In September 2023, we were able to participate in Feira, the Global Gathering, a festival for digital rights defenders, convened by Team Community. The Feira was a three day social and networking festival hosted in Estoril, Portugal on September 15 - 17, 2023. The event, designed, modeled and named for the concept of a community market, was created to provide digital rights defenders with a space to connect with others in the digital rights community for informal meetups, discussions, and joy — particularly as this was the first time gathering in-person for most participants since before the start of the COVID19 pandemic.
A few folks were able to attend from Superbloom and its fiscally sponsored projects, and so we asked them to reflect on their experience, their learnings, and overall takeaways from the event.
What did you expect from the event and how did it meet your expectations?
Eriol: I’m always pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm and welcome perspectives of designers who attend human rights technology spaces. I often expect design and user experience experts to receive cautious inclusion into spaces where technologists and coders have majority representation.
Jamie: After being away from the civil society space for a few years, attending Feira, reconnecting with past peers, and meeting new people passionate about digital security and human rights technology was wonderful. Feira was a welcoming place to share our different experiences and perspectives in different types of non-traditional conference configurations. Having flexibility with the physical space allowed the sessions to be more interactive, more creative, more collaborative, more intimate, and more productive.
What were your key takeaways from Feira?
Eriol: It is always important to have a voice for users present in spaces which will be perceived as highly technical. Bringing a perspective such as “What about if a user has no idea what the details for a network data on internet shutdowns really means, how can they understand what their experiences and information could contribute?”. This was one question I brought to a session focused on internet shutdown data and how (and whether) to define what types of shutdowns occur. The focus leaned into the data and numbers and the things that are typically focused on by technical people. We worked with those with a security and privacy trainer perspective in balancing the focus to include the real life use of and participation in tools, and systems that help protect users during shutdowns.
Matt: We were grateful to have space to connect with the digital rights and internet freedom community through our product demo booth. At our booth, we shared our open directory of digital security projects, introduced people to the Civic Tech Field Guide, and had lots of productive conversations with community members, catching up with current partners and sparking some new collaborations, and of course — swapping swag like stickers, the critical currency of community.
Caroline: I had a really wonderful time connecting with folks, especially lots of folks who couldn’t make it to RightsCon. The ability to have longer, more in-depth, and more community focused sessions and conversations over the three days and at the UX Clinic booth was fantastic.
Jamie: During the IT Service Providers for Nonprofits & Human Rights Organizations meetup, we had an unexpected and shared realization that as a group we do not interface with each other as much as we should. There is a huge opportunity for us to share our experiences and refer our clients to each other, so we are best meeting the needs of the nonprofits and human rights organizations we serve. When it comes to human rights, we are not in competition with each other; we operate to serve and support the missions and the ecosystem at-large through technology.
What were the topics on everyone’s mind? What did people want to know about?
Eriol: At Feira, many projects approached us as designers with questions about how to improve not only the visual user interface elements of their tools but how to better include broad user types including those that struggle to use tools that are perceived as complex and “too technical”. The privacy and security OSS space gives the impression of over-complicated, very particular set-ups and often prioritizes the complex set-ups for systems and tools when a majority of users, or soon to be users, will likely not describe themselves as such. In addition to these in depth conversations, the designers and user advocates in attendance at Feira spent time speaking with OSS tools and organizations about their design and usability challenges, how to prioritize, how to better understand a problem through user research and how to do that research in a privacy respecting way were some of the key focuses we discussed with people.
This year has been an amazing opportunity to connect with the community across in-person and remote events. We’re excited to follow up on all of the conversations we had and relationships built at Feira and other events from 2023. As always, if you want to connect about opportunities or collaborations, please reach out!
Project Contributors: Jamie Tomasello, Eriol Fox, Matt Stempeck, Caroline Sinders.
With support from Open Technology Fund Secure Usability & Accessibility Lab and National Endowment for Democracy.