DHRLab Achievements 2020

Katharina Bauch Dec. 21, 2020

Looking back on the past 12 months, many unexpected events shook societies all over the world and disrupted the way we live and work in 2020. But these major changes allowed progress to happen at a fast pace. Especially digitalisation got another push and we see it penetrate the human rights sector more than ever before.


The Digital Human Rights Lab and all community members adapted quickly to the new normal and the community grew together more tightly. What else did we achieve in this challenging year?
Linda Walter from Future Challenges, Isabel Gahren from betterplace lab and Phillip Ayazika from Pollicy gave us an insight in the DHRLab's achievements.

What has happened in the DHRL since the project kick-off? What are the most important milestones for you so far?

Linda: A lot! First and foremost, 5 CoPs were formed and under their umbrella numerous projects and working groups started to implement great ideas! Since the launch of the website these activities as well as the DHRLab as a whole has a virtual home visible to everyone. Furthermore, several training sessions were offered to the community from design thinking, to monitoring and evaluation to grant writing. The most important milestones were 1) the kick-offs of the different projects - this is where the community started to interact, train and learn from each other 2) the launch of the website - because it made the DHRLab visible and graspable to the community itself as well as the public as a whole.

Isabel: As Linda has mentioned already, a lot of project activities started. But prior to this, we made an extensive stakeholder mapping, assessed and analysed their needs in order to develop the correct responses, e.g. training, networking among the community but also outside of the Human Rights sphere, and funding.

My personal milestone that I was very much looking forward to, is the start of the Innovation Program. This is a program tailored to foster excellent ideas that tackle Human Rights challenges with digital and innovative solutions. The winning teams will receive funding and will be supported throughout the journey by the mentorship program. We have just launched the application process and have already received a lot of exciting proposals. In the next phase the selected teams will develop their ideas further in a Design Thinking phase, developed and implemented by our partner Start Hub Africa, who have a ton of experience in developing and implementing such programs in East Africa.

Phillip: The community has since grown from just 3 CoPs at the kick-off event to 5 CoPs now, 3 working groups have come on board and in all totality 8 solid projects are being implemented under the Community of Practice (CoP) structure.

Most important milestone, we kicked off with the implementation of projects at the start of the lockdown, having project leads revising their implementation plans to virtually so as to march the changing landscape of doing work and being able to implement these projects so well amidst challenges brought about by COVID. We also carried a second needs assessment among up-country organisations to allow us incorporate and onboard more organisations from outside Kampala into theDigital Human Rights Lab.

We sent out another call for innovative ideas to safeguard human rights defenders during COVID and received amazing ideas which were also considered to respond to human rights challenges as brought about by the COVID19 pandemic

How has COVID changed the work/collaboration in the DHRL / (how) has it affected the community building?

Phillip: COVID greatly affected collaboration within the DHRL, because with the lockdown several CoPs could no longer stage physical meetings, it also affected the implementation of the various projects .

However on the other hand, the COVID situation helped re-affirm to the various human rights actors both within and outside of the lab the need to adopt the use of digital tools in their work. And to support this, the DHRL and Pollicy rolled out the “Digital Resilience” program which was a set of basic training to support human rights defenders to adopt remote working.

Even amidst the lockdown, when community members couldn’t hold any physical meetings, they have grown closer, carrying out several activities online and adapting well to the situation

Isabel: We are now in the middle of our project, and just when we were about to kick start the Communities of Practices and the respective projects within them at the Data Fest, hosted by our project partner Pollicy, in Kampala, Covid-19 and the subsequent lock down forced us all to pause, rewind and unwind again, this time taking all the activities to a purely digital level.

This was challenging for some of our organisations we worked with, since most of them were also confronted with home office and being surrounded by family members while being in a meeting. Poorer bandwidth at home instead of the more equipped office infrastructure made some meetings and work relations difficult. Of course, the DHRL project team couldn’t travel anymore to Uganda. We kicked off our CoP projects virtually, as well as celebrating the launch of our website virtually with our affiliated organisations, some of them joining us via smartphone out of a bus. That sudden influx of personal life certainly made some bonds stronger. But it also lead to less community involvement and meet ups within the different community members and the CoPs, since meeting in person was mostly impossible and, as we also all know from how Covid-19 has affected our work-life-balance, suddenly the workload increased, while the amount of hours we could actually work decreased. That certainly had a huge impact on the Community Building, since everyone had to prioritise financed activities within the projects facilitated by the DHRL before other community engagements.

But on the plus side: we hired two more engagement leads, Charity and Daniel, to support the Community Manager Phillip, and we think the three have done excellent work keeping our local community together. We couldn’t have done it without them.

Linda: COVID had severe consequences for our work. On the one hand it forced us and the community to revise numerous planned events and offline activities which are crucial for community building (especially at an early stage of a project). We also had to adapt the way we work, commission and interact with different stakeholders. On the other hand it worked as an amplifier for one of the main goals of the DHRLab - making effective use of digital tools for human rights work. Due to the lockdown numerous activities took place online and innovative ways for collaboration and training were introduced.