From the Millenium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals, the international community has long recognized that there are entire communities being left behind. Women have historically been among these communities, and while we boast decades of initiatives to bridge the gender equality gap, doing so remains alarmingly out of reach.
There is an undeniable gap, which the rapid development and scale-up of technology has but accentuated. The fact of the matter is that we do not know whether the technology being invented is serving the needs of those who have historically been most excluded from the conversation and the creation of tools. The first step to fill this gap is, quite simply, to ask women and girls.
Women at the Table has designed a mixed-methods methodology through which we are charting the needs of women and girls, with a focus in the first pilots on challenges and solutions identified by women community leaders and youth leaders living in informal urban settlements. The questions will be gathered in an original, pre-vetted survey which loosely groups questions around a majority of the SDGs.
The study whose most important component is identifying women community leader solutions to their own well known problems, goes beyond and also seeks the views of three other stakeholder groups on what they perceive to be the needs of women living within informal urban settlements. We engage government officials, technologists, and international development partners, to ask them what they believe women need.
While the views of diverse stakeholders have been documented in various ways throughout the years, what has not been done is to bring these views together. The value in doing so is that we will, for the first time, have the ability to identify potential gaps and mismatches in what is affirmed as women’s needs by the women themselves with the beliefs and actions of outside experts seeking to serve those needs. It follows that, if there is a mismatch between reality and perception, we hold little chance of developing technologies that meet, solve, and eradicate needs and are actually useful in bringing us closer to agency and equality.
The study will be undertaken first in two sites in Latin America: Erizo Juan Santamaria, Costa Rica, an informal settlement on the edge of Alajuela with women and girls leaders in the settlement. This study is led by Professor Jaime Gutiérrez Alfaro at the Laboratorio Experimental, Tecnológico de Costa Rica who has longstanding ties to the settlement.
The second site is in Jalisco, México focussed on a coalition of local women workers in the tech maquila industry. This study is coordinated with our Primary Investigator, Professor Paola Ricaurte Quijano, Tecnológico de Monterrey, and Berkman Klein Center for the Internet & Society Associate, who is associated to the workers. Both universities are positioned to collaborate on and develop prototypes when the stage of co-creation is reached.
Once the needs of the women in the communities are articulated, and their solutions discussed we will embark on activating multidisciplinary teams of local + international social scientists + technologists to work collaboratively, with design justice principles, to co-create tech specifications or policy for the solutions identified by the women + girls of the community.
Here we will translate the findings into actionable models and technical proof of concept.
Our partners in this phase expand to include:
Before a 6 month Prototype Process begins two workshops will be held:
Workshop One, will take place in consultation with the Women & Girl Community Leaders, and the Community, in addition to a Digital Rights + Democracy Group, Civil Society Organizations, Institutions and Municipalities in order to improve the solution, leverage it, and create a larger community stakeholder buy-in. Stakeholders will be identified in conjunction with the community. The workshop and prototype will employ Design Justice Principles and apply the research model to problem solving specifically focused on how tech can measurably, positively impact social problems, improve Quality of Life, and correct for historic exclusion, and address one or more of the SDGs.
Workshop Two, immediately following Workshop One, will take place with the Scientific Advisory Committee on the technical needs, ethical dimensions, challenges and opportunities of the prototype. This workshop will also include additional technical collaborators, and key community stakeholders.
The prototype process will supply proof of concept for the findings explored in the research study. The prototype phase is a first step in knowledge translation and applied research examining how innovative feminist tech research concepts could work to provide benefit in a real world outside of the lab. Therefore during the prototype phase we will vigorously explore partnerships to bring the prototype later to pilot as “a prototype provides convincing evidence of the feasibility of the design (Lenoski et al., 1992; Odom et al., 2016; O’Leary, 1988).”
At the Prototype phase (in anticipation of a Pilot Phase) we extend our Boundary Partners and expand the research network in real world alliances that are multi-disciplinary, multi-sectoral, multi-stakeholder, which will result in novel collaborative partnerships for all concerned.
This phase will also serve as a capacity-building for the Women and Girl Community Leaders who will continue to lead, own, design, maintain their solution to their problem as new and completely unique skill sets are gained. Increased influence and new decision-making platforms are foreseen for the women as they turn their ideas and expertise and action.
Replication & Scale
Foreseen across three additional locations to scale to four different regions: West Africa, Middle East Northern Africa, and Asia Pacific. The precise locations will be determined with partners. Standardized and previously vetted questionnaires will be administered to the interviewees across all sites, allowing for comparison of findings.
Through this work we hope to create a proactive agenda across the Global South to create the technology that ensures no one is left behind, and that we all thrive. Research agendas conceived during a time of unparalleled acceleration leverage technology’s full power to positively transform lives at scale. Feminist AI that embraces principles of dismantling bias, intersectionality, accountability, and inclusive, responsible, transparent use of power in social systems and algorithms are brought to bear in research designed to understand complex, multidimensional inequality and exclusion systems, and is designed to be actionable and correct for bias - not only mitigate historic exclusion.