

Let me close by expressing our extreme gratitude for all who brought their time, energy and ideas to this meeting. It was a privilege to provide the space for what we at DFF believe is a crucial conversation.

Now: who will join us in taking this forward?