What can we do together that we can’t do alone?

Photo by Sidharth Bhatia on Unsplash

A few months ago we announced we’d received support from the Omidyar Foundation. Part of our work with them, and a focus of their support, is for Doteveryone to play an active role in discovering, connecting and building the emerging field of “responsible technology.”

Who’s in the field of responsible technology?

For some organisations this area of work is not emerging. It is work that has been studied and considered for a long time by people and organisations like the team at Data & Society, founded by Danah Boyd. By people like Kate Crawford and Meredith Whittaker, founders of AI Now Institute. By Genevieve Bell , who’s gone on to set-up the 3AInstitute in Australia, and individuals like Zeynep Tufekci and Julia Angwin who write with such verve and expertise in this area.

There are organisations focusing specifically on data. The Responsible Data community is “developing practical ways to deal with the unintended consequences of using data in social change work”. Organisations like DataKind are pioneering “using data in the service of humanity.” And the ODI in the UK, has been given further funding by government and Omidyar because of the global influence and impact they are achieving.

There are other organisations who are bringing critical thought to the politics of technology and how it is being used in social and civic contexts. The Engine Room and Tactical Tech, for example, have been doing this, as well as offering practical and thoughtful support. And organisations like Privacy International, the Open Rights Group, Projects By IF, Responsible Robotics, I am the Cavalry and Simply Secure have been established for some time advocating and designing for privacy, security and digital rights.

Other communities, that compliment or link with this field, have been emerging and growing during the last decade too:

  • The Internet Freedom Festival — the Global unconference of internet freedom communities
  • RightsCon — a community and conference focussed on human rights in the digital age
  • Mozilla — who for 20 years have been building a community around keeping the Internet a “global public resource, open and accessible to all”
  • The Tech For Good movement — bringing together social justice and civil society communities with designers, technologists and policy influencers.

And just as Doteveryone is relatively new, in the last 6 months we have seen a flurry of even newer organisations, institutions and units springing up to play a role in this space — the Ada Lovelace Institute, Omidyar’s Tech & Society Solutions Lab and Deep Mind’s Ethics & Society Unit.

Joining the dots

We mention all of these people and organisations (and we know there are more!), because as the field grows and evolves it’s important there is intentional work to try and coordinate our efforts and resources. We must also open up the field to others, and try and find common points of connection between organisations that share similar values and ultimately want to see the same kinds of change in the world.

Whilst at Doteveryone we describe this emerging field with the term ‘responsible tech’, we know that there are many alternative ways being used to describe it — ethical tech, data ethics, digital ethics, responsible data, decentralised tech, to name a few. But the labels the field is given is far less important than how the activity across the field connects and coordinates.

“Funders and non-profits increasingly recognize that no single organisation or strategy, regardless of how large or successful it may be, can solve a complex social challenge at scale.”
From the SSIR article on the role of field catalysts.

Over the next year and into the future, with the Omidyar Foundation and in my role as Head of Networks and Engagement at Doteveryone, I’ll be focussing on this field-building activity. Our aim is to make responsible tech and digital ethics “the new normal”. We want to help bring greater coherence to the movement as it grows throughout the UK and Europe initially.

How will we make these connections?

As a networked organisation, we plan to do this through building relationships, highlighting and championing existing work in the field, creating and commissioning content, hosting and convening events for sharing learning and practice, and working with other organisations across the field to find common points of connection and opportunities to have greater influence and impact.

Specifically over the next few months we will be using our field mapping work (which we’ll publish shortly) as the basis for reaching out to an initial group of 30 organisations across Europe to begin organising for impact. We’re also hosting workshops and giving talks on this work in Lisbon at TICTeC, in Berlin at Republica, at the Personal Democracy Forum in Poland, and Istanbul at SIX, launching a newsletter specifically about the field-building work across Europe and convening a set of online events.

So what?

With all of this we’re looking to achieve are an increase in collaborations, partnerships and more coordinated activity across the field (including co-addressing policy needs). We also want there to be an ongoing enquiry as a community about the language, definitions, concepts and meanings that we use in the field. We want to continue to see new organisations and communities emerging with a spirit of championing one another’s work and asking what can we do better together that we can’t do alone?

We’d love to hear more from others who are working in this field. If you’re interested in finding out more and working with us, please let us know completing this form. You can also contact me on stav.bar-shany@doteveryone.org.uk.