Building technical capacity of civil society organizations

Civil society participation as equal participants for important technical issues requires well.. civil society organizations with equal technical capacity.

How can you comment on privacy issues with IPv6 if you don’t know what IPv6 is?

How can you comment well on whether open data standards being adopted if you don’t know what open data standards is? Or even what open data is?

How much impact can you do for complicated government corruption cases, if you can’t deal with complicated fund flows and influence mapping?

A common complaint by rights based civil society organizations is that the technical community is not talking to them. Wrong approach, because the technical community is not exclusive. The right approach is that rights based organizations should be part of the technical community and at least develop and support some of their team members to participate in the discussions as equal members of the community.

I believe it is wrong to say tech doesn’t matter for some civil society organizations. It does. Sooner or later, especially in South East Asia, tech and better organization capacity matters if you want impact and represent your community needs better. Who better to know what tech you need than the community organizations themselves?

Creation of elites

A common problem raised on more technical communities such as open data or Internet governance is the need for more inclusiveness and equality for gender and minorities. What you see instead, in terms of minorities is the repeated participation of a small group of elites that claim to represent the minority and communities. Little attention is provided to lifting the capacity of the organizations and under represented communities themselves.

On one hand this is natural progression of continuing discussions, and sometimes highly technical nature of the work, but a sign that this isn’t natural is when only a few represent minorities, but only in a few specific subject areas which are usually less technical.

Why are there not more people from these communities represented? Are they not interested in those other technical areas as well?
Why despite policies to be more inclusive of minorities of events and workshops, is there still lack of diverse participation?

What are the barriers?

Looking inwards

Sinar Project is one of these civil society organizations that have been labeled as techies. This is wrong. First and foremost, it is a rights based organization focused on greater participation. The only difference is that we have stronger technical capacity. In fact only one person on the team has a technical background. Including the intern, it’s a gender balanced organization.

So what did we do right, and what did we do wrong?

Contributions for RIghts

What we (think) we did right.

We provided opportunities to the entire team. If an event, workshop or on-line event open to participation, a member who with an interest, who has not had opportunity yet, will have first priority. Those with experience will then support their fellow team member. It is this initial face to face and connections which are important. After that, there is a lot of work that can continue once the connections are made, and whoever participates can continue sharing knowledge and these connections to others.

What we did wrong.

Not setting a baseline of what skills, knowledge and culture needed to participate in technical communities. This resulted in providing opportunities, without the right person going. Right person here, as in the person who has put in the work to build up their capacity, on-line participation and project work to participate as equals.

It also resulted in people unsure, what they should be working towards.

Not enough vetting. Everyone wants an opportunity, but better care needs to ensure that the right people get that opportunity. The people who truly care about finding solutions for problems, and empowering their community as a whole.

We now have started building and internal (yet publicly shared) document of a set of basic technical, programme & policy and culture knowledge that all need to acquire.

Doing this internally first at Sinar Project with test subject (aka the intern), before proposing an initial South-East Asia pilot next year, where we hope from lessons learned and feedback to apply same process to rights based civil society organizations or even individuals who are the first to build such organizations for their community.