July 01, 2024

By Brandi Geurkink

The inaugural Independent Tech Researchers’ Summit highlighted the important role that independent researchers play in providing the public, and policymakers, with trustworthy information about the impacts that technology is having on our societies. Our goal was to identify challenges and gaps that the community faces, and to develop strategies for enhancing our collective impact.

A large focus of this event was also about creating space for independent researchers in our community to get to know one another better and to practice being in community, so that we’re better equipped to show up for each other when we face challenges and stand as a united force out in the world.

“An insanely valuable eight hours with the most awesome tech researchers in the world, sharing knowledge with them and organizing as a community!”

To meet this ambition, we kicked off the Summit with space for informal 1:1 conversations between researchers, and spotlight sessions that highlighted projects and campaigns from within the Coalition. The cornerstone of the Summit was a series of workshops that were designed by and for researchers in our community to strategise together on policy and advocacy issues,  research tools and methods, and infrastructure needs of the community, and new strategies for mutual defense of researchers.

Three key themes emerged over the course of our two-day Summit about what the independent research community needs to meet the moment that we find ourselves in.

We need networked activism 

Many independent researchers in our community are facing similar occupational risks and challenges: from accessing data and information needed to carry out research to increases in lawsuits and harassment from research subjects. CITR is well suited to serve as the connective tissue between researchers to increase our collective influence in shaping policy effectively, and to coordinate necessary support for researchers who face attacks.

Independent researchers need networks with clear protocols and infrastructure for developing joint calls to action, whether in service of changing laws and regulations to support the field better, or supporting researchers in dealing with specific problems and challenges that we face. This could take the shape of skills exchanges (which we prototyped during the Summit), shared tools and guidelines for legal challenges, and the development of Coalition campaigns to align on a shared set of policy changes. 

We need interdisciplinary conveners 

There are too few spaces for academics, nonprofit researchers, journalists, and non-affiliated researchers to come together to discuss shared barriers and challenges facing the field writ large—and to work together toward solutions. Networks like CITR should continue to bring interdisciplinary groups together to learn from each other and collaborate across sectors—whether face-to-face, online, or via online platforms like the CITR Discourse community. Independent researchers need scaffolding to support the development of working groups around certain subtopics—such as independent AI research and auditing, or the development of independent infrastructure to support independent technology research. Through convenings like the Summit and related CITR meet-ups, we see the opportunity to build deeper solidarity between researchers, develop shared campaigns, and create intersections between independent researchers working in different parts of the world. to

We need to increase our public presence with decision-makers

Many independent researchers face pressure to be multidisciplinary, especially to meet the sector’s evolving needs in communications and rapid responses to pressing issues. Researchers have varying levels of experience and confidence in communicating their work in a way that reaches journalists and policymakers. By facilitating resources and opportunity sharing within networks of researchers, we can enable swift collaboration on urgent issues. By offering a centralized communications platform to connect researchers with journalists, litigators, and policymakers, we can significantly increase the impact of our members’ work among decision-makers.

The process of raising up and sharing needs, and resources, and in community is important. We are grateful for our time together at the summit, which provided time and space for independent researchers to raise up everyday issues they face in their work, and fostered deeper connections and enthusiasm between CITR members for developing collective support and strategies for improving the field.

“It was wonderful to break out of our siloes and have important conversations that bridge academic, civil society, and advocacy research. We are tackling some of the thorniest issues of our time, and we need to collaborate across disciplines more if we want to drive important impact.”

Now, the CITR team will be sitting down together over the next few weeks to take stock of the ideas we generated together at the Summit and think through ongoing processes and convenings to facilitate deeper collaboration between community members on the key issues that we heard.

If you didn’t manage to join us at the Summit, we invite you to share feedback with us on what you’ve read here, or if you want to contribute or learn more – please reach out to us at info@independenttechresearch.org.