Building Trusted Relationship: Our Lessons from the Field

There has been substantial discussion in recent years about the potential for the eyeWitness app and other technologies to revolutionise how the world learns about ongoing atrocities, and the opportunities this information provides for holding the perpetrators accountable. However, technology is merely a tool, not a solution. It is the documenters themselves who hold the key. For new tools to have an impact for justice, it is imperative that documenters on the ground understand and trust the technology, or it will go unused.

To establish this trust, eyeWitness cultivates ongoing partnerships with organisations that have expressed interest in the app. While all groups we partner with are involved in documenting violations in some manner, each organisation has its own priorities, methods, and sensitivities. We have found that iterative face to face discussions, in which we learn about the organisations’ documentation methods and goals and whether the app would be an appropriate fit, are imperative to establish partnerships with organisations. Apart from the tool itself, eyeWitness offers its partners free training, ongoing technical support, secure data storage, data sharing, and/or affidavits on the app technology.

We aim to support the needs of documenters who seek to incorporate the eyeWitness app into existing workflows.

Here are some lessons we have learned from our experiences.

  1. Establishing partnerships is a long-term process
“Concerns are valid and must be addressed”

We have found that it can take 8–12 months from initial contact with an organisation to form a partnership. The primary concerns that the organisation and their potential users have relate to who has access to the information, how secure the information is on the device and in storage, and how the information will ultimately be used. Human rights documenters in the field have very legitimate physical and digital security fears. They are often competing for limited funds and, therefore, have an intellectual property interest in the information they collect. They also want to safeguard their reputation and advocacy agenda, so do not want their information used in a manner contrary to these interests. Most importantly, their staff and volunteers are often at risk of harassment, arrest, or worse. These concerns are valid and must be addressed before an organisation can be expected adopt new tools.

2. Remaining gaps in tech penetration and literacy

Internet connectivity and the penetration of smartphone technology has made vast strides. However, there are still areas where individuals and organisations simply do not have access to this technology. Additionally, even if equipment is provided or is otherwise accessible, there are challenges to maintaining it. For example, data plans may be prohibitively expensive for transmitting information or lack of electricity may pose challenges for keeping devices charged. In some areas, because of the rarity of tech use, documenters equipped with smartphones and other devices risk drawing unwanted, and potentially dangerous, attention to themselves.

Tech literacy of course will be low among individuals without access or unaccustomed to using tech devices. However, even among individuals who regularly use smartphones or other technology, there is a broad spectrum in level of understanding of the features, functions, and capabilities of the equipment. As a result, a person may not be interested in using even a very beneficial tool simply because they do not understand how it works.

3. Adopting new working methods requires a near-term incentive

When promoting new technology, you are asking individuals to change their working methods. Knowing that the change will ultimately be beneficial, is not always sufficient to translate into action. There needs to be a tangible, near-term effect. We found new technology is more apt to be used when focused on a specific, finite project with the end use of the information already identified — for example, investigating a certain type of crime for a report or collecting evidence for an identified case. Additionally, tech tools should complement, not necessarily replace other traditional methods of data collection.

“There needs to be a tangible, near-term effect”

Overall, those offering tech tools for human rights documentation should engage in a collaborative approach that is responsive to the capacities, sensitivities, needs, and feedback of civil society on the ground. Working together, technologists and civil society can harness the great potential of tech tools to capture potential evidence to hold responsible those who violate human rights.

This article was written by Wendy Betts, Director of eyeWitness to atrocities. Wendy has twenty years of experience in international development, rule of law reform, and transitional justice, including serving as the Director of the American Bar Association War Crimes Documentation.
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