My talk at ‘The Power of Information’ Conference

I spoke at last Thursday’s The Power of Information conference in London, organised by the Indigo Trust, the Institute for Philanthropy, and the Omidyar Network, on a human rights-focused panel alongside Stephanie Hankey of Tactical Technology Collective, Erica Hagen of GroundTruth / MapKibera, John Kipchumbah of SODNet, and Patrick Meier of Ushahidi (here’s a picture of the panelists, and here’s the Indigo Trust’s video of my talk). I also summarised this panel on a plenary round-up at the end of the day (here’s a video and a PDF of the notes I was talking from – in case you’re wondering what I was gesticulating about). [Text updated on 23 Sept to include videos from Indigo Trust. And on 26 Sept to add Indigo Trust’s coverage of the Cameras Everywhere report.]

My talk slides and words (a mix of what I wrote and on-the-day adaptations) are after the “more” link below. Before that, and besides the WITNESS Cameras Everywhere report I drew on for my presentation, here are the principal resources I mentioned on both panels that might be of interest both to attendees at the conference, and to those who followed the hashtag #giveandtech.

Interesting recent research:
– Joe Karaganis of the SSRC’s epic Media Piracy in Emerging Economies (2011) – if you are searching for empirical research on copyright and intellectual property around the world, this is an essential read (see also the Washington Declaration below).
– Aeron Davis’ 2009 paper New Media and Fat Democracy, on how ICTs are creating wider gaps between a growing empowered core of citizens, and a much larger group of disengaged citizens (thanks to Ben Wagner for the pointer).
– Andrew Chadwick’s new paper The Hybrid Media System, which takes aim at false dichotomies between new and more established media.
– UNESCO’s recent Freedom of Connection, Freedom of Expression report.

Collaboration between multiple stakeholders:
– The remarkable Washington Declaration on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest (and my personal perspective on it).

Talking to donors: 
– Chris Blattman makes the case to DfID for conducting R&D, rather than M&E, in a recent post and presentation (PDF) called Evaluation 3.0.
– [not mentioned on the day, but very useful nonetheless –>] James Deane, Head of Policy at the BBC World Service Trust, and my former boss at Panos London, on lessons he has drawn from recent high-level meetings on talking with donors about media development – but which seem instructive for, and broadly applicable to ICTs and human rights too.

Slide 1









Thank you, Stephanie, and I’m honoured to be asked by the conference organisers to speak alongside such groundbreaking people, and to such a distinguished and knowledgeable audience.

Like my co-panellists, I come to this work through a slightly circuitous route – I have worked with very diverse groups from different sectors – from developing world journalists, to human rights organisations large and small, to donors and foundations.

And there’s one thing in common – they are all continually trying to work out where and to what extent it makes sense to merge the internet and technology into their work. There is no shame in this – most people are trying to work this out.

Slide 2









But it’s not just about how we can use technology in our work – yes, digital technologies are increasingly everywhere, as we’ve seen so far day, and can make some aspects of transparency work, development work, and human rights work easier, more powerful, more networked, less suppressible, more scalable.

Digital technology is increasingly everywhere, and it has an ever increasing influence over how we live.

Slide 3 (Eleanor Roosevelt quote, adapted...)









Here’s Eleanor Roosevelt… well, mostly. It’s what I guessed she might say if she were around today, observing the new battlefronts in human rights.

But it’s *also* about how technology – and the laws and policies that govern technology – shape the context in which we work, and how we can do our work safely and effectively – as activists, human rights defenders, NGOs, donors. As Stephanie Hankey just said, for example, activists don’t always understand how they expose themselves to risk and danger through new technologies.

Slide 4 (Cameras Everywhere Report)









So I’ve worked with the human rights organisation WITNESS in New York to produce this report – it’s available here around the venue, and online at

It tries to set out for NGOs, technology companies, investors, activists and donors, what this new “technology everywhere” environment means for human rights, and recommends what each of those actors can do practically to build a better, safer, more effective common culture for human rights.

We talked to over 40 experts from human rights, development, technology, policy, social media and so on, for the report. We asked them, among other things, about where they would like to see the funding environment for human rights go. Here are the five key things they told us – and some of these apply as much to the grantees as the grant makers…

Slide 6 (Technology matters, and is worth understanding)









These technologies are here to stay, and they are growing in importance and centrality. This was a core message. You’ve heard a lot about this already today – so I won’t labour the point (too much).

