Leading with Empathy

Hello.

Some of you may know me from our collaborations in the internet freedom community over the last six years or from my time in the open mapping and data visualization communities before that, but for those who don’t — Hello! And nice to meet you! My name is Georgia Bullen, and I’m excited to take the baton from Scout as the new Executive Director of Simply Secure. If you want to read more about my past work, please do, but for now I’d like to focus on what’s next at Simply Secure.

For the last four years, Simply Secure has been critical in helping to bring design and user experience into the focus for many communities working on issues of security, privacy, transparency, or other ethical implications. Scout and the team have established a really strong base of resources, support, and relationships that I’m excited to build on going forward. The issues that we face in tech are not getting easier, in fact everyday they seem to become increasingly challenging as tech reaches into new places and contexts around the world. As usability is being realized as a necessity, our movement needs support, mentorship and leadership through open educational resources, open research, and a growing network with which to work through these challenges.

Building on what Scout talked about in her recent post, here are some things I see as important over the next few years:

To scale with the challenges, we need to build our networks of practitioners to work together, learn from each other, and help locally. We are a small team, but part of a growing community. Our hope is that we can work with the network of practitioners in the ecosystem to build more connections — and grow to create local networks that can help each other address local, cultural challenges together. Having a strong diverse community will allow us to help each address local and global issues in scalable ways.

If you don’t leverage human-centered design in your process, you could be putting your system and your community of users at risk.

We will work to be even louder advocates for usability in security tools, critical infrastructure, and new technology. Good security requires usability. If your technology isn’t usable, users will work around your system to do what they need to do, or they’ll use something else. If you don’t leverage human-centered design in your process, you could be putting your system and your community of users at risk. At a minimum, usability needs to be a part of security audits, and even more importantly as part of the development process.

As technology becomes central to human rights, empathy becomes even more important to an ethical design approach.

Empathy is the first step to ethical design. Human-centered design builds from the base assumption that through empathy, participation, and intentionality we can understand the needs of our users by embedding ourselves in their context — observing how they live their lives, what challenges they encounter, asking questions to understand them and their perspectives better. By focusing on individual experiences, we can be sure to design to people’s needs. This is particularly important when we are working in the human rights space. As technology becomes central to human rights, empathy becomes even more important to an ethical design approach.

As a community, we have the power to envision a more ethical and just future, through human-centered design. Simply Secure is ready to help, and I’m excited to help lead the team in that work.

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