Solve My Problem: a special session format for building coalitions

Since our first summit in 2011, RightsCon’s program has expanded and transformed to respond to the most pressing human rights challenges in the digital age. To keep pace with the needs of our network, Access Now has continued to experiment with and adapt our session formats, and introduce new spaces to find solutions, build partnerships, and achieve tangible outcomes.

In 2019, our team launched Solve My Problem (SMP), a focused, time-intensive format, which enables organizers to meet with participants in a series of closed-door sessions, and form lasting partnerships with key stakeholders. Solve My Problem promotes collaboration and coalition-building as a tool to address a defined problem at the intersection of human rights and technology.

As our team looks to the future of RightsCon, we’re sharing more information about the special formats that exist outside of the Call for Proposals. We see Solve My Problem as a successful first step in a movement-based model, and a unique opportunity to support our community beyond the summit period.

To build on our past success and continue to push the boundaries of the format’s potential, we spoke with past session organizers from 2019-2021 about the SMP experience. Based on the input we received, we are excited to share our learnings and introduce a re-envisioned Solve My Problem for the 11th edition of RightsCon (June 6-10, 2022).

What have we achieved?

In previous iterations, Solve My Problem consisted of a set of two closed-door sessions, scheduled either consecutively or on different days of the summit. Session organizers coordinated participants and created the agenda for both sessions, while our team provided specific resources related to the format, and an optional one-on-one training with our facilitation coach. In 2021, for the first time, we encouraged organizers to host a public session linked to the SMP, in order to increase visibility of the topic at hand and receive community feedback on the proposed plan of action.

To date, RightsCon has hosted 12 SMP sessions on critical issues connected to our program, including: surveillance, Indigeneous data sovereignty, content moderation, internet shutdown and elections, and much more. The format has produced a number of dynamic outcomes and initiatives which are still in motion, such as the #WhyID campaign, the #BanBS campaign, and the infrastructure for a global database to track violations against land and environmental defenders.

You can learn more about past SMP sessions in our 2019, 2020, and 2021 Outcomes Reports.

What did we learn?

In consultation with session organizers, we reflected on the achievements and limitations of the format so far, and identified a number of areas for learning and exploration in our next iteration of Solve My Problem. Our team consolidated the feedback received into five key steps for session success:

  • Establish roles and expectations at the start. Solve My Problem is the means for collective action, not the ends. The format requires continued leadership and coordination, in order to steer participants in the direction of a coalition-based strategy or solution.
  • Map and invite stakeholders by interest and influence. Find participants who are active contributors, supporters, and decision-makers, whose connections and know-how can shape the plan of action around different perspectives. The people in the room should care deeply about the problem and have the capacity to effect real change.
  • Design with participation in mind. Because Solve My Problem is structured as a series, organizers need the skills and training to create cohesion and momentum from one session to the next. Effective facilitation leads to more inclusive and dynamic sessions, where everyone is invested in the goal.
  • Leave space for ideas to “breathe.” It can take time to develop solutions and build trust. Periods of individual reflection and research after a session can allow a strategy to mature and flourish more quickly, and can help participants spot and overcome obstacles sooner in the process.
  • Build a step-by-step plan for post-summit action. RightsCon provides the initial structure for Solve My Problem, but the work shouldn’t end there. To continue to achieve outcomes and convene participants around a strategy, organizers must think one step ahead, and consider the resources, tools, and mechanisms needed to shift from planning to action.

What’s next for Solve My Problem?

In 2022, Solve My Problem will look a little different. Crucially, the format will expand into a series of two to four closed-door sessions, scheduled both before and after the summit. Organizers can customize the number and structure of sessions in order to create a positive environment for participants to advance a strategy or solution.

Organizers will also host one linked public session during the summit, either as a workshop or community lab, in order to share ideas, collect feedback, and reach new stakeholders who can contribute important perspectives to the initiative.

Our team will support the session series from start to finish, and introduce new “cohort-based” trainings for SMP organizers to connect, learn facilitation skills, practice participatory session design, and receive tools and techniques for movement-building.

After the summit, our team will promote Solve My Problem outcomes, and provide channels and opportunities for our community to participate in the projects, coalitions, or campaigns that resulted from RightsCon 2022.

How do I propose a Solve My Problem session?

As in the past, our team will source sessions for RightsCon 2022 through direct community outreach, rather than an open Call for Proposals. To propose a Solve My Problem, please reach out to us at [email protected] by March 9, 2022. Tell us about the problem you hope to solve and the key stakeholders you intend to invite, and our team will set up a preliminary call to discuss whether the format is a fit for your proposed session.

Given the extra resources and time required to successfully coordinate a Solve My Problem, we can only support a limited number of sessions. However, we will carefully evaluate all the proposals received, and make selections based on the suitability of the identified problem and its relation to one or more of our program priorities.

In 2022, we aim to support communities and projects that would benefit from access to our global platform and network of experts. Particular topics of interest include:

  • Regional or local activism in contexts of extreme oppression, censorship, and civil society crackdowns;
  • The intersection of disability rights, technology, and design;
  • Platform accountability and transparency through the lens of labor rights and economic justice;
  • Digital sustainability and the continued impacts of the climate crisis;
  • Emerging technologies that remained undefined or open to interpretation, such as the metaverse and Web3;
  • The use of spyware, biometric technologies, and other surveillance and recognition systems.

As we adapt the Solve My Problem format for this year’s summit, we would like to extend a special thanks to the session organizers who contributed to our consultation process, and who continue to build on the work started at RightsCon. For more updates about the RightsCon program, subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Twitter!

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