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About our work

Over the last three years, a group of over 30 participants with experience working towards racial, social, environmental and economic justice as well as digital rights organisations and funders have been working to design a decolonising process for the digital rights field in Europe.

 

On this website, we are delighted to share the fruit of this collective labour, in the form of a programme and a blueprint.

 

The programme sets out a series of measures intended to bring about a digital justice ecosystem that will organise towards anti-colonial digital futures.

 

The blueprint is a multi-media resource which sets out the collective process we undertook to design this programme and shares the lessons we learned along the way.

Programme

Illustrated version (.pdf)

Text-based version (.doc)

Audio version (.mp3)

Easy Read version (.doc)

The blueprint

Download the full version

This blueprint is a capsule capturing various aspects of a fluid process that involved both gratifying victories and frustrating challenges. The goal of this study is to share our learnings and reflections to support future community-driven efforts in the pursuit of justice. You can download the full document using the links below. An abbreviated illustrated version can be viewed by scrolling down further on this page.

blueprintimg

Starting “good trouble”

Starting “good trouble”​

Nani Jansen Reventlow, at the time the Director of the Digital Freedom Fund often explained her reasons for initiating the process. Being the only Black woman at countless digital rights events made the need for change in the field very evident. At the same time, she knew that neither “representation” nor “diversity” would solve the problem of the structural exclusion of the people who are the most affected by technological harm from the field.  Following interviews with racial and social justice activists and some digital rights activists, it became clear that a long, reflective, collective process was needed to imagine structural changes to address this problem. Hence, the decolonising process was born.

The design process begins

The process was initially designed as follows: The work was primarily conducted through five working groups, each consisting of five to seven participants.

Each working group would examine an aspect of the digital rights field in need of change: programmatic, funding, organisational, partnership, and public engagement. 

 

Each working group was meant to consider what the issues with the current field in their focus area were, what type of field they imagined instead, and how we could get to this ideal scenario. The answers around what could be done would then form the activities of the programme.

 

The work was to take place primarily in self-organised working groups over three phases, with plenary meetings in between during which all participants would come together.

 

The graphic below shows the process was planned at the start.

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The two first plenary took place online. During the second plenary, around four months after the start of the process, one participant raised a series of important criticisms of the process: The timeline of the process felt very tight, the working groups were left to their own devices with insufficient guidance and with a lot of deliveries expected of them, without the participants really even knowing each other.

 

Finally, all the communication about the process was in writing and contained a lot of information to digest. All of these aspects felt in many ways extractive or seemed to reproduce problematic dynamics. In response, we shifted the meeting’s agenda to make space for criticisms and feedback to be raised.

Welcoming conflict as a key tool for change

Welcoming conflict as a key tool for change​

We decided to pause the process. During this pause, we took the time to reflect on the process´ structure, doing one-to-one consultations and drop-in sessions with the participants to discuss how to move forwards. Welcoming the conflict wasn’t easy but taking in the criticisms instead of dismissing them was a pivotal moment in the process.

One-to-one checkins

One-to-one checkins​

When a conflict arises, we learned that it is important to not brush over it or minimise it but rather to halt things and take time to examine what created the conflict. A frontal challenge might indicate many things –  from the need to make mental health support available for individuals to a complete re-design of the mode of organising. 

 

At the very least, challenges highlight misalignments between participants or overlooked problems in the design. The urge to always have a peaceful and civil process can be a tool to maintain oppressive dynamics – whether those dynamics are put in place intentionally or not. 

 

This conflict highlighted problems in the structure of the process and the need for a re-design. We changed the structure of the process after having drop-in sessions with groups of participants, internal brainstorming within the organising team and one to one discussion with the participants. 

 

In the new process structure, instead of working groups being left with the burden of organising themselves, the organisers would host sessions every two weeks, which alternated between collaborative working group sessions, where questions could be asked and feedback raised with the organisers, and peer learning sessions at which experts shared their knowledge on a topic relevant to the process in an informal discussion format

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Peer learning sessions as regeneration spaces

Peer learning sessions as regeneration spaces​

The topics of the peer learning sessions were Trauma-Informed Organising, Anticolonial Tech and Visions from the Global South, Anticolonial Practices and Anticolonial Leadership, and The Revolution will not be Funded. These sessions were an important space for us to come together and discuss topics without having to produce immediate outputs. We learned that trying to organise a process as a regenerative space also requires to tackle some aspects of value and extractivism inherent to any work relations in our current system. The workplace is indeed often a space in which we expect to know instead of to learn, to give instead of to receive.

