At the end of 2014, the Open Technology Institute and the Detroit Community Technology Project initiated the Community Technology Partnership and began awarding SEED grants to civil society organizations in different parts of the world. We awarded eleven grants over the past year. We started from the understanding that sustainability is not achieved through financial transfers, but rather through the process of relationship and capacity building. We use the word seed to acknowledge that one year is a short period of time for a seed to flourish and grow; it needs care and infrastructure that lasts well beyond the initial funding period of these projects.
We are now reflecting on this process, documenting our understandings and practices, and reporting lessons learned and methods we believe play a crucial role in supporting civil society groups. In particular, this report aims to: (a) share learnings about how civil society groups are reenvisioning their digital infrastructure to strengthen their communities; and, (b) reflect on establishing a collaborative funding relationship that meets people where they are as peers and fosters exchange.
The goal of the Community Technology Partnership is to support community organizers working on critical digital justice issues. This year’s round of SEED grants focused on groups building autonomous, community-controlled communication infrastructure through a collective process of learning, teaching, and building.
The SEED grants project grew out of the work of the Detroit Community Technology Project and the Open Technology Institute, and reflects the network principals of Allied Media Projects, and the Digital Justice Principles of the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition. These principles guide a process that begins by listening and focuses on common ownership, access, participation, and healthy communities.
In line with these principles, we issued the first call for proposals in October, 2014, with the following goals:
1. Projects with purpose: Strengthen projects that address core community issues using creative tactics, involve a process that builds collective power and skills, incorporate art and media, address systemic issues of ownership and governance, and do not shy away from reimagining infrastructure and the Internet.
2. Build it ourselves ethic: Support solutions designed and initiated by local groups already working on social justice issues in their communities, rather than outsider-initiated or isolated projects. Local communities should initiate and lead projects, rather than outside groups building with or for others.
3. Community organizing and education: Focus on the process of organizing and shared learning, which will be more sustainable and transformative than infrastructure alone. While network infrastructure itself is valuable, we are interested in understanding if a community process that priorities social justice values will result in a healthier digital ecosystem.
4. Community media production: Support a model of infrastructure that values the creation of local media and art, not only the consumption of Internet content. We seek to foster producers rather than consumers, and to do more than distribute of bandwidth.
5. Global interconnections between projects: Build a global network of groups experimenting with community infrastructure that are mutually supportive. We want the grants program to build relationships between groups, rather than create a dependency on us.