Digital Futures - 0_Library_Irem_221109(1)

The Digital Futures Gathering brought together a diverse crowd of thinkers and doers who are working on a wide range of topics in the context of the internet and digitalisation.

For many participants, the majority of whom did not know each other before the gathering, this was the first in-person event in another country after two years of pandemic. A core part of the gathering was dedicated to building trust between participants and creating an environment that allowed for learning and exchange.

Leading up to the event, the organizers identified five key topics: climate resilience, healthy democracy, internet access and inclusion, data and digital rights, and labour and social rights.

These topics acted as a compass by which to guide the event. The goal was not to separate out topics in a rigid framework or build individual workstreams, but rather to see how they merged and interacted over the course of the gathering. 

The organizing team

For the event’s facilitation and content design, Superrr Lab joined forces with Allen Gunn, executive director of San Francisco-based non-profit, Aspiration. Drawing upon years of experience facilitating events and community organizing, Aspiration has developed a methodology to engender highly interactive and productive in-person gatherings where participants feel substantial ownership over the proceedings and are invested in reaching meaningful outcomes. Much of what is described in this text constitutes Aspiration’s methodology. 

Agenda design

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 meeting. Sessions were dialogue- and outcome-oriented rather than being presentations or lectures. Two-thirds of the participants helped to facilitate and lead sessions.

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

The onion skin invitation model

We used the onion skin invitation model, a peer-based movement-building approach to invitations. When developing the event concept, Superrr Lab reached out to three organizations and asked them to become co-conveners. They were the Spain-based non-profit Éticas, the UK-based NGO Foxglove, and the Netherlands-based organization The Waag. These co-convener organizations gave early input on the concept note and recommended the first set of participants. These co-conveners were the Spain-based non-profit Éticas, the UK-based NGO Foxglove, and the Netherlands-based organization The Waag. The co-convener organizations gave early input on the concept note and recommended the first set of participants. Their input was complemented with suggestions from the co-organizing foundations, Friedrich Naumann Foundation and the Heinrich Böll Foundation.

To gather invitees, Aspiration suggested using an onion skin model. A small group of organizers invites participants who are, in turn, asked to suggest new participants. In this way, the circle expands step by step and goes far beyond those individuals and organizations that the initial group already knows. This approach worked really well for the Digital Futures Gathering. Besides participants associated with civil society organizations, there were also independent researchers, futurists and content moderators among the invitees. 

Pre-event convening and questionnaire

To ensure the agenda was geared towards useful outcomes for the participants, as organizers we wanted to get as much pre-event input as possible. We hosted advance calls with all the participants – one call for each topical focus of the event. In addition to the calls, each participant was asked to provide feedback on the concept and highlight what content or focus they would most benefit from. Many session topics and outcomes were sourced from participants’ pre-event inputs.

Sessions at the event:

Session 1: Comparing our goals for digital futures 

The program kicked off with a series of fast-paced introductions to a variety of issues, projects and causes. Eight participants volunteered as facilitators, and participants were invited to rotate between topics over the course of an hour.

Topics included:

  • Practicing feminist grassroots organizing
  • Centering marginalised knowledge
  • Organizing for climate justice
  • Organizing content moderation workers
  • Countering misinformation online
  • And others…

Session 2: Exploring the intersections of our work

Before turning attention to future-facing goals and strategies, the group explored how the diverse issues, goals and analyses represented in the room connect to one another. The goal of these discussions was to deepen shared awareness of the work being done, while also identifying areas for potential collaboration, learning and mutual aid.

Session 3: Building the digital futures we want

These working sessions invited participants to explore and co-create strategic resources around topics identified in the pre-event engagement and planning. The overall goal of the working sessions was for breakout groups to produce outputs that support, empower and/or manifest the digital futures they want to realise. These included vision statements, narratives, goal setting, policy agendas, strategic scenarios, threat models and more.

Sessions on the agenda included:

  • Technological cartographies: Digital colonialism in the Internet Territories by Joana Varon
  • Green futures?! Climate justice and digital rights by Katrin Fritsch
  • The future of organizing tech workers by Martha Dark
  • The future of political advertising on tech platforms by Sandor Lederer
  • Digital identities: Our future selves on the internet by Nushin Yazdani
  • Policy recommendations for trauma-informed technology and research design by Hera Hussain
  • Decolonising digital rights by Laurence Meyer
  • Resistance and regeneration by Fieke Jansen and Kit Braybrooke
  • Participatory foresight by Urvashi Aneja
  • The power of risk assessments by Elisa Lindinger and Camila Nobrega

Post-event convenings and documentation

The Digital Futures Gathering was envisioned and designed as a starting point and a springboard for future and ongoing collaborations. To that end, in the final session of the event, participants outlined the topics on which they wanted to continue the conversation. With the support of Katrin Fritsch, the Superrr team organized post-event virtual working sessions to reflect on event outcomes and identify areas for continued focus and shared efforts. Session facilitators were invited to draft post-event reflections in order to synthesize and celebrate both take-aways and forward-facing goals. This website is a reference point and a manifestation of that intent, co-created with participants and based on outcomes and ideas generated in sessions at the event. We hope that what is captured here can serve as both a touchstone and a point of inspiration as we collectively strive to manifest our visions for just, equitable and powerful Digital Futures.

Next steps

One outcome of the Digital Futures Gathering is a partnership between Foxglove, the German labour union ver.di, independent content moderators and Superrr Lab. Together they will host a series of global content moderator summits in Berlin and Nairobi to help content moderators organize and fight for better working conditions. You can read more in the deep dives section

Acknowledgement: There are always perspectives that are missing from the room – we had hoped to welcome an even more geographically diverse set of experiences and visions but we were wrangling with the challenges of covid.