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Memo from Quito: Understanding the Needs of Ecuador’s Documenter Communities

Ecuadorian human rights defenders face increasing threats for their work combatting abuses by mining operations. Our recent needs assessment with the Latin American Association for Alternative Development (ALDEA) offers insight into the realities, challenges, and opportunities that these human rights defenders in Ecuador face while documenting and archiving evidence of injustice.

Clashes over Indigenous people’s rights in Ecuador have shaped the political landscape for years. Despite Ecuadorians’ advocacy for both the recognition of Indigenous rights and Indigenous agency across the country, mining in some rural villages continues to compromise the communities’ health and safety.

This mining activity not only threatens to destroy ancestral lands, but leads to severe degradation of the local ecosystems, releasing toxic metals and chemicals into the local environment. This toxicity contaminates drinking water and threatens the life of children and adults. The Latin American Association for Alternative Development (ALDEA) – a Quito-based organization supporting the construction of an inclusive, equitable and sustainable society – is very active in the effort to document these abuses and advocate for change.

OpenArchive and ALDEA have launched the first phase of research to map the needs, risks, and threats of the Ecuadorian communities who are recording, receiving, and amplifying evidence of these violations against Indigenous communities. All of the respondents are based in Ecuador, with the majority concentrated in Quito and Esmeraldas.

In June 2023, OpenArchive and ALDEA jointly circulated a needs assessment survey that yielded insightful information about the challenges and realities shaping the experiences of those working within the Ecuadorian community to create this archive.

Opportunities for Support

The survey respondents identified four primary gaps in resources and capacities that shape their everyday workflow: limited technical resources and training opportunities, a lack of funding and other resources, disorganized and inaccessible archives and files, and complicated bureaucracy.

Funding, resource allocation, technical training, archival support to manage and organize databases, and external advocacy to government agencies could all play a meaningful role in improving the working experience for Ecuadorian human rights defenders. None of the survey participants are currently using encrypted evidence-sharing apps within their workflows, indicating that the integration of these tools into the community may have notable impact on their safety and improved preservation workflows.

OpenArchive remains committed to supporting our Ecuadorian counterparts in facilitating trainings on: best archival practices, technical skills, security, and expanding organizational capacity through use of the Save app.

“In recent years, Ecuador has witnessed a concerning increase in political violence and attacks on human rights defenders. This highlights the crucial need to protect those documenting evidence of citizens' rights violations. Many of these risks can be mitigated by equipping communities with the right secure documentation tools to enhance their efforts to combat human rights abuses.” said David Aragort, OpenArchive’s Latin America DAC Manager.


ALDEA and OpenArchive received 23 responses to the needs assessment.

OpenArchive approached the survey analysis by grouping participants by role. This method is rooted in findings from previous needs assessments through which OpenArchive identified three key roles within communities: documenter (one who records and documents evidence first-hand), receiver (one who oversees and manages the reception, organization, and potential distribution of media/data), and dual-role (one who plays both a documenting and receiving role in their work).

Threat Landscape and Challenges

Physical and digital threats characterize the risk landscape for the survey respondents. Documenters identify their primary risks as threats of arrest from authorities, physical threats from miners and others, environmental threats (such as diseases and animals like snakes and jaguars), intimidation from corporate leadership at mining companies, Internet outages, and potential loss or confiscation of technology and other equipment. Receivers identify their primary risks as attempted bribery, digital threats, surveillance, censorship, Internet outages, and threats of arrest. Participants in a dual-role named all the threats listed above as well as facing criminalization of their work.

Connectivity and Technical Constraints

A significant digital divide exists in Ecuador between connectivity in urban areas and inconsistent connectivity in some Indigenous territories. This imbalance has meaningful implications on access to information, digital security, and cultural preservation. Cellular coverage in many Indigenous regions is inconsistent and unstable, often incentivizing people to connect through WiFi, which is also limited. The National Institute of Statistics and Census in Ecuador reported that 61.7% of households in urban areas have a WiFi connection, while 34.7% of households in rural areas have WiFi access.


Many of the documenters connect to the Internet via WiFi instead of cellular data because there are large gaps in cellular coverage in the regions in which they are doing their documentation work. For placing calls or making contact while in transit in these areas, some use a satellite connection. However, those documenters that work primarily in larger cities often use data because it offers more flexibility for mobility within regions with better coverage.


The receivers expressed a strong preference for WiFi usage. Many named the security and control benefits that WiFi offers them in their work and also described WiFi costs as being lower and more accessible than most cellular data plans.


Those in a dual-role echoed the sentiments of the documenter community, expressing a preference for connecting to the Internet via WiFi while working in Indigenous territories and then connecting via cellular data in larger cities.

Another key finding was that, on average, survey participants assessed their technical capacity to be 2.4 on a scale of 1 to 5. This indicates that there is space for educational and outreach efforts to strengthen the community’s technical capabilities.

User Personas

OpenArchive is leveraging the findings from this survey to map ALDEA’s needs and activities in order to build more responsive tools. This is largely conducted through user persona building and other research methods outlined in the human-rights-centered-design (HRCD) methodology, which allows us to discover and gain deeper insight into the structural harms that the ALDEA and its partners’ experience.

User personas are modeled after a particular individual or role, but also incorporate fictional aspects that researchers use to create archetypes that describe the behavior patterns, goals, skills, attitudes, and background information, as well as the environment in which the role operates. This HRCD-focused strategy is an intersectional, safe, and secure approach to developing a robust archetype that represents key characteristics relevant to the role.

Read about the following user personas here: Juanita, Miguel, and Jaime.