Mid-point EDRi strategy review: impact and adjustments in a changing field
In April 2020, during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic in Europe, EDRi adopted its first network multi-annual strategy for the years 2020-2024. At the mid-term of the strategy implementation, what have we learned?
In April 2020, during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic in Europe, EDRi adopted its first network multi-annual strategy for the years 2020-2024. EDRi intended its strategy to be a collective compass, providing a sense of direction to a multitude of actors that come under one umbrella as a community of practice but would need the space to carry on with their work in their context. The multiplicity of visions and values is still present at mid-point and continues to be both a strength and a challenge.
At the mid-term of the strategy implementation, what have we learned?
The process leading to a mid-term review
This year, at the mid-point of the EDRi’s 2020-2024 multi-annual strategy, EDRi commissioned an external evaluation of the strategy to Organisation Development Support (ODS). The evaluation builds on internal learning and evaluation findings and interviews with EDRi members and externals. At the EDRi General Assembly in May 2022, EDRi members also held a strategic workshop to reflect on EDRi’s roles in a changing ecosystem.
The findings from both the evaluation and the GA workshop were completed by desk research and informed a SWOT analysis, which surfaced “highlights” that can impact EDRi’s strategy implementation for 2023, 2024 and potentially beyond. In September 2022, we organised workshops with EDRi members and observers to reflect on these highlights and priorities for the second half of this strategic cycle.
How has the strategy fared so far?
The external evaluation has found that EDRi’s four objectives are interdependent. In particular, the second objective on social mobilisation has had a great impact on the sustainability of other wins and achievements. The evaluation points out a high level of effectiveness:
“The work done in advocacy, the know-how, the lobby, the reputation, the expertise, the quality of the analysis shared, the flags set, and the enormous but invisible work done “behind the scenes” in order to sensitise and enlist policymakers in EDRi’s cause is remarkable”.
The evaluation notes that “the major challenge ahead seems to be how to be more effective in mobilising people”, and remarks efforts to test and pilot ways and tools as a good step forward. Effectiveness in countering the abuse of dominant actors is “quite constrained by the enormous difference in capacities between civil society organisations (CSOs) and these dominant actors.”
In terms of impact, EDRi members have reported a collective contribution to the following positive outcomes:
- Adoption of a fundamental-rights based Digital Services Act (DSA), containing new landmark protections and marking a narrative shift in reining the surveillance advertising model online;
- Important wins as part of the Digital Markets Act (DMA) on regulating anti-competitive practices by Big Tech companies;
- National wins and European political majority to outlaw biometric mass surveillance as part of the Reclaim Your Face campaign;
- Gained traction on General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) enforcement issues through open letters, political and technical discussions;
- Massive shift in approach to artificial intelligence (AI) uses and the consideration of prohibitions of most harmful uses and other human rights safeguards, led by broad civil society coalition;
- High-level, diversified press coverage (+34% increase for the period 2020- 2021, +100% increase for the period 2021- October 2022, including 23% of mentions in high-priority media, and more mentions in non-English outlets); re-vamped EDRi-gram, better branding;
- Evidence-based advocacy based on research (De-biasing AI report, Border tech report, biometric surveillance state of play, report on GDPR enforcement by Access Now to name a few);
- Leading work on the Child Sexual Abuse Regulation, raising attention to attacks on encryption;
- More secure and diversified funding;
- Renewed efforts to convene in the digital rights space and beyond, co-lead the collective design of a decolonising programme for the field with the Digital Freedom Fund (DFF).
An adaptive strategy
The fast and constantly changing environment in which EDRi operates calls for an adaptive strategy. This year’s workshops and landscape scanning have shown that EDRi’s strategic objectives remain very much valid and that some small refinements are needed for the remainder of the strategy implementation period.
In particular, moving forward, EDRi will:
- account for a new geo-political order and increasing securitisation. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has led to the EU’s ‘geo-political awakening’, amid increased securitisation and the growth of the security industrial complex (police and border tech, spyware). Digital technologies contribute to reinforcing tensions, because of the dependence on rare raw materials and the export of surveillance technology and extractivist approaches deepening crises.
- turn collective efforts towards enforcement of digital rights laws such as the GDPR, the DSA, and the DMA. This can be done through coordinated collective actions, cooperation on litigation and links with advocacy towards the European Commission. Reinforcing the EDRi office coordination capacities and supporting EDRi members’ expertise would contribute to sustaining EU legislative wins also in their implementation phase.
- promote privacy-enhancing and fair alternative models and technologies through joint research to support collective advocacy, public mobilisation and communication strategies.
- advance environmental sustainability, debunking deeply-rooted EU assumptions on environmental techno-solutionism or ‘twinning the digital and green transitions’, building relationships and learning from environmental and climate justice organisations/movements and organisations protecting climate defenders.
- expand our coalition building and convening capacity with groups and organisations new to the digital rights field, with organisations working in adjacent fields (migration, policing, health, media freedom, democracy, unions) and with organisations representing people bearing the brunt of digital rights violations. This would require efforts to break technical language barriers and to address the healthy tensions in the EDRi network on how to work at the intersection with other movements. EDRi members also need more clarity and engagement with the EDRi/DFF decolonising the digital rights field process, as well as a clear coalition and partnership process and strategy.
- support members. It would be important to develop a strategic approach to sustainable and strategic membership growth as well as a sub-granting governance model.
Foundational ground for the next strategy cycle
As EDRi will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2023, we face a ‘tsunami’ of legislative files and the spread of digitalisation. EDRi must better prioritise its collective efforts to remain impactful. This comes in the context of increased corporate lobbying from Big Tech in Brussels, with a 2021 combined spending of 21 million euros.
Efforts to continue (de)prioritisation in communication with members to better complement each other. Landscape analysis and strategic adjustments can reinforce a proactive and long-term approach to stay future-oriented and define the change we would like to see happening during the next strategy cycle.
This strategic review has been positive to learn how EDRi is providing and can continue to provide value and deep expertise to the understanding of technologies’ impact on people, democracies and the planet.