An IFLA-led session at RightsCon explored tips and ideas for community-centric, bottom-up digital rights capacity-building.

RightsCon is an annual conference on human rights in the digital age, organised by the NGO Access Now. It offers a civil society-led space for multistakeholder conversations on emerging and pressing questions around technology and fundamental rights – from health to gender equality, environmental justice, and beyond.

This year, IFLA has led a RightsCon workshop on community-centric approaches to digital rights awareness-raising and capacity-building. Libraries continue exploring ways to offer their communities such learning opportunities, tackling a range of digital rights – including but not limited to privacy, safety and well-being online, access to information, participation in governance and public life, and others. The workshop drew on these library experiences to examine lessons learned and key considerations for stakeholders looking to organise such digital rights capacity-building initiatives.

The conversation built on insights and interventions from three guest experts – Maria Garrido (Technology & Social Change Group/TASCHA, Information School of the University of Washington), Inga Niedra (the Culture Information Systems Centre in Latvia) and Kristīne Pabērza-Ramiresa (the IFLA Membership Engagement Officer). Their interventions, and an open discussion and scenario-building exercise following these, explored questions around designing, upscaling and measuring the impacts of community-based digital rights education.

Some ideas and advice which could be useful for a library (or another anchor institution) looking to help their communities learn more about their rights online include the following:

  • Recognise (and encourage!) different types of learning. For example, a recent TASCHA initiative around tech education for refugee women in Seattle has offered an insightful illustration of three types of learning – self-learning (e.g. by a learner trying things out themselves), social learning (e.g. through a conversation with peers), and public learning (what we might associate with more ‘formal’ approached to learning).

Not only is it important to engage and enable these different modes – it is also worth remembering that some learners and target user groups may prefer, be more comfortable with, and learn more effectively through different modes.

Similarly, a related point raised by participants during the open discussion was that a facilitator should anticipate and encourage different forms of engagement among the learners. This can include expecting and accounting for passive engagement – a question which is increasingly pertinent during the pandemic (e.g. in light of phenomena like Zoom fatigue).

  • Knowledge democracy and agency. A key recurring theme emphasised throughout the workshop was the importance of tailoring digital rights learning initiatives to focus on the needs and agency of a well-defined target group. This can inform the design of the intervention in many crucial ways, including both the subject matter and the way the engagement is structured.

The former can mean centering the lived experiences of the target group when setting the ‘curriculum’. The latter – that the target audience takes a leading role in the learning process, rather than being “taught to” in a traditional top-down manner.

There are, of course, many different design elements and approaches which can help realise this in practice. For example, engaging local community leaders from the target group in the design and delivery of an educational initiative can help create more tailored, horizontal, peer-to-peer learning opportunities – and reach more members of that audience.

  • Upscaling learning opportunities and building synergies are just a few of the benefits of a vibrant and engaged digital rights education stakeholder network. One example here comes from Latvia, where a network set up in 2017 brings together a range of stakeholders focusing on young people’s digital skills and wellbeing – librarians, teachers, community centers, and others. Such a networked approach has helped set up many training-of-trainers sessions, as well as more tools to match audiences with existing learning opportunities (for example, a digital map of the different training sessions, games and ICT labs being offered throughout the country at a given time).
  • Clearly defining the intervention goals and targets is a key element of the design process; measuring the impacts of an interventions is easiest when mechanisms for such an assessment are worked into its design from the start. Based on the experiences documented in the IFLA Library Map of the World SDG Stories, a helpful approach here could be to clearly define what success would look like for a planned intervention.

Naturally, this process can also be iterative and cyclical – identifying and engaging a target audience to better understand their needs (and how a planned initiative would fit into the larger local context), jointly identifying the targets and priorities, implementing the initiative – and, following an impact assessment or stocktaking, taking forward the learnings and lessons learned for future digital rights education initiatives.

All in all, libraries and similar community organisations can be a powerful tool for making digital rights education more easily available and accessible for diverse audiences. We look forward to the continued discussions around the good practices and ways of delivering these learning opportunities!