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Take Back the Tech! Exchanges: Strategic, Creative Use of Tech for Community-Based Solutions

Take Back the Tech! Exchanges seek to assert the right of women to exist in the public sphere without fear of violence by engaging them in the creation of innovative solutions at the local level that leverage the transformative power of internet and communication technologies. Each TBTT Exchange will bring together unusual suspects (from artists to activists, policy-makers to parents, geeks to grrls) to share experiences and expertise in order to develop concrete solutions to complicated issues of safety, spaces and gender. Through discussions, workshops, and idea labs, TBTT Exchanges will allow women and girls to take back the tech, which plays an increasingly critical role in how communities work, and use it to create safer spaces.

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Jamilah is a graphic designer who thinks of the most creative and effective ways to communicate complex ideas in simple ways. Tony is part of a co-op that runs a network of local transportation in the suburban area. Mallory is a feminist programmer who thinks that technology and the internet can be leveraged for addressing discrimination. Anne is an architect who designs buildings with the idea of community spaces in mind. Sharm works at a local women's rights group. Siti is part of the student council at a local university. They have come together at a Take Back the Tech! Exchange and spent a day discussing the issue of pervasive sexual harassment in their community. They spend another day in small groups brainstorming possible solutions that can be done to address this issue in a very concrete and specific way that engages and involves the local community. Each brings their particular knowledge, understanding and expertise into the conversation.

At the start of day 3, the groups presents their ideas to the wider group, where everyone is given a chance to question, provide suggestions or even combine ideas. Jamilah, Mallory and Tony submit an idea for a harassment-free pledge, working with traders and local transport drivers to attend a workshop and make a pledge, then create a mobile app where users can vote on how far this is true based on their experience, which then promotes the shops with the highest ratings. Sharm, Siti and Anne submit an idea for working with students to document experiences of sexual harassment through setting up anonymous bulletin boards in particular spaces throughout campus that will directly feed into an online crowdmap as a way to highlight the reality of the issue and raise awareness as well as to build evidence for changing campus policy. Both ideas are voted on by participants at the Exchange and the winning idea receives a small grant for implementation. Everyone is encouraged to participate in the winning idea. 

The Take Back the Tech! (TBTT) Exchanges recognise that everyone has something to bring to the table. They aim to bring together unusual suspects to share experiences and expertise in order to develop technological solutions to complicated issues of safety, spaces and gender. At local exchanges, diverse, engaged and invested people who don't typically interact will come together for a common cause, learn from each other and use their combined talents to do more than they could have alone. Ultimately, TBTT Exchanges allow women and girls to take back the tech, which plays an increasingly critical role in how communities work, and use it to create safer spaces.

Exchanges encourage people to address interventions at the level of cultural communications, changing the way we engage, interact and create. There are few spaces that allow for real dialogue between different types of actors. Exchanges aim to bring these people together to ask questions, challenge norms, and share experiences, expertise and knowledge in creative encounters that deepen understanding and develop solutions. Each TBTT Exchange creates a space for diverse people to explore, interrogate and play for a common purpose. What can an architect, designer and feminist activist create to address the problem of isolated pathways and dark sidewalks? What creative solutions can street artists, students and business owners find to transform street harassment? How can policy makers, educators and law enforcement disrupt the mentality of victim-blaming? 

Thematic areas will be built around issues of safety, spaces and gender, and the festival will include conversation centres, hands-on workshops, and idea labs, all hosted by local participants. Conversation centres will enable deeper understanding and analysis by allowing tough questions and unique perspectives to surface. Workshops will build capacity of participants and allow for an exchange of knowledge and skills from tech tools to the dynamics of gendered violence to the built environment, and showcase creative tech-based initiatives that have been effective in other locales, allowing participants to build on and localise established models.. Finally, the idea labs will produce concrete proposals or pilots for solutions that will be selected for development through post-festival seed grants.

Explain your idea in one sentence.

City-level Take Back the Tech! Exchanges will bring together unusual suspects to share experiences and expertise in order to develop creative tech solutions to complicated issues of safety, spaces and gender.

What is the need you are trying to solve?

Every day women and girls negotiate spaces--from city streets and public transit to buildings and parks--designed primarily by men. In addition to problems such as isolated paths, dark alleys, crowded buses and dim stairwells, they face intimidation, harassment and violence in public spaces. Such experiences make women and girls feel like they do not belong in the public sphere and can keep them from fully exercising their rights and fully participating in society, especially as potential leaders in fields like planning, policy-making, governance and technology.

Women have a right to bodily integrity, autonomy, freedom of movement and freedom from violence, but exclusive, traditional urban planning and design intersect with misogynistic and sexist attitudes to create a constant threat of violence. The Take Back the Tech! Exchanges seek to assert the right of women to exist in the public sphere without fear of violence by engaging them in the creation of innovative, tech-integrated solutions at local levels. Instead of simply finding ways to work around the status quo, women and girls will use technology to contribute to urban planning and local problem-solving, ultimately changing how these cities function and investing city planning with a gendered perspective and feminist framework.

