At the beginning of the development of VOZ, we took a first version of the application out to Colombia and worked with Social Movements with an interest in environmental and human rights issues to plan out how VOZ should work to best support the work of SMOs around the world. Below follow a synopsis of that time.
Our first few weeks in Colombia were spent attending meetings with grassroots movements, working hard to finish the first version of the app and website, pulling together a large international team to work on translations, testing and development.
In our third week in Colombia we presented the app and website to a Colombian grassroots movement who are currently working to ensure that one of Colombia´s largest gold mining prospects does not contaminate the watershed in their region. The proposed mine is also set to clear huge tracks of land, including areas of outstanding biodiversity, as well as engulf a number of villages and towns.
The organization agreed that mapping the issues was one of the best ways to get people to understand the huge and damaging impact of this proposed mine. After much discussion about the way in which they already operate and communicated with their networks we decided to add some additional features to VOZ. This slowed down production a little, but we hope will give users a better and more secure tool to use.
After this initial great start to the research period we were hit with some significant issues. In the fourth week of being in country we were forced to leave our research location. We received some threatening emails suggesting that our research was not welcome. After taking some security advice from our supporters here in Colombia as well as from the respective embassies of our team we withdrew while a full assessment of the risk was undertaken.
We believe that this only helps to validate the importance of VOZ. Although the source of the emails is still not known, they would indicate that somebody is concerned about the impact that a service such as VOZ will have in highlighting the environmental and human rights abuses that take place at the hands of big corporations, and particularly the mining sector.
This incident also helped to highlight the generosity and kindness of the Colombian’s with whom we have been working. Their support and help was fantastic and enabled us to continue to research and develop VOZ even while we were in hiatus.
In the final weeks of the research, and dispite there being no resolution to the threats we delivered a workshop to members of social movements in Tolima, Colombia. They were the first anywhere in the world to try a live online version of the site, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. VOZ was found to be easy to use, intuitive and a survey conducted at the end of the workshop suggested that people were confident in the security provided by VOZ.
Our research time in Colombia has allowed us to spend time with the kind of social movements who will use VOZ. The research was very revealing, and while the full report from the research will be published in March, we would like to share some of the general findings that have helped influence the development of VOZ.
- Standard social media such as Facebook do not offer the levels of security required to publish sensitive information. Nor do they always reach the desired audience.
- Maps and cartography play a very important role in supporting the work of NGOs and grassroots movements, particularly when bringing legal cases.
- Many grassroots movements are struggling to have their voices heard at a national or international level.
- Sharing knowledge and experience between NGOs and movements (as well as publically) is seen as a high priority.
We are eternally grateful to those who have shared their work, stories, knowledge, experience and sometimes homes with us over the last 3 months and we hope that VOZ will reflect the needs of the people we have met, and many more around the world.