Responsible Design for Digital Communities


When COVID19 struck, digital technologies became essential for connecting people and their communities. While such technologies can’t fix the systemic inequality revealed by COVID19, strong connections to communities is a foundation for social justice work. Yet, these tools were never designed for this kind of community building work. Most were built for businesses, not communities. Flaws such as poor security and moderation features created new forms of risk for new kinds of users. 

How could these tools be made better for connection, delight, safety, and collaboration within these communities? Our research examined tensions between the pleasures and risks provided by these tools. We held interviews with 25 artists and DJs, conference organizers, digital experience designers, teachers, mutual aid group organizers, and curators. These conversations focused on their experiences of the tools they used to replace in-person events, for better or worse, and what practices they’d adopted to navigate them. 

The result is a toolkit and website, “Responsible Design for Digital Communities.” It gathers best practices, workflows and tools used around the world by educators, aid groups, designers, artists, and activists. It includes a checklist of issues that organizers, designers, and developers can use to create more inclusive online gatherings and community focused tools. For tech workers, the report can inform the design of practical tools to embed responsibility into existing processes. Alongside education, new models and narratives, we describe organizing mechanisms that can redistribute power and space to connect with like minds. 

The Toolkit, which was produced in collaboration with the Mozilla Foundation and Omidyar Network, won an Anthem Award in the Responsible Technology Research Projects/Publications Awareness Category for Non-Profits. 

You can find the Toolkit here.