Who will benefit from this idea and how would you monitor its success?

TBTT Exchanges aim to directly address the safety and security needs of women and girls in low-income communities by helping them take back the tech to solve local problems. In the process, Exchanges will also benefit a range of actors as they think creatively and explore the intersections of their fields and backgrounds. An event that encourages exploration, play, interrogation and creation can be a conducive environment for cross-boundary innovation. This benefits women again by encouraging people to look at other issues with gender in mind, developing and strengthening partnerships and ensuring that women's voices are heard. Each TBTT Exchange will result in the development and implementation of at least 2 concrete solutions that directly involve and benefit the intended communities of people. This may include the creation of a community project (e.g., urban reimagination), production of a creative communications output (e.g., short film), capacity building of a specific marginalised community, development of a monitoring application or platform for documenting violations which feeds into a policy process or support service, and more. The seed-granting process will involve monitoring and evaluation for each community, measuring work toward goals and objectives and analysing change through decrease in incidents, increased feeling of safety, improved quality of life and other measures particular to each solution.

Who would be best equipped to implement this idea in the real world? You? Your organisation? Another organisation or entity?

We would implement it in conjunction with local organisations. Founded in 1990, Association for Progressive Communications (APC) is an international network and nonprofit organisation that helps grassroots groups use technology to develop their communities. Take Back the Tech! is a project of APC's Women's Rights Programme, that calls on women and grrls to take control of technology to end violence against women through capacity-building workshops and creative campaigns. Take Back the Tech! works to reclaim technology to prevent violence against women and has worked with regional and local organizations as well as individual activists, feminists, techies and survivors to develop collaborative global campaigns through our digital community. In addition, Take Back the Tech! works with key on-the-ground partners to connect online and offline actions, ensuring that changes happen in both digital and physical spaces. Take Back the Tech! showcases successful tech-related solutions to the problem of violence against women with an emphasis on marginalised communities and the global South. APC has also organised Feminist Tech Exchanges since 2008, including two global Feminist Tech Exchanges with more than 150 women's rights activists, feminists and internet rights activists and more than 20 country-based FTXs in countries such as Cambodia, Philippines, Malaysia, Pakistan, Congo, DRC, Uganda, South Africa, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico and Brazil. The Take Back the Tech! Exchange builds from this model and combines the two areas of work towards empowering communities to develop and implement concrete solutions.

Where should this idea be implemented?

APC staff are located in several countries around the world and can easily travel to chosen locations. Our work focuses on the global South, and we have strong partnerships with local organisations and individuals in Cambodia, Philippines, Malaysia, India, Congo, Czech Republic, DRC, Uganda, South Africa, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, Kenya, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Lebanon. However, we are always happy to develop new collaborations in underserved communities. We hope to hear from the OpenIDEO community about places where they would like to see this happen.

How might you prototype this idea and test some of the assumptions behind it?

This idea is built from APC-led Feminist Tech Exchanges, which has focused on strategic and creative use of technology, as well as on online abuse and internet safety. We will be able to effectively translate what we have learned from those festivals into city safety events, as we are always connecting online and offline cultural change and using technology to create practical tools for offline situations. We will work closely with local organisations to ensure that each festival meets the needs of each particular community.

What might a day in the life of a community member interacting with your idea look like?

Community members will be able to attend all parts of the three-day Exchanges in their cities, whether they are policy makers, community leaders, parents, educators, students, techies, grrls, activists, artists and more. They will join discussions, participate in workshops, browse resources and ideas and develop proposals in collaboration with community members they might not have worked with before. In addition, each participant will get to vote on the solutions they think will work best. Events are meant to be fun, lively, inspiring and community-building, so they will develop new relationships to take beyond the festival. TBTT Exchanges are a space where problems and solutions are viewed with a gendered perspective, so women and girls are encouraged to share their experiences, expertise, ideas and concerns and play active roles in developing and implementing solutions. If their proposal is chosen to be implemented, they will play a role in that part of the process as well. Women and girls benefit every step of the way: their voices are heard, they are empowered to solve problems, they gain new allies and partners, they make public spaces more welcoming and inclusive and they increase safety and decrease violence. This means that every day will have more opportunities for women and girls to exercise their rights.
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Team

I like this idea and think that it would also be especially fun to think about a festival with young adolescents, questioning how teens can be in public city spaces and online spaces - or not - and mixing in anime, gaming, fan and tuber - takes on city environments, as well as rights and privacy - again - online and off!

Team

Really good point, Es. Perhaps some teen-only groups. I'd love to see them present their ideas to everyone because young people often think up effective, creative solutions no one else would have considered.

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