DFF’s 4th Strategy Meeting: Connecting a Diverse & Global Field
DFF’s annual strategy meeting has been a central connecting point for our network from the outset and a key moment at the beginning of every year to ensure our activities support the needs of the organisations and individuals we seek to support in their fight for digital rights.
Our first meeting in 2018 helped crystalise the thematic focus areas for our grantmaking and other support. Over the following years, we have seen many initiatives spring from this yearly conversation: litigation projects, thematic workshops, and resources have come out of strategy meetings so far.
Last year, we had our strategy meeting shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Europe: meeting in person in Berlin, we could combine hard work with nice drinks and dinner out –– something that is difficult to imagine now. In the fall, when Zoom fatigue was reaching peak height, we had to ask ourselves the question if we should even want to try and organise an online meeting the next year, given how overstretched the digital rights field already was.
As we are used to doing at DFF, we asked our network and learned that people still valued the opportunity to connect with others, even if it was online. So we got to work in organising our first virtual annual strategy meeting, keeping in mind the preferences indicated on platform (we ended up offering both Big Blue Button and Zoom as options to breakout session facilitators), session format, and scope.
As we are used to doing at DFF, we asked our network and learned that people still valued the opportunity to connect with others, even if it was online
Based on participants’ input, we built an agenda for three afternoons in the third week of February that allowed for the highlighting of recent successes in the field as well as important conversations on what to focus on next, including:
- What strategies can we deploy to leverage legal tools to bring about change? For example, how can we rely on due process, fair trial or access to justice principles to safeguard against automated systems deciding our rights? And how can we use data protection laws to end the over-policing and mass surveillance of groups and communities?
- Which skills can we build and which best practices can we develop to sustain a resilient field? On the skill building front, participants looked at issues such as digital security, effective communication about digital rights issues, and measuring the impact of our work. Amongst the topics addressed on resilience were preventing burnout, remote working and litigating, fundraising in COVID times, and ensuring intersectional work.
- What cases and projects can we jointly work on and strengthen together? Many conversations focused on tackling facial recognition technology. For example, how can we build on positive developments in Canada with the regulator issuing a report declaring that ClearView’s activities were illegal and describing them as “mass surveillance”?
We of course did not forget about the social part of coming together: the day before we got to work, we tuned in for a cocktail & mocktail making workshop from FABELEI Cocktail Bar in Berlin, after which we enjoyed some online socialising as a DJ played us some tunes. The goodies sent to participants in the strategy meeting welcome pack helped participants refuel throughout the meeting days.
This year’s meeting brought together the biggest and also broadest-ranging group of organisations and individuals working on digital rights so far.
When we had our first ever strategy meeting, back in February 2018, there were 32 digital rights organisations in the room.
In 2019, we were a group of 50 participants, with a much broader geographical spread and bringing in a greater diversity on issues: besides “traditional” digital rights organisations, we had organisations working on human rights more broadly, as well as working on specific human rights issues –– women’s rights, children’s rights, prisoner’s rights.
We continued on that trajectory last year, in 2020, when we had 60 participants, including from the US and Latin America, and saw the thematic scope expand into areas such as environmental rights.
And now, in 2021, we had together the largest and most diverse group yet. From all around the world, we had participants joining who worked on digital rights, LGBTQI issues, representing people with disabilities, refugees and exiles, women’s reproductive rights, Roma and Sinti rights, racial, social and economic justice, sex workers’ rights, and much more.
And now, in 2021, we had together the largest and most diverse group yet
With people in the same (virtual) space who were working on digital rights from a variety of experiences, perspectives and contexts, early stage discussions were had on how organisations with different expertise can support one another and go beyond the policy advocacy work they typically do.
With the decolonising process DFF and EDRi initiated last year, and our joint project on developing digital strategies on racial, social and economic justice work about to commence, it was encouraging to see widespread interest for these exchanges and to see them unfold in a spirit of openness and willingness to learn from each other’s different perspectives and experiences. The public “Decolonising Data” panel we hosted alongside the strategy meeting was well attended, a sign that these issues are starting to get the attention they deserve from a broader audience.
The public “Decolonising Data” panel was well attended, a sign that these issues are starting to get the attention they deserve from a broader audience
The online strategy meeting has left us with a feeling of deep appreciation and admiration for the incredible individuals we get to work with every day. We are all confronted far too closely with the challenges our current day and age has to offer, and the myriad of fights that need to be fought. These existing pressures have only been exarcerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nevertheless, close to 70 participants joined the strategy meeting every day to plot and plan new ways to defend and protect our digital rights. Seeing the energy and dedication amongst the participants, one can only but feel optimistic about the future.
We are excited to see what initiatives will spring from this year’s conversations and look forward to supporting them!