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Info-activism is Tactical Tech's approach to utilising information and communications technology to enhance advocacy work. This approach is explained below in an extract from a forthcoming paper on 'Info-activism: Using New Technologies to Strengthen Advocacy'. It will also form the basis of an upcoming Info-Activism camp to be held in India in February 2009.

As information practices increasingly permeate the work of NGOs as with the commercial sector, the importance of their tactical use grows. An approach that understands technology, information and communications within the frame of advocacy is necessary not only for finding appropriate solutions, but also for technologists to relate to advocates in a way that is relevant to their core goals and means of achieving them.

For civil society, the information they gather and distribute is their principal asset. In witnessing violations, identifying injustice and exposing misconduct, they rely heavily on their ability to capture and represent information. An approach is needed that understands technology, information and communications within the framework of advocacy.

Advocates are increasingly engaged in a range of information and communication-based practices. The use of technologies for online campaigning or 'eAdvocacy', as it is sometimes called, is important. However, this is only one part of the equation. ICTs can enhance advocacy in a number of ways. These include:

  • Gathering and creating information: bearing witness, monitoring, researching, investigating
  • Analysing and tracking existing information and data
  • Re-presenting or breaking down existing information
  • Strategic messaging and distributing information
  • Finding or creating alternative channels for distribution (such as alternative media)
  • Bringing excluded voices or points of view to the fore
  • Mobilising constituencies
  • Coordinating regionally or internationally

A campaign is likely to use more than one of these elements as they feed into each other.These elements are depicted in the diagram below which shows the flow of information through an advocacy initiative:

Navigating the technology terrain within this flow - knowing what to use to get the right results - can be extremely challenging. Not only are solutions that are within the means of a project required, but multiple techniques may need to be designed into a single advocacy effort.

Data needs to be collected with a view on how it will be used, and information distribution needs to tie in with calls-to-action. Outreach needs to be bespoke and designed on the basis of 'what will work for whom, where, and when'. Whatever technique is ultimately chosen, technology needs to be artfully integrated into advocacy work, not tagged on at the end of a process. A successful outreach or organising effort may even require an element of innovation and rethinking how existing technologies can be applied to the challenge at hand.

In order to get this right, advocates not only need technology solutions but also the hard-skills in information management and implementation. This is particularly so in information-heavy and communications-intensive campaigns.

Tactical Tech's role is to help advocates find the right solutions to meet their needs and to build their skill-base bringing them up to a new level of information-savviness. In order for this to happen, we believe a specific way of thinking about these activities is needed; one which encourages advocates to understand the full range of information and communication potential for their advocacy. Tactical Tech terms this approach 'info-activism'.

    Info-Activism is:

  • Integrated: Reinforced and designed within the campaign goals and strategy
  • Artful: Creative and effective in application of appropriate techniques
  • Skilful: Reliant on information-handling and technical aptitude
  • Tactical: Leverages limited resources for maximum impact

Info-activism is not just about the inevitable surge in the use of information technology within campaigns. We are not trying to include every activist with a blog or radio show in this definition, rather to recognise the creative and artful application of technologies in low-resource situations to meet advocacy goals.

Info-activism is the ability to swiftly deploy technologies, to master technical convergence and to react to campaign challenges with an appropriate range of tools and tactics.

Tactical Tech exists to make this happen.

Case Study: Reporting Abuse via Mobile Phones

Sex-workers are subject to serious human rights abuses. In 2006 in Fiji, transgender sex-workers were brutally raped. In Hong Kong, a sex-worker was arrested and placed in a cage in the central square of the city. 'Raids and rescues' promoted by anti-trafficking NGOs give some of the perpetrators of these abuses - the police - open license to storm brothels and threaten sex-workers.

Sex-workers are best placed to document the human rights abuses against them. They are on the inside track of a closed sub-culture. They are at best marginalised and at worse demonised; they have little to no access to services and a legitimate fear of coming above ground to utilise more official channels.

In Cambodia, 90% of sex-workers interviewed said they had been raped in the past six months, many of these by police. Most sex-workers have mobile phones. They cannot utilise SMS because there are no Khmer fonts for texting on mobile phones and a high proportion of this community have low literacy.

Most have learned a semi-English/semi-icon based 'SMS language'. APNSW (Asia Pacific Network for Sex Workers www.apnsw.org) are now starting to conceive of a project to enable sex-workers to document abuses against them. If they could report instances of abuses through a simple series of keys, and/or submit images of abuses to a centralised place, there would be a record of the kind of abuse and the time and place of reporting. However, there is an immediate personal risk in documenting such abuses. If each report was simultaneously and anonymously published at the time of occurrence, and the hard evidence automatically wiped from the phone, this hurdle could be overcome. There are, in addition, privacy and data protection concerns that such a project would need to overcome, especially if using an online service to aggregate reports.

Tactical tech's role is to assess, train and advise APNSW and other members of the international network of sex workers to realise and implement these techniques.

Should such a scenario work, those discriminated against will be placed at the centre of their own solution. One report would join many others. Documentation would simultaneously become campaigning. Community momentum would create pressure. Sex-worker advocates in other countries may begin using the same system, and mass documentation of this kind may raise social consciousness about the issue.

This case-study serves to demonstrate how:
- Info-activism by rights advocates and marginalised communities can work
- Advocates face very real multiple and inter-related technology challenges (i.e. mobiles, digital security, language issues, anonymity and privacy) even though, in theory, technology already exists to enable an intervention of this kind.

This approach to using new technologies within advocacy will form the basis of an upcoming week long training camp to be held in February 2009 in India. If you'd like to be informed about this event, please send an email to infoactivism@tacticaltech.org