Decolonising Phase II: Ready to Fumble
On 17 and 18 June, DFF and European Digital Rights (EDRi) held the kick-off meeting that started the second phase of our decolonising process. Over the course of one year, we will collaborate on designing a multi-year programme to start decolonising the digital rights field.
This process includes more than 30 people and roughly 24 organisations working on racial and social justice issues, as well as organisations from the current digital rights field and funders.
We will work together in different roles. Core participants will be the creative heart of the project, coming up with ideas and bringing them together into a programme. The staff at DFF and EDRi, as process facilitators, will help coordinate and support the process. And finally, our advisory group members will use their expertise to help guide the rest of us in our work.
We will do much of our work in clusters. Core participants will be divided into five working groups, each with its own thematic responsibility, including programme development, organisation, public engagement, funding, and collaborations. These working group themes were identified following input from participants at our previous gathering in December 2020.
However, while many workshop participants were already part of that gathering, this new phase has also made room for new voices to enter the process. The kick-off meeting allowed all of us to meet and connect for the first time. So how did we spend those two days?
Getting to know each other
When entering a decolonising process, we aim to centre the relational and to marginalise the transactional in the way we work together.
A central aim of this kick-off meeting was therefore to start building trust among the group
A central aim of this kick-off meeting was therefore to start building trust among the group. To help with this, our wonderful facilitators from the HUM came up with a “spicy” ice-breaker: in small groups we got the chance to ask each other “chilli questions” with “intimacy” levels rated from one chilli to three chillies. For example, a one chilli question asked participants, “where do you feel local?” A three chilli question dug deeper: “Why do you get up every day?”. It allowed us to connect by sharing a glimpse of what gives meaning to our lives and what we strive for.
Becoming a group
On the second day, the core participants met in their working groups to begin to align on their goals and to define how they envision their work together. both in terms of content and internal organisation.
Meanwhile, members of the advisory group had the chance to connect with each other to discuss their role in the project. They expressed the wish, as a next step, to find out what the core participants wanted a decolonised advisory group to look like.
Aiming for change
During the meeting, we managed to discuss and refine, as a group, a first draft of our planned theory of change. The process was based on a first sketch drafted by the process facilitators, on which participants provided feedback in smaller working groups.
The core participants were invited to answer three questions regarding the vision and the umbrella outcomes: What works well? What needs to be adjusted? What’s missing? The modified theory of change that arose from that process will be presented back to the core participants during the next plenary.
We are now fully entering a process that, per definition, involves a lot of “fumbling around”. Decolonisation is an iterative undertaking that requires experimenting, failing as a way of learning, adjusting, collective care, the acceptance of uncomfortable conversations and a fair amount of embracing uncertainty.
Decolonisation is an iterative undertaking that requires experimenting, failing as a way of learning, adjusting, collective care, the acceptance of uncomfortable conversations
All of it, although forcing us out of our work habits, is central to the process: it is through fumbling as a method that sustainable collaboration and creative ways of finding solutions have the best chance to happen.
Talking about decolonising can seem daunting and vast. It is also essential and crucial. Because whenever this word is uttered we have to remember that we are talking about living and dying – including when we talk about digital rights. We have to think about who is surveilled through digital mechanisms, how borders are becoming more pervasive and therefore taking more lives, how policing is being automated. We have to think about how gender violence, violence against precarious workers, violence against people forced to live in poverty, is rendered ever more possible and harder to resist. We remember that technology is not made out of thin air, that it is the product of extraction, of exploitation, of displacement, of violence.
We remember that technology is not made out of thin air, that it is the product of extraction, of exploitation, of displacement, of violence.
That is what makes any decolonising endeavour crucial. That is what makes any attempt to work collaboratively toward dismantling a system that oppresses us worth trying. With bumps, mistakes and shortcomings.
These two half-days left us with a lot of feelings – enthusiasm, humility as we face the enormity of the task, a bit of confusion and apprehension for the workload, determination, a feeling of uncertainty, excitement, and some important questions: How do we make our strong desire for big changes match the workload already existing for all of us and in the face of general time constraints? How do we make this long-time goal fit in our busy urgent matters´ agenda?
We might not be yet certain about the outcomes or aligned 100% with the vision, but what is certain – and these days have confirmed it – is that we are aiming for change.
How can we ensure that the working groups are provided with the necessary information – without it being too much information? How can we be of support while respecting the autonomy of the working groups?
As process facilitators more specifically, we are currently asking ourselves: how can we ensure that the working groups are provided with the necessary information – without it being too much information? How can we be of support while respecting the autonomy of the working groups? How can we help provide as much of a creative space as possible? How can we ensure that it is truly a collaborative process with shared ownership?
As Sarah Chander, our colleague from EDRi, said during the meeting : “Freedom demands a lot of logistics”.