Twitter logo
Mastodon logo
Instagram logo
Github logo

Archiving Forward Part 2 - Mapping Our Decentralized Ecosystem

How we build our organizational infrastructure for action

“Power to the people” is as much an organizational strategy as it is a rallying cry.

From the post-coup resistance in Myanmar, to anti-fascist movements in North America and Europe, the age of the internet and digital literacy among the masses drives home a more radical form of people power.

We know that anyone with a smartphone can expose global injustice, but the irreplaceable moments we capture on our phones are fragile and ephemeral. Oftentimes, the only other versions of this evidentiary media reside on social media platforms that — while extremely effective in amplifying social causes and primary accounts of injustice — can chill free speech through content takedowns, government censorship, and privacy breaches. Social media also does not provide sufficient privacy protections or archival preservation of this irreplaceable media.

That’s why archival human rights defenders like ourselves are embracing more decentralized organizational models and technologies to ensure redundancy and accessibility.

This second part of our three-part “Archiving Forward” series will talk about our decentralized ecosystem, and how community organizations, tech developers, and everyday civilians each play a critical role in preserving, amplifying, and securely routing significant records of social movements, state violence, and human rights atrocities.

The tech industry's exploitation of its “users'" content, data, and privacy signals the need for an accessible public trust, outside the corporate walled gardens currently dominating the online media ecosystem. Archiving Forward refers to a bottom-up framework that brings autonomy back to the capturer.

From the decentralized archivists who collect evidence of human rights atrocities to the collaborators and volunteers who build and contribute to our tools, to the stewards who amplify our work, we all have a hand in preserving truth to power.

Decentralized Archivists

We aren’t interested in creating a centralized archive at OpenArchive. Instead, we are cultivating decentralized, redundant, secure, robust, verifiable, and accessible archives that center the communities we work with.

We use a human rights centered co-research and design process to work with communities worldwide, which we refer to as Decentralized Archivist Communities (DACs). These DACs are made up of citizen journalists, legal observers, historians, and civilian eyewitnesses who capture and store critical evidence of war crimes, far-right militia activities, police violence, and other human rights abuses. This evidence is often stored on the most fragile devices they own – their phones.

There are countless tools and resources for the creation and capture of digital media. We are in a moment where we need to demystify the preservation of this content. That’s why we are training communities in Ukraine, Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Latin America, and the U.S. on how to use our tools and safeguard their mobile media.

For example in Ukraine, we already have folks on the ground documenting Russian war crimes and creating robust, verifiable, and accessible archives to bring accountability and justice. We are partnering with the [Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group KHPG) to facilitate trainings on best practices for archiving and digital security in active war zones. In Philadelphia, PA, and Portland, OR, we are helping communities preserve evidence of social injustice, particularly violence from police and far-right militias.

OpenArchive and these DACs are implementing a robust, redundant, and interoperable archiving workflow. We are working with a number of communities that are already using our tools to create their own archives. Our goal is to engage more deeply with them by conducting collaborative research, educational outreach, and digital security trainings.

Our Partners

The role that individuals, small community organizations, and International NGOs play to create impactful archives cannot be overstated. We saw this in the Democratic Republic of Congo, when in 2018, two commanders of the rebel militia, Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda received life sentences for murder and torture after video evidence was used to expose their crimes against humanity.

Efforts to collect, archive, and verify this crucial evidentiary media were the result of a close collaboration between both individuals and NGOs like TRIAL International, WITNESS, and eyeWitness to Atrocities.

The scope of our work cannot be achieved without mission-aligned partner organizations that share our goals to achieve a more just, equitable, and sustainable media ecosystem where the people's history is the primary history.

Our collaboration with Guardian Project enabled us to launch our Save (Share, Archive, Verify, Encrypt) app. The partnership provided us with the technologists and usability expertise we needed to make Save an easy-to-use, secure archiving tool that empowers users to circumvent threats to free speech such as device confiscation, network blocking, doxxing, surveillance, and more.

Secure, interoperable, and privacy-minded tools are often inaccessible and unusable for small community organizations and everyday civilians. That’s where larger, well-resourced organizations or “stewards” come into play. Through our decentralized partnerships, we are leveraging our expertise and resources to demystify and adjust our tools and be more responsive to the communities they serve. Because Save is open source, others can adapt the app to fit their needs.

Over the past decade, we’ve conducted co-research with diverse communities worldwide to help us identify what critical features to add to our Save app. This research helped us to ensure the app is tailored to the communities who need it most. We intentionally developed Save as an open source application so that it can be modified by anyone to better adapt the features to their needs.

Once we realized there was a need for Save within larger human rights NGOs, we partnered with Human Rights Watch to scope community needs, create personas, and adapt it for them, and ideally, other larger NGOs with similar needs. Save provides HRW with fully encrypted and self-hosted file transfer mapped to their archive for their international team. Partners like HRW act as our steward by using our tools and amplifying our guides and research with their communities, as well as sustaining the development of our work. Through collaboration, they help us adapt the tool and sustain our development work over time.

Archival institutions like the Internet Archive provide free access to decades of digitized historical records. Our Save app utilizes the Internet Archive as an optional public back-end in addition to connecting to private, secure, open-source servers so people have more control over who has access to their media collections.

OpenArchive also unites the work of Creative Commons, Tor, and distributed secure servers like Nextcloud to offer at-risk groups more agency over their historical record by affording them secure transit, media authentication, pseudonymity, licensing controls, and the ability to choose where and how the media will be stored.

Volunteers and In-Kind Support

Volunteers and organizations that provide in-kind support are invaluable to the OpenArchive ecosystem. Global programs and educational institutions like Internews’ BASICS program , Outreachy, and the UC Berkeley School of Information provide us paid contractors who specialize in programming, research, user experience, documentation, graphic design, data science, marketing, and user advocacy.

Localization Lab fills a critical role to help us translate and localize our research, guides and technology to make it more accessible for a global user base.

Our volunteer-run advisory board is also instrumental in supporting our organization’s fundraising, communications and programmatic strategy.

If you are passionate about helping people create secure, robust, personal archives to preserve mobile media, especially media made by historically marginalized communities, or are just interested in making secure archiving tools more usable, send us an email at info[at]