This narrative fails to take into account how so many of us are actually able to learn in our place of work because of the care work of others, in both our personal and professional lives – which liberates extra time and mental space. These dynamics are highly classed, gendered and racialised and intersect with ableism to impact our economic agency.  The peer-learning sessions allowed to have time explicitly there to not know and ask, to be nourished by new ideas and perspectives and have discussions in the group about ideals and visions. 

"What if Silicon Valley had been dreamed in a world free of colonisation- in Dakar and not in California?" -Anasuya Sengupta

"What if Silicon Valley had been dreamed in a world free of colonisation- in Dakar and not in California?"

Something that became clear was the need for in-person connection to truly enable trust and community-building and allow the work to move forward. As a result, we held our third plenary together in Chivasso, Italy over the course of three days in June 2022.

Building trust and aligning on values

Building trust and aligning on values

At this plenary, we consciously centred joy, creativity and connection. We held a collaborative painting exercise, went swimming, danced, pretended to be animals, had an open-mic session, and imagined anti-colonial t-shirt slogans. We also reflected together on what decolonising means to us. Alongside this, the working groups had the chance to continue developing their ideas for activities for the programme.

Ahmed Isam Aldin's painting

in-between the third and the final plenary- some working groups met in person

in-between the third and the final plenary- some working groups met in person​

Having learned how valuable shared in-person time was, we decided to hold the fourth plenary meeting in Essaouira, Morocco over a full week in December 2022. At this plenary, we again made sure to carve space for collective creativity through a t-shirt making session, as well as a collective writing session, during which we wrote a manifesto for the process – embracing the artistic, political and spiritual invocative power of manifestos. These were moments of creative joy and mutual discovery – allowing us to see and hear each other under new suns.

Building with Joy

Building with Joy​

The process proved to many of us that investing in joy and creativity is not a luxury, but a necessity. To enable transformative thinking, to get to a place where imagining a better world feels accessible, we need conflict yes, but we need joy too. In blissful spaces, we can get rid of the masks we wear to protect us and design the ones we want to play with.

imagining a digital justice field

Imagining a digital justice field​

As the different sessions unfolded, we witnessed the decolonising programme, which had been a central objective all this time, coming into shape. Questions and excitement filled the riad, as we engaged in figuring out “how do we make sure the resources really get redistributed?”, “how can we mitigate co-optation here?”, “how do we recognise and compensate the work that has already been done?”, “how do we not create another mechanism that exhausts or silences radical voices?”. We were, at that moment, a world within a world, with the particular energy that arises when change feels attainable.

Making space for healing​

Making space for healing​

Soon after this moment of collective enthusiasm, we experienced a very concrete reminder of our commitment to practice our beliefs, when a harmful racist incident occurred on the same day. This called for the prioritisation of community care. It became clear that the deeper one immerses themselves in an anti-colonial ethos, the more unbearable the violence of our colonial reality becomes. Engaging truly with anti-colonial dreaming means realising all that is intolerable about what is present now – again, and again, and again. It also makes it oh so clear how different everything could be. There are more generous and loving worlds to build. It also requires us to create practices to take care of those emerging emotions, the new internal and external conflicts they create and the new dimensions of colonial collective traumas which demand to be dealt with. This meant for us in that moment to act in alignment with the programme we were building and walk the talk, as much as we could.

The exclusion of borders

Due to the visa apartheid system we live under, it is extremely difficult to organise events in places where there are low to no visa requirements for people from the global South and especially people from the African continent. At each of our gatherings, some people were excluded from participating because of visa segregation.

Imagining a digital justice ecosystem

Eventually, following a process of drafting by the organisers, bringing together the ideas shared by the different working groups, and reviewed by the participants, and a drafting group among the participants, a first draft of the decolonising programme came to be.

 

We followed the first draft with a consultation process, whereby the draft programme was made publicly available for feedback and we organised interviews with and offered stipends to people with crucial perspectives which we felt had been missing in the process so far.

 

This feedback was then used to rework and improve the draft, creating a final decolonising programme.

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