Digital Activism- Overcome Fear and Increase Participation

As 2010 ended, MRCF spent a few days reflecting on our newest training programme- Digital Activism. This is the first of three posts in a blog series from MRCF about our Digital Activism Project.

We will, of course, be conducting a full evaluation (with before and after surveys, participant interviews, three month follow-up surveys) but we wanted to describe our initial findings after our second cohort of trainees. These findings are based on the before and after surveys and participant interviews for MRCF’s Digital Activism Training Course that ran from October-November 2010.

I encourage you to read my previous post about digital activism which lays out why MRCF thinks digital activism is important for migrants and refugees. This recent evaluation revealed even more reasons why digital activism is vital for our communities. The need and impact of MRCF’s Digital Activism Project

The Need

Overwhelming Fear- The greatest need that the course addressed was an overwhelming fear that leads to paralysis. Participants reported fear of general technology, fear of losing information, fear of making a mistake, and fear of being vulnerable to hacking, phishing, and other security issues.

Lack of Trusted Source- Participants felt that there was an abundance of information about technology but they felt ill equipped to know which source to trust.

Lack of Safe Space- Individuals who completed the course reported the importance of feeling that the course and MRCF were a special, safe space for migrants and refugees. Participants felt more comfortable discussing issues related to their immigration status, family and religious issues in relation to the Internet and technology.

The Impact

Reduced Fear- Before the course, participants said their biggest barrier was that they didn’t know how to do something and they were concerned with privacy. After the course, their biggest barrier was that they didn’t have enough time. This shift away from fear and concern with privacy shows how the course overcame this as a barrier. Much of this came from MRCF building relationships with the participants as a trusted source of information and a safe place to learn.

Increased Participation- Individuals who completed the course increased their time online by an average of about one hour per day. Every participant expanded the way they use the Internet with the greatest increase being in writing blogs, using social networks, reading blogs, and commenting on news.

Identified Lack of Quality Infrastructure- Some individuals identified during the course that although they had a basic computer and Internet connection, neither were of high enough quality to participate in all of the course work. This is because digital activism often requires heavy programs (video or photo editing software) or high bandwidth to load complicated websites. This points to an emerging gap- not between those with or without access- but rather between those with slow computer and Internet access and those with high speed connections.

At its heart, digital activism is about combating exclusion and increasing participation. For many migrants and refugees, this starts with overcoming their initial fear. MRCF piloted this course to start addressing that fear. Our model included 7 weeks of intensive contact and work in order to 1) establish new habits of interacting and working online and 2) solidify relationships and trust among participants and with MRCF.

While the long term impact can’t be measured until later this year, MRCF is optimistic with these findings and will continue improving our trainings. Tomorrow, one of the participants from the course will blog about their experiences as a digital activist and Monday we will discuss how our findings can be applied to the sector.

Finally, we are looking forward to the Netroots UK conference this weekend. Many of our digital activists will be there and I will be a guest panellist in one of the workshops. Hope you can make it!

If you or anyone you work with are interested in attending MRCF’s next Digital Activism course, please contact Nick Micinski for additional information ( This seven week training course takes place in London and is free. The deadline for application is January 27th.

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