Grantees come together for a healthier public discourse online.


On Wednesday the 18th of September, Civitates gathered in Brussels, all grantees that have received funds for their work on ‘improving the digital information ecosystem in Europe’. Representatives of some of the philanthropic foundations that are part of Civitates took part in the convening as well. It was the first time for the grantees to meet as a group and while learning more about each other’s work, possible ways of collaboration were explored as well. And that happened not only in the scheduled sessions! During breaks the meeting rooms were buzzing from enthusiastic and excited conversations.

Evidence based policy making vs. policy based evidence making
The day started off with short presentations by each project.
Diego Naranjo from European Digital Rights (EDRi) for instance explained the online human rights defense work they do: “As an association of civil and human rights organisations from across Europe, we defend rights and freedoms in the digital environment. We advocate in Brussels at European institutions. In order to do this effectively, we need to have more complaints, more allegations that go to court as we try to have an evident based policy making, because what we usually see around us is policy based evidence making.”

Knowledge based information about digital violations
Another grantee, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) reported how they try to influence policy makers to change policies to create more free societies. Sofija Todorovic: “Our biggest activity within the project funded through Civitates is the monitoring of digital freedom violations. We were missing data: who are violators, how does the state respond, are there any trends visible? So we developed a procedure for the filing of cases and trained people in all countries we work in how to monitor digital violations. This monitoring process will provide us with knowledge based information that we plan to share in a research next year September.”
After all 9 presentations, participants were encouraged to identify other relevant work being done in the field, identify potential partner organisations, or even identify specific ideas for collaboration.

What keeps them awake at night?
A little later that day, after lunch, in a session called ‘Ask me anything’ representatives of both Civitates and its funders were open to answer questions from grantees. An interesting question that was posed: “What keeps the board of your fund awake at night?” received an as interesting answer of one of them: “One of the reasons that our board members do sleep well, is Civitates.” This is because by pooling funds foundations are able to maximize their resources, improve their learnings and mitigate potential risks.

Measuring impact through indicators
After more food for thought at both sides of the room, the group discussed monitoring and evaluation. While the purpose of indicators is to understand effectiveness of individual projects and collectively the effectiveness of the fund, it was emphasised that failure is not a bad thing if you take the right learnings from it. Grantees shouldn’t be scared to be honest about what happened.

Refreshed return home
After a brief wrap up during which as action points and next steps were highlighted, some of the grantees were interviewed by a journalist from the Belgian newspaper La Libre Belgique who expectedly will disseminate some articles in the course of the coming months. With a lot to think about participants went home fulfilled and with renewed energy to push for a healthy digital public sphere in which public and democratic values are safeguarded.