Leave Your Potatoes At Home, Intro

Or ‘how to work with marginalised communities on using data and technology in advocacy’

By Maya Ganesh, Beatrice Martini and Dirk Slater.

You are welcome anytime, you’re not like others who come with their own bag of potatoes

It’s with these words that the chair of Women’s Network for Unity (WNU), a sex worker collective based in Phnom Penh, thanked us for approaching our work with them with no assumptions or preconceived agenda, but eager to listen and develop our collaboration together.

Mutual trust and respect, real commitment to collaboration and flexibility are all essential elements to be responsibly equipped to work with a marginalised community. That’s why we decided to write about our experience as potato-less tech capacity builders, as we think it could greatly help other practitioners planning to collaborate with groups struggling to get their rights honoured and their voices heard.


This series of posts is a set of reflections and learnings from a two year ‘small data’ project that Tactical Technology Collective (hereinafter reffered to as Tactical Tech) conducted from 2010 to 2012 with Women’s Network for Unity (WNU). At the time of our project, WNU’s objective was to collect evidence to highlight the negative impact of the anti-trafficking law on sex-workers and to show how the police were misusing the powers this law gives them for detention and arrest.

The project was a significant step in implementing and learning from ground-up evidence-based advocacy.  In terms of capacity building of a marginalised community to use data in an advocacy context, we saw:

  • a significant shift in the partners’ advocacy strategies from reactive to proactive methodologies;
  • improvement in their human rights documentation processes, now including evidence gathering, data analysis and how to work with visualisations;
  • development of skills applied to the effective collection and use of data for advocacy;
  • new skills in analysing data resulting in a clearer understanding of the threats faced by the community;
  • increased awareness about the importance of effective information management in digital documentation;development of integrated self-evaluation tools;
  • deeper connection of the partners with the needs of the communities support and the variety of stakeholders they want to engage;
  • contribution to the scholarship on violence against sex-workers and advocacy for their human rights.
Brainstorming for the 'Problems not Solutions' visualisation

Brainstorming for the ‘Problems not Solutions’ Visualisation

Dirk and Maya implemented the project with support from the rest of the Tactical Tech team. Beatrice has brought an outside perspective on presenting and writing about the project, so others working on similar projects might benefit. These posts were collaboratively written by the three authors and draws on Tactical Tech’s reports and notes compiled through the course of the project. We aim to provide helpful guidance to anyone aiming to work with a marginalised community to build its capacity to use data and information technologies for advocacy. We are presenting this series in three parts:

  • Why we did it provides background and context, including a definition of marginalisation, Tactical Tech’s objectives for the project and background on WNU and sex worker issues in Cambodia.
  • What we did provides details about the steps taken to implement the project, assessing WNU’s use of technology, learning about their advocacy strategies and building their capacity to use data and data visualisations in those strategies.
  • What we learned provides reflections on the project design, notes on responsible and strategic use of data about marginalised communities and a summary of what we actually accomplished.

These posts are a version of what’s on Tactical Tech’s, and Beatrice’s blogs.


The Final Version of ‘Problems Not Solutions’

About the Authors

  • Maya Ganesh is Tactical Tech’s Research Director.
  • Beatrice Martini is a capacity builder, facilitator and curator, working with technology for social justice and human rights.
  • Dirk Slater is the founder of FabRIders, focusing on building the capacity of rights based organisations to use technology and data.