More and more countries are adopting legislation that threatens human rights online. The Catalysts for Collaboration website encourages internet activists to collaborate across disciplinary silos to more effectively push back against this trend using strategic litigation.
The Catalysts for Collaboration seek to encourage those who work for a free and open internet to collaborate across disciplinary silos in litigation.
But why bother collaborating? When you collaborate, you are likely to be more effective, more creative and more resilient. In collaborative litigation, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and collaborators who work together on a case can help further the bigger cause of protecting and promoting the free flow of information online.
The Catalysts for Collaboration seek to encourage internet activists to collaborate across disciplinary silos to more effectively push back against limitations to a free and open internet.
The 12 Catalysts presented here assist in thinking through collaborative campaigns and including strategic litigation as one of the tools employed. For background on why collaboration can make campaigns more effective, creative and resilient, see the Why collaborate section. For real life examples and lessons learned from collaboration around strategic litigation, visit the Case studies section.
How do collaborative campaigns work in practice in the field of human rights, both in the digital sphere and beyond? What lessons can we learn from the experience of others? Explore the case studies to see how the Catalysts can be applied in real life situations.
The “Building Better Bridges for an Open Internet” project was initiated by Nani Jansen Reventlow in 2016 when she was a Berkman Klein fellow with the aim of finding ways of facilitating better cross-disciplinary collaboration to keep the internet open and free, using litigation more effectively as one of the “tools in the toolbox”.
Litigation is an effective tool that can assist in removing restrictions on the free flow of information online in countries with repressive internet regimes. Yet, it is often under-utilized because of a lack of effective collaboration between different actors: lawyers, activists, academics and technical experts. Even when collaboration would seem obvious and mutually beneficial, these different actors tend to operate in silos, both within their disciplines and geographically. Where there is an interest and willingness to jointly tackle these challenges, people hesitate because they do not know where to start.
During the first stage of the project, a total of 43 interviewees from Europe, South America, Africa, Asia and North America shared their experiences with collaboration in strategic litigation. The picture that emerged from these interviews revealed a common appreciation of the value of collaboration, but a divergence in the application of this principle. Two basic scenarios emerged: actors whose organizations had fully integrated a multi-disciplinary approach representing different areas of expertise (law, tech, advocacy) under one roof, and those who did not. For this second category, taking a consistent collaborative approach to strategic cases was a challenge.
In April 2017, the Berkman Klein Center invited 15 technologists, academics, lawyers, and activists for a workshop dedicated to formulating a set of inspiring best practices for litigators, activists, technologists and academics with the aim of encouraging them to consider collaborative strategic litigation as a component of their digital rights campaigns. Participants arrived from five different global jurisdictions, and their experience represented both integrated organizations — where seamless coordination amongst in-house experts was routine — and working in ad hoc efforts where collaboration was less structured or complete.
Over the course of two days, this group of experts co-wrote a comprehensive set of best practices using the “book sprints method”, which facilitates collaborative writing. This set of best practices led to the Catalysts for Collaboration presented on this website. Each Catalyst seeks to motivate actors to engage with each other and guide the creation of a well-rounded, collaborative strategy.
Alongside the Catalysts, a set of case studies is presented, which chronicle the strategic litigation campaigns of different legal cases from around the world. The case studies demonstrate how best practices have been operationalized to catalyze collaboration in real-world situations. Cross-references are made between the Catalysts and relevant case studies.
In 2020, with the support of the Foundation for Democracy and Media, the website underwent modernisation, was translated into French, Spanish, and Russian, and new case studies were added.
This project would not have been possible without the valuable support and contributions of the following people.
Amy Aixi Zhang, who drafted the original case studies and did invaluable project coordination work throughout.
Shreya Tewari, who drafted the additional 2020 case studies.
The experts who participated in the 2017 workshop: Chinmayi Arun of the National Law University Delhi, Ellery Biddle of Global Voices, Arturo J. Carrillo of George Washington University Law School, David Greene of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Apar Gupta of the Internet Freedom Foundation, Felipe Heusser of Ciudadano Inteligente, Daniel Kahn Gillmor of the ACLU, Ashnah Kalemera of CIPESA, Mason Kortz of the Harvard Law School Cyberlaw Clinic, Vivek Krishnamurthy of Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic, Jonathan McCully of the Media Legal Defence Initiative, Peter Micek of Access Now, Paola Villarreal of the ACLU, and Pablo Viollier of Derechos Digitales.
The Foundation for Democracy and Media, the Internet Policy Observatory, and Carey Andersen, Daniel Oyolu, Christopher Bavitz and Jon Murley of the Berkman Klein Center for making the workshop possible. The Foundation for Democracy and Media also made the addition of new case studies, translation, and upgrade of the website possible in 2020.
Mason Kortz, who helped the Catalysts reach their final version after the workshop and assisted in the finalization of the case studies.
Tiffany Lin, who designed and built the original website.
Andreas Reventlow, who modernized the website in 2020.
All the lawyers, activists, technologists and academics who generously shared their insights and expertise during the interviews.
All the Berkman Klein Center fellows, affiliates and others who provided input on the project at various stages.
Global Voices Lingua, for translating the website content into French, Spanish and Russian.
Cannelle Lavite, Laura Duarte, and Anna Koppel who ensured the quality of the new language versions of the website.