What does it take to be a human rights defender? In 2019, it could be as simple as using your phone to film a human rights incident, and then sharing that footage strategically and safely. With an estimated 3.2 billion smartphone users worldwide, there is incredible potential for ordinary people to record videos of human rights violations, and contribute to a worldwide movement for justice. Of course, there are risks associated with filming. Human rights defenders can put themselves or their communities in harm’s way when they pull out their video cameras. Safety, privacy and ethics are all at risk.
That’s where WITNESS comes in.
Through their online library, WITNESS provides filming guidance, tailored to support social movements and networks of human rights defenders.
In the WITNESS library, video activists can find tutorials on everything from live streaming protests to concealing identity in interviews. The library is vast, with over 180 training resources available for free download in 27+ languages — last year 4,000 materials were downloaded from the site every month.
Of course, the impact of WITNESS seeks to contribute is about real human rights change, not just download numbers. But finding out what happens after someone downloads a tutorial has proven quite challenging! Perhaps activists use these tutorials to start filming their own videos, maybe they adapt and tailor the guidance to their local political context, or maybe they use the materials to train fellow human rights defenders how to use video strategically. WITNESS is seeking to better understand how these resources are being applied to affect true change after they are downloaded. The organization also wants to learn from the answers to these questions, to connect activists fighting similar struggles and to keep improving the overall knowledge base. WITNESS wants to improve these feedback loops to better understand which bits of its guidance have global salience when it comes to using video for human rights effectively and safely. WITNESS came to the LabStorm group to ask about the ideas on how to assess impact and collect feedback on their training tools. The LabStorm group had lots of great ideas about how to understand their audience and measure the impact of their guidance post-download. Here are some takeaways from the discussion.
- Learn more about the different types of human rights defenders who access WITNESS’s training resources. As WITNESS thinks about creating and adapting guidance across contexts, they need to understand, on a deeper level, their global audience’s needs and composition. Some users may be very savvy media activists, who download training materials, tailor them for their particular political context and then go on to share these materials with other activists in their communities and movements. Other users may have less capacity/interest in adapting guidance and may be looking for more baseline tips that can be applied to strengthen their collection/usage of video documentation. Once WITNESS has a deeper understanding of the types of activists who access their training materials online, they can more effectively tailor their content creation strategy. WITNESS has already started on this journey of understanding of their audience, so the LabStorm validated their work thus far.
- Maybe the copy-paste model isn’t so bad all the time? WITNESS’s work is always driven by local communities and, because each context has its own histories and specificities, the organization has resisted all the pitfalls that can come from relying on copy-paste models to scale its learnings. They always felt that content created/tailored locally would be more useful to activists than general, universal guidance. Because of this, they were interested in exploring how to support partners to adapt their baseline tips, rather than just “copy-pasting” successful tactics across borders. LabStorm attendees noted that some audiences might be less interested in tailoring/localizing/adapting videos to their specific context, and may be more interested in just getting the basics. In other words, a copy-paste mindset may actually make sense for some users. Attendees encouraged WITNESS to think about testing this copy-paste theory, and adjusting their content curation strategy based on the result.
- Start with the low-hanging fruit. There are a few super-simple ways for WITNESS to better understand the impact of their guidance on the global human rights movements. A simple idea that emerged is a brief feedback form that users are required to fill out before downloading a video from the WITNESS library. The form can be a few questions long, and ask things such as “are you planning to share this material with other friends or colleagues?”, “Are you planning to tailor these training materials so that it makes more sense for your local context?”. This is a great way to collect feedback because it does not require the user to share any personal information, and it gets straight to the goal of understanding what happens with the training materials after they are downloaded.
This LabStorm reminded us of the complexities of understanding and supporting online networks and ecosystems. Do you have experience supporting global movements? Leave a comment below, share your thoughts @feedbacklabs, or send an email to [email protected].