Building a community to meet future challenges

By December 8, 2015Blog

Written by: Karen Reilly | @akareilly

Building a community to meet future challenges

The Internet Freedom Festival brings people from all over the world to talk about freedom of expression and technology. It’s a working conference, combining hands on training, policy discussions, and impromptu hacking on established tools as well as prototypes. Once you get a lot of motivated people in the same place for a few days, it’s amazing how quickly things get done. One of the most important things that happens at IFF is the building and strengthening of diverse communities. Meeting in person is a great way to minimize distractions and bust through silos to get vital multi-disciplinary work done.

You may think of hackers working in isolation, staring at glowing green characters on a black screen, but software developers work well in groups. Mostly virtual organizations gather in person to talk through mission statements, share ideas for new features, and welcome new members. It’s exciting to meet the people behind familiar pseudonyms in text-only chats. Disagreements get worked out with the benefit of empathy building, face-to-face interaction, and teams get stronger.

People who started using computers when there were no mice or touchscreens, no graphical user interfaces with lots of buttons, and no voice input are comfortable using the command line. They can fix a buggy program, or just make something new to fulfill their needs. On the other hand, there are people who are also brilliant, brave, and highly motivated, but in disciplines other than computer science. They need usable tools to communicate securely. They may be journalists with anonymous sources. They may be part of an activist community or marginalized group facing constant surveillance. They may be guardians of sensitive health and gender identity information. Bringing these human rights defenders and technology designers together helps everyone. Threat models get more accurate. Activists know who to turn to when they get hacked. Developers know who to ask when they wonder if their software is safe for and relevant to all sorts of people.

At IFF we’ll all branch out, meeting people who speak different languages, work on various parts of the same problem, and have different approaches in the same discipline.  We’ll learn a lot in a few days, but it won’t stop there. We’re building a community to meet future challenges. For every problem we encounter, there will be someone in our expanded network who can help. We’ll built the mutual respect needed to break down barriers between organizations and use all the information needed to make things that work. We need people who build things, and people who use those tools in their work. We need people who build diverse teams and help us all stay psychologically healthy. However you work to protect freedom of expression, join us in Valencia!

– Karen Reilly.