Methodologies and tools for open dialogue in the defense of digital rights

Sursiendo is a Mexican organization working to defend digital rights in order to achieve a more open and collaborative environment. As part of Sursiendo’s work, the organization has accompanied social…
Mon, 2021-11-29 21:52

Technology communities have turned to supporting the advancement of human rights in the digital environment through the development of tools, workshops and capacity building support. Groups that carry out these actions are diverse, drawing upon the different experiences of their members to adapt to the contexts of the groups and communities with whom they are directly engaged. These communities tend to have something in common: the lack of situated research that allows them to describe their practices. There are only a few methodologies that make it possible to strengthen the conversations around the work these communities do, which include how to know and recognise ourselves in accompanying defenders.

Considering that digital protection is increasingly a part of integral online protection, there are only a few in-depth studies on how these communities can strengthen themselves and those they defend and what other tools (human and technical) may be necessary to reinforce the advancement of human rights in a digital environment. Human rights defenders are a unique community that face risk situations according to the context in which they operate. Reviewing and improving their own practices will help to strengthen the defense of human and collective rights.

Following the belief that researching a group’s own practices can strengthen the human rights ecosystem, Sursiendo presented a proposal to Open Technology Fund that allowed the organization to move forward in three ways: to investigate, along with the defenders, the main strengths and weaknesses of the digital tools used during the training processes; to systematize experiences accompanying groups and communities in digital security; to develop a methodological tool for the systematization of processes that could be useful to other associated organizations.

Feedback for developers

In regions such as Latin America, individuals are living with increased disinformation and surveillance, and human rights defenders play an important but dangerous role to protect against such activities. This is the same population who do not usually have access to up-to-date technology. In many cases, security software needs to be adapted to devices with limited storage and processing resources. This is why free tools have become even more important.

By gathering and sharing experiences regarding the use of Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) security tools by human rights organizations and activists, Sursiendo intends to contribute to the improvement of these digital tools to make them suitable for wider use.

By carrying out this research, Sursiendo considers it particularly important that staff members from the software projects get involved in the definition of parameters and testing actions when this kind of work is done. Automated feedback or comments are important but may be insufficient when developing or improving software for situated contexts. For instance, having an open user testing guideline for intermediary organizations (such as Sursiendo) will be useful to support these actions. In order to improve feedback themselves, having different guides involving indicators for a variety of focus groups during development and in later stages could be an option.

More importantly, direct communication between users and developers not only improves the tools themselves but also the dialogue between both parties, facilitating in their development. These guidelines could support FLOSS sustainability (as documentation or localization does).

Systematizing our digital security accompaniment from: findings and reflections

In October 2019, Sursiendo decided to embark a big challenge: the organization wanted to review the process of “Digital Security Accompaniment for Grassroot Organizations in Chiapas 201 8-2020” (DSA-2020) and extract meaningful lessons that allow Sursiendo to understand and improve its work, as well as sharing this information with others. The systematized process lasted 28 months, from January 201 8 to April 2020 and began with an initial assessment.

Inspired by those who have theorized on Action-Research methodologies and ventured into systematizing their own experience, Sursiendo dedicated time to a systematization exercise; to conceptualize the practice that would allow us to do review with the experiences of accompaniment in digital security and give meaning to the next course of action, meaning Sursiendo reviewed each phase with a more granular interpretation and understanding.

There were several analyses that prompted Sursiendo to do this. The field of digital care, digital self-defense or digital protection intended for groups and individual defenders of human rights is relatively new compared to that of integral protection. However, due to the characteristics of the world in which they live, it is a significant field in everyday life.

The findings described in Sursiendo’s report cannot be generalized because they are very specific to the groups they have accompanied: organizations from Chiapas that, through their interest in holistic security, commit to a digital security accompaniment.

Tool for the Systematization of Experiences in Digital Skill-Building Accompaniments

Sursiendo reflected on developing its own experience in building a methodological tool as an invitation for this exercise to be carried out by other groups that accompany defenders in strengthening their digital care and enrich the dialogue about the duties of digital rights defenders.

The present methodological tool for the systematization of experiences focused on accompaniment processes in digital security for communities of human rights defenders, and the how-to use guides related to them, arise from nurturing one’s own experience with the review of the work of prominent organizations and individuals, such as Oscar Jara, Rosa Elva Zúñiga, Ana Bickel or ÁBACOenRed. This tool, the guide, and its files pave the way for other groups who want to make an in-depth review of their accompaniment processes.

Sursiendo hopes that these lessons allow the community to engage with what other people have learned and, through this exchange, embark in new collective experiences that contribute to transforming reality.


Report in English

Report in Spanish

Complete Tool and Guide (English)

Complete Tool and Guide (Spanish)