Supported by NDI and more than a dozen other international partners, the Design 4 Democracy Coalition held its first Advisory Board meeting on October 25th, in conjunction with MisinfoCon London and Mozilla Fest (MozFest). The D4D Coalition seeks to act as a force multiplier for organizations who advocate for more democracy-friendly technology platforms and policies by providing an opportunity for collaboration and mutual support within the democracy community. The Coalition also provides direct lines of communication with major technology platforms and is improving communication between the democracy community and the tech industry.
Some of the initial seeds for the Coalition were planted during #DisinfoWeek – a week-long series of events in London, Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C., that brought together diverse stakeholders from around the world to share best practices in combating disinformation. Since then, many democracy organizations globally have faced a widening array of issues concerning tech companies and, in particular, social media platforms.
The D4D Coalition is comprised of democracy organizations interested in protecting the integrity and quality of online political information, improving the cybersecurity of democratic institutions and civil society organizations, and supporting the civic tech movement. By sharing issues and lessons learned across country contexts and by advocating for reforms, the Coalition both empowers those on the frontlines and helps drive change at a global scale by amplifying the voices of those most impacted by the technology issues that are impacting the health of democracy globally.
“It’s inspiring to see an idea take shape and start to grow on its own,” said Kip Wainscott, a senior advisor at NDI who is based in San Francisco. “A key element of the Coalition is its ownership by the democracy community as a shared resource. We’ve put some foundational pieces in place, and now the Coalition is poised to scale this up collaboratively.”
At its kickoff meeting, the D4D Coalition Advisory Board discussed the interim membership and governance structure of the Coalition, expansion of the Advisory Board, and ethical standards regarding the Coalition’s engagement with the tech industry and its funding of the Coalition’s activities. The Coalition also identified a number of core strategic priorities:
- Co-designing responses to disinformation around the world with country-level partners and creating the ability to track and escalate their concerns with tech companies. Using this user-centered, grassroots approach, the Coalition will create smarter responses to challenges like digital disinformation, mass surveillance and cybersecurity attacks;
- Coordinating support for the development of programs, research methodologies, and civic tech interventions to help mitigate threats and promote the integrity of democratic governance and political processes; and
- Advocating for democracy as a core design principle for technologists and industry leaders. The D4D Coalition will work collectively to increase the tech sector’s understanding of the value of strengthening and supporting democracy, and the practicalities of how to do so.
Some observers have noted that tech platforms often invest resources in proportion to the size of a particular market, rather than in proportion to their impact on the politics or democracy of a country. As a result, many smaller countries have been particularly harmed by unintended anti-democratic impacts of design choices made by some of the platforms. By providing a vehicle for democracy organizations to advocate for shared priority reforms globally, rather than as individual organizations, the D4D Coalition is intended to help amplify the voices of organizations who are advocating for technology that supports, rather than undermines, the quality of democracy in their particular country contexts.
The D4D Coalition is not a stand-alone organization but a set of strategically aligned initiatives led by its individual member organizations. As a result, D4D Coalition activities are funded from a variety of sources, including, where appropriate, the tech industry. A key part of the Advisory Board’s role is to provide oversight of Coalition activities and to ensure transparency in the use of corporate funding and the avoidance of conflicts of interest. Subject to those safeguards, companies including Facebook, Twitter, and Microsoft have supported the Coalition’s work through funding and a commitment to constructive engagement and dialogue with the Coalition and the democracy community at large.
In addition to the members of the Advisory Board, a number of supporting international organizations participated in the Coalition’s kickoff. NDI, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), the International Republican Institute (IRI), and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) all participated in the initial meeting and are exploring a number of ways of working with and supporting the efforts of the Coalition.
If your organization is interested in or active on these issues please reach out; D4D needs your voice. Visit D4D’s website for information on how to become part of the Coalition.