Building digital resilience is an ongoing effort

Barbara Paes

In early December, we held a community call to discuss the digital resilience challenges we (and our partners) are working through. We were joined by organisers and activists from different countries and talked about what digital resilience meant for our movements in 2022. Here are some takeaways from our conversations.

Adapting workflows for uncertain times

During the call, participants shared that when the Covid-19 pandemic started, many organisations were forced to rapidly recalibrate their work and services in online spaces. A few years into the pandemic, attendees shared that adapting to new tech-related needs and infrastructure has been an on-going effort that they’ve taken on. Organisations and activists have been continuously working to adapt their workflows and methodologies to handle the tech and data concerns that emerged since the pandemic, such as digital security threats, restrictions on the ability to organise and increased surveillance.

Digital resilience needs to include environmental and climate activists 

We also talked about how conversations about digital resilience must include activists and grassroots organisations working on environmental and climate justice (and we’ve also seen this mentioned in other conversations too). One participant shared that, in their country, support for civil society’s digital security is often more readily available in metropolitan areas. This means that some local groups who work on environmental justice outside of the cities and who increasingly rely on digital technologies to communicate and collect data for advocacy purposes are exposed to threats such as surveillance from state parties and other actors.

Our recent research on the intersections of environmental and climate justice confirms this: we saw that while the persecution of those resisting land acquisition and forest encroachment by extractive industries has been going on for a long time, digital tools’ ability to follow, surveil and collect information without individuals’ knowledge has expanded governments’ and companies’ abilities to intimidate, harass and in some cases even to physically harm, dissenters.

A lot of the times, digital resilience is a balancing-act

Participants who advocate for digital security practices in their own organisations shared that when they start the process of implementing new tools they sometimes are met with: fatigue with learning new tools and reticence when it comes to using tools that are unfamiliar and sometimes, not-so-widely-known in their communities.

During the call, those attending shared their strategies for facilitating the process of becoming digitally resilient: 

  • Pacing out how the adoption of new tools and starting small: Another participant shared that working with asmall group and onboarding slowly are good ways of keeping people engaged in the process and to prevent staff from being overwhelmed. It’s also important to have conversations about how organisational security does come with tradeoffs: for example, sometimes choosing a more secure tool means that we might not have all the same affordances of privately owned tools. Here at The Engine Room, we’ve been documenting our journey on adopting new video-conferencing tools and it hasn’t been without a couple of obstacles here and there.  
  • Look for support from peers and partners: As we adapt to new digital infrastructure, it can be so helpful to have contact with someone who knows the tools and who can provide support. Participants found that this can help build staff’s confidence and help with questions that will inevitably arise. You can also reach out to us for support in this process.

The work ahead: what’s next on our digital resilience journey

In the past year, we’ve been internally reflecting on digital resilience as an organisation and with our partners. In 2023, we plan on sharing more resources on how civil society can build digital resilience, including on topics such as digital security, adopting different tech tools, organising safely and adapting to context shifts. 

In the meantime, we’re curious to know what digital resilience has looked like for you and your organisations! Reach out to tell us or to share questions, research or projects you’d like us to know about.

Image by Mahdi Bafande via Unsplash.


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