Why We Invested: The Engine Room

September 13, 2018

The critical importance of civil society in pursuing Good ID is now clearer than ever. Our engagement with The Engine Room underscores our commitment to supporting those who advocate on behalf on individuals and communities.

The past year has been a dynamic time for anyone interested in digital identity. Convenings, conversations, and countless papers have fueled new thinking about what must be done to ensure that digital identity delivers its full potential as a tool for individual empowerment. Growing bodies of work and research efforts across a variety of institutions (including the World Bank, Caribou Digital, the World Economic Forum, Privacy International, GSMA, AccessNow, ID2020USAID, and DFID to name a few) have contributed to a growing recognition of the complexity of the topic, and the importance of user centricity and safeguards.

Yet, these efforts will struggle to translate into meaningful action if they do not reflect the actual lived experience and effects of digital identification systems. Although there is no shortage of case studies on national ID, and several end-user perspective studies have been conducted, little to no cross-border analysis of local language research on this topic exists.

Further, while we are beginning to have a picture of the impacts of digital identity systems on individual lives, we know relatively little about the experience of civil society organizations — whether focused on digital, economic, or social rights — in country-level debates on digital identity.

We believe that civil society has a crucial role to play in contributing to the design of Good ID and holding public and private sector stakeholders to account when ID does not meet these standards. In healthy contexts, civil society organizations (CSOs) act as advocates and activists, translating the needs, concerns, and desires of affected populations into policy and design recommendations. Yet, we know too little about who is already doing this important work, what they’ve learned and what obstacles they face, and about who else might join in and how they can help each other.

For these reasons, we are happy to announce the launch of a new project by The Engine Room, supported by our team, alongside the Open Society Foundations and the Yoti Foundation. The effort will involve research and analysis on both the effects of digital identification technologies and the experience of those advocating for better outcomes. A partnership with local researchers in the Global Voices AdVox network will ground the research in lived experience across diverse contexts. Through local focus groups and cross-border analysis and collaboration, the research team will also identify and seed networks of allies for future advocacy and collaboration, and begin a dialogue on ways to raise the effectiveness of CSO contributions to Good ID.

We hope that our investment in this project will help to:

  • Contribute local, diverse, and nuanced perspectives to the sector’s emerging understanding of what constitutes Good ID and what risks must be mitigated;
  • Begin to build an informal network of advocates and activists, both within and across geographies, and within and across issue areas;
  • Introduce new perspectives into the global conversation, providing a platform for participation and the amplification of more diverse and representative voices;
  • Make us (and our peers) better funders, equipped to support the actual, rather than assumed, needs of CSOs working on these important issues.

The team is looking forward to learning from and connecting with others with vast expertise on these topics. Please get in touch if you’d like to collaborate, at [email protected].

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