Catalysts for Collaboration: Advancing collaboration in digital rights campaigns

Photo by: Antonio Roberts. CC BY-SA 2.0

More and more countries are adopting legislation that threatens human rights online. Today, the Catalysts for Collaboration website was launched, encouraging internet activists to collaborate across disciplinary silos and strengthen their digital rights litigation.

The result of a project initiated by Berkman Klein fellow Nani Jansen Reventlow, the website offers a set of best practices — “Catalysts for Collaboration” — combined with a set of case studies.

Examples of legal frameworks that are not conducive to a free and open internet are omnipresent. These frameworks restrict the free flow of information and the proper functioning of democracy. Litigation is an effective tool that can assist in removing restrictions on the free flow of information online. Yet, it is often under-utilized because of a lack of effective collaboration between different actors: lawyers, activists, academics and technical experts. Even when collaboration would seem obvious and mutually beneficial, these different actors tend to operate in silos, both within their disciplines and geographically. Where there is an interest and willingness to work together, people hesitate because they do not know where to start.

The 12 Catalysts presented on the website — based on a comprehensive set of best practices co-written by a group of experts — offer practical suggestions for those seeking to advance digital rights, ranging from the need to plan as a group to coordinating communication strategies.

The case studies illustrate best practices used in strategic litigation in human rights cases — both in the digital context and outside of it — and offer valuable lessons learned. This includes the work of the Electronic Frontier Foundation to protect the privacy of Google Books users that showcases the importance of embracing technology. The case of Floyd v. City of New York brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights, which successfully challenged the stop and frisk policies of New York City Police, illustrates the importance of involving all stakeholders in social change processes. Other lessons learned include the need to ensure a good gender balance in collaborative efforts, and that losing a case in court does not mean that it cannot benefit the overall cause being pursued.

As the technology impacting our fundamental rights grows more complex, experts in all disciplines and across geographical boundaries will need to better work together to protect our human rights. The Catalysts for Collaboration support that effort.

The website is a work in progress. Feedback and suggestions, including for further case studies, are welcome at info [at]

Nani Jansen Reventlow is a human rights lawyer at Doughty Street Chambers and a 2016–2017 Fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. Follow Nani on Twitter @InterwebzNani