You don’t need to know everything about technology, in fact you don’t necessarily need to know anything, and you don’t need to set up a dedicated programme to understand it, but you can ask those or work with those that already do.

Working with people who can mediate between various sectors – translators, as Ben Hammersley called them in a speech that’s been widely circulated in the last couple of weeks – is one useful strategy.

What I will add is this.

As Martin Tisne was saying in the last panel [specifically focused on funder experiences], this means backing *research* about the relationship between human rights and technology – on a practical and policy level, for example by pairing researchers with practitioners – and a lot of our interviewees mentioned this as a big gap too. And UNESCO’s recent Freedom of Connection, Freedom of Expression report identified a lack of empirical research (rather than normative/policy advocacy) on these issues. The Open Society Foundation here in the UK is commissioning and releasing a series of topic and country reports addressing a wide range of aspects of digital media & human rights, trying to raise and strengthen baseline understanding of the core issues at stake. But more is needed.

[I didn’t mention on the day that I particularly appreciate the work of anthropologists in the domain of communication – Jan Chipchase‘s work for Nokia was always stimulating, for example, and Dawn Nafus is likewise doing thought-provoking work at Intel, not to mention Meg Pickard at The Guardian.]

Slide 7 (foster and practice collaboration)









The world of human rights has many many more new forces bearing down on it than ever before. It’s much more complicated, layered and multi-dimensional than it has ever been before.

Just in the course of writing this report, we encountered and had to grapple with the interactions between human rights and technology in human rights documentation, in whistle-blowing, in copyright and intellectual property, trade talks, export controls, user-generated content, manufacturing hardware, transferring data between different jurisdictions, and so on and so on.

Tackling such complexity effectively requires multi-disciplinary approaches and processes – bringing together civil society, donors, business, governments in unexpected and sometimes previously unthinkable combinations – you’ve heard excellent examples from Martin Tisne in particular [talking about IATI and the Open Government Partnership]. There are others, and perhaps they will come up in the Q&A.

In my own experience, having a donor actively take an interest in helping you network, open doors, talk to new sectors, is incredibly valuable. How Omidyar Network brought its grantees together (together with high-level eBay staff) I found really helpful and eye-opening, and likewise initiatives from the Ford Foundation, Knight Foundation, Hivos, Surdna Foundation and many other donors to do similar things – but how about a coalition of donors bringing together all their common grantees to learn and coordinate on human rights and technology, along with high-level tech company specialists and policy-makers? Our report suggests that regional and global networks like Ariadne (whose Director, Jo Andrews, urged, in the preceding Funders panel, more experienced tech funders to be generous with their knowledge not only with grantees, but also with other grantmakers) and IHRFG take a more proactive role in this regard.

Slide 8 (evolve and shape digital values and ethics)









We’re in the early days of setting values in the digital world – that is a significant opportunity for the human rights field – but again it needs a leap of imagination, and of ambition to try to do this. [My own work at WITNESS involved at one point driving the development of a new set of editorial values and processes focused on and appropriate to human rights video/photos, with a strong focus on proper contextualisation, on dignity, safety and protection, but also taking advantage of the new modes of sharing online – a delicate and evolving balance.]

Use your values, and your influence – they matter in this environment. But prepare to see those values evolve and shift in a globalised information environment.

Donors have clout, influence, access, both directly and through your grantees, and by funding your grantees to do better work, and to do better policy, and then helping that policy reach the right places, you can do an enormous amount to make sure the world of the internet is suffused with the values and rights we all share.

But work to influence the policies, norms and ethics directly is also hugely important – a powerful recent example is the Washington Declaration on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest – a genuinely important multi-stakeholder collaboration for those looking to promote a globally relevant and progressive IP regime.

Slide 9 (be willing to experiment and fail)









This has come up again and again today – here’s our perspective on why it’s important.

Chris Blattman’s post and presentation to DFID – Evaluation 3.0 – are really worth reading. He talks about R&D and the spirit of experimentation and discovery, not just M&E – weaning ourselves off the rather draining reporting cycle that Owen Barder talked about earlier today.

And it’s not just about the kind of investment/granting/equity model, but also thinking about the programmatic model – how might that change if decoupled from a more classical reporting structure?

