‘Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.’ – Gloria Steinem

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Civil society organisations, researchers and activists often lack time and resources. When this happens, they risk being driven by the agendas of others. Stuck in a reactive paradigm, they can be so busy fighting immediate harms that they have no time to envision alternative digital futures beyond surveillance capitalism, exploitation and commercialization. While visions and narratives provide ways for organisations to focus on what matters, they are also crucial when it comes to rallying people behind a cause and building strong communities. For future visions to be strong, multiple perspectives, voices and backgrounds are needed to shape and craft them.

At the Digital Futures Gathering, participants from 50+ civil society organisations came together from 16 different countries and from four different continents, and worked across a broad spectrum of topics. Together, we were keen to shake off these restrictions, carve out space and time for imagination, and explore collective dreaming as a form of planning.

The application of intersectional, decolonial and feminist lenses was key to the event. Building just and inclusive digital futures requires a holistic view of digitalisation, and we need to shed light on technology’s intertwined power structures, its injustices and environmental aspects.

It is essential that we question the contemporary ‘innovation narrative’ and examine the value of maintenance, accessibility, openness and care for the digital societies of the future. A feminist approach helps with thinking and seeing beyond existing stories and structures.

Through acknowledging our intersecting struggles and collaborating to overcome them, we can build structures of solidarity – and spark hope and joy.

The event was structured as two days of collaborative working sessions. The agenda was designed as a combination of planned sessions and participant-driven discussions, with additional topics being placed into time slots based on input at the meetings. Sessions were dialogue- and outcome-oriented, rather than presentations or lectures.

The program was designed this way to enable collaboration and learning across the network of practitioners and together improve knowledge, implementation and impact in projects and practices as we collectively strive for just, equitable and inclusive digital futures.

Our overall goals for the event were:

  • To establish a deeper understanding of the future challenges and opportunities in digital rights across a range of issues, such as climate justice and labour rights
  • To surface longer-term insights into climate justice, labour rights, digital inclusion, internet access and healthy democracy initiatives
  • To model strategies and plan approaches that can inform futures and foresight work
  • To prototype scenarios, narratives, mappings and other resources that can support ongoing efforts
  • To identify concrete next steps for collaborative action on upcoming policy and advocacy issues

In addition to the network gathering, we hosted a public event on ‘Scenarios for Fair and Inclusive Digital Futures’ with Jan Philipp Albrecht (President of the Heinrich-Böll Foundation), Dr. Maren Jasper-Winter (Member of the Board of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom), Nanjala Nyabola (Author and independent researcher and political analyst) and Katarzyna Szymielewicz (Co-Founder and President of the Panoptykon Foundation). You can find the recording of the event here:

The Digital Futures Gathering is a cooperation between: Superrr Lab, the Heinrich-Böll Foundation and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation.

The event is supported by: the European Artificial Intelligence Fund, the Ford Foundation and Wikimedia Foundation Deutschland e. V. This documentation is made possible by support from the Schöpflin Stiftung.

Documentation: Katrin Fritsch & Julia Kloiber
Design: Rainbow Unicorn
Visuals: Ousa Collective (Irem Kurt & Ana Filipa Maceira)
Editor: Katherine Waters
Facilitation of the event: Aspiration (Allen Gunn)