And failure is key in work that engages with technology – the Silicon Valley spirit of inquiry, the desire to innovate and work on shorter cycles, to discard what really doesn’t work rather than nobly pushing the boulder back up the hill is, said our interviewees, a really helpful attitude.

Slide 10 (increase transparency and accountability)









[I skipped all of this on the day, both because of time constraints, and as there was already a lot of talk about transparency and accountability.]

There’s already a widespread push on aid transparency and accountability – with much of the analysis and pressure coming from the South. There isn’t a similar movement in the human rights and tech funding domain, from what we can see. This is one area that would benefit from proactive initiatives from donors to stimulate greater demand.

Here are some thoughts on what might constitute small, but helpful changes from donors:

– make available more detailed data, where it is safe to do so, about the quantity, direction, focus, overlap and speed of funding flows from donors at the national, regional and international level
– consider making your own internal research and analysis open source, or at least publicly available – I’ve been consulted by donor organisations or researchers working for them, and often the research is kept strictly internal, when it could very easily be publicly shared (especially when it is publicly funded…) [In the Q&A, I suggested that sometimes, given how little of it can make it back into the source communities, we might regard some of the research and information-gathering by some organisations and institutions in the human rights and development sectors as an extractive industry in itself…]
–  fund research that develops more rigorous and less burdensome M&E methodologies that are appropriate to the world of technology and social media in human rights, that permit shared reporting to participating donors.

There’s more in the Cameras Everywhere report.

Slide 11 (need for concerted field-building on tech and human rights in the UK and EU)









A final thought: don’t forget the relationship between technology and human rights here in the UK [and also, as Helen Darbishire of Access Info Europe afterwards enjoined me to say, the EU]. The civil society and think tank space on this is far from saturated (some say it is diluted…), for example, and, as the England riots demonstrated, there doesn’t seem to be a deep seam of human rights-centred policy analysis on these issues here. There needs to be a greater push from UK-focused donors to strengthen the domestic tech and human rights field systematically.

Slide 12 (more at + - thanks)









There’s more information on the report, on WITNESS, and on what I do, at and at Thanks!


[And for completeness – given that this is already a mammoth post – here are the report recommendations specifically aimed at donor organisations]


Governmental, foundation and private donors play a critical role in conducting and supporting research, activism and advocacy on issues related to human rights and technology. To increase impact, their funding needs to become more transparent, more accessible, more harmonized and less risk-averse. They should continue to support–through funding, networking grantees and open-sourcing their materials and research–the integration of technology and ICTs into human rights work. However, they must also focus on widening user access, education and participation, and on strengthening advocacy using new ICTs. Funders also need to cross-pollinate with a wider cross-section of practitioners involved with new ICTs outside the human rights field, including private investors. By doing this, they can develop new cross cutting funding and transparency mechanisms, providing a more balanced perspective on failure rates and value generation in technology investments.

1. Make funding transparent.

  • Map the funding landscape
    • Publish a study of the international and regional funders for technology and human rights.
    • Make explicit the quantity, direction, focus, overlap and speed of funding flows, as well as potential donor bias.
    • Include new donors based outside U.S./Europe (e.g. India, Middle East, Singapore) and large regional donor networks like Ariadne or IHRFG.

2. Collaborate with other funders, investors and technology developers.

  • Create multi-donor spaces on technology and human rights
    • Involve the largest international private and governmental donors and smaller individual philanthropists and family foundations.
    • Involve emerging crowd-funding platforms such as Kiva.
  • Create joint funding mechanisms
    • Focus on technology development specifically for human rights.
  • Assess human rights risks
    • Appoint or support the creation of an independent technology review board that will assess proposals involving large ICT investment for human rights risk and appropriateness–and vice-versa, a human rights advisory board that will assess technology-led proposals.

3. Be thought leaders.

  • Evaluate methodology
    • Lead a wide consultation on how to adapt, refine or develop monitoring and evaluation methodologies for human rights and technology.
    • Consider making shared requirements across groups of funders, so as to strengthen collective impact assessment and to ease the reporting burden on organizations working increasingly in real-time environments.
  1. Sameer Padania said:

    A couple more resources on M&E, donors and transparency:

    The Big Push Forward on donors:

    & BOND’s Im-Prove it! common assessment framework:

    & the BOND/UK Aid Network position paper for Busan, which gives good insights into UK civil society thinking on donor responsibilities in the development context:

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