PACS news/January 13, 2023

Digital Civil Society Lab Announces 2023-24 Cohort of Practitioner Fellows

Five social sector leaders to develop research and tools to benefit global civil society

The Digital Civil Society Lab (DCSL) and the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (CCSRE) are pleased to announce our new joint cohort of Practitioner Fellows for 2023-24 under the DCSL Practitioner Fellowship and the DCSL/CCSRE Technology & Racial Equity Practitioner Fellowship.

This highly accomplished cohort includes five social sector leaders whose critical work focuses on: increasing the quality and equity of AI systems; developing a practice and community for data healing; amplifying agroecological voices in the digitalization of Kenya’s agriculture and food systems; strengthening the role of African civil society in interrogating the digitalization of food and agriculture; and expanding Black and POC (people of color) representation among digital platform content moderators.

Bringing a wealth of knowledge and expertise to their fellowship projects, the 2023-24 cohort will develop tools and understanding to inform and benefit civil society at large.

Kasia Chmielinski

DCSL/CCSRE Technology & Racial Equity Practitioner Fellow

Kasia Chmielinski is the co-founder of the Data Nutrition Project and a technologist focused on building responsible data systems across industry, academia, government, and non-profit domains. Previously, they held positions at the United Nations (OCHA), US Digital Service (EOP / OMB), MIT Media Lab, McKinsey & Company, and Google. When not thinking about data, Kasia is usually cycling or birdwatching around the Northeastern US.

Kasia’s Project: Building “Dataset Nutrition Labels” for common race and ethnicity datasets to mitigate bias in algorithmic systems

AI systems are only as effective, accurate, and inclusive as the data that they are trained on. If the data provided to a model for training purposes is incomplete, biased, or unrepresentative, then the system will be as well. In 2018, I co-founded the Data Nutrition Project (DNP) to investigate methods of increasing the quality and equity of AI systems by building “Dataset Nutrition Labels” (analogous to FDA Nutritional Labels for datasets) that help data practitioners identify the “ingredients” of a dataset—especially those that are anomalous—before issues of underlying bias are further propagated in a model. My project proposal has two parts: 1) building Dataset Nutrition Labels for oft-cited race/ethnicity datasets, used for everything from policy recommendations to voter outreach; 2) leveraging these Labels as data literacy tools to drive conversations with data practitioners, policymakers, and community members about the lasting and real impact of problematic data.

Neema Githere

DCSL/CCSRE Technology & Racial Equity Practitioner Fellow

Neema Githere (b. Nairobi, Kenya) is an artist and guerrilla theorist whose work explores love and indigeneity in a time of algorithmic debris. Projects that Neema stewards include Data Healing, a speculative practice and convening body that prototypes interventions to the psychosocial harm inflicted by Big Tech, and Afro Presentism–a term they coined in 2017 to investigate lenses of embodiment within African diasporic technocultures.

Neema’s Project: Data Healing: A Call for Repair

Data Healing is an experimental practice-turned-convening body whose aim is to combat the data trauma that saturates our virtual worlds. Using near-future speculative fiction as a design framework, Data Healing: A Call for Repair is a project that prototypes what a therapeutic center—funded through reparations from Meta Inc., and geared towards post-social media psychosocial repair—could look like.

Daniel Maingi

Digital Civil Society Practitioner Fellow

Daniel Maingi is a science and development practitioner in Kenya with a 15-year career helping bring learning on appropriate and sustainable technologies to Civil Society Organizations in Eastern Africa. Specializing in the area of Biosciences, Daniel uses that experience to simplify jargon and stress strategies that put the rights of communities first, reversing power relations away from that of extraction and exploitation. This enables social change and innovation in an environment that brings justice, reconciliation, and diversity to underserved communities. Daniel may spend his days at small urban farms in Nairobi, but it’s the realization that consumers and farmers across Kenya are realizing their rights to the best products, knowledge and health, that gets him up in the morning. When he is not a policy campaigner for the CSOs at the Inter-Sectoral Forum on Agrobiodiversity and Agroecology (ISFAA), Daniel is an avid bicyclist and loves spending time growing his organic chicken in the streets of Eastlands, Nairobi, Kenya. 

Daniel’s Project: Strengthening agroecological voices in the digitalization of Kenya’s agriculture and food systems

I propose to set up a multi stakeholder platform (MSP) of CSOs and government to track and point out infractions and gaps in policies. We will propose changes that CSOs can agitate for justice and fairness to be achieved in the digital transformation proposed. Additionally, farmers and consumers will be educated on their digital rights, which will trigger the development of AgroEcology-friendly tools. We will create and host a MSP, the existing Inter-sectoral Forum on Agrobiodiversity and Agroecology (ISFAA). The MSP will be a think-tank to track, study, and respond to challenges and infractions presented by the corporate digitalization of agriculture. It will also guide agroecology towards beneficial digital tools. The MSP will examine relevant government policies, regulations, and papers related to digitalization and suggest revisions. The platform will be a watchdog to instill governance in the use of digital data in Kenya. The project will help us bring data sovereignty concerns to the forefront for national discussion by both the citizens and the agroecology practitioners supporting the social and movement-organizing pillars espoused in sustainable agriculture.

Barbara Ntambirweki

Digital Civil Society Practitioner Fellow

Barbara Ntambirweki is a Ugandan lawyer and researcher working with ETC Group under the African Technology Assessment Platform. She is passionate about promoting technology justice within food systems in Africa, particularly with regard to the emerging developments in modern biotechnology and the digitalization of food and agriculture. She is currently coordinating the African Working Group on Digitalization of Food and Agriculture to raise the collective voice of civil society organizations in Africa on the governance of digital agriculture on the continent. Prior to this role, she was a Research Fellow with Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE) involved in research and policy advocacy on the regulation of genetic engineering in Uganda. Barbara is also a lecturer at the Uganda Pentecostal University, where she teaches Intellectual Property Law.

Barbara’s Project: Strengthening the Role of African Civil Society in Interrogating Digitalization of Food and Agriculture

The impact of digitalization on the food system is a growing issue of concern across Africa. Digitalization of agriculture has been portrayed by governments and agribusiness as a driving force accelerating agricultural transformation. In Africa, our food systems have been no exception to this digital shift and hype; growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting, consuming, and distributing food are all becoming subject to digital technologies. In face of these changes, there is an urgent need to convene strategic conversations towards interrogation and identifying principles on how governance of digitalization of agriculture—in the frame of food sovereignty—should occur. This project investigates how civil society leaders and movements can develop a critical collective voice on the governance of digitalization of agriculture in the frame of whether food sovereignty should occur or not. It will attempt to develop a set of principles on governance within the context of food sovereignty. 

Jasmine Walker

DCSL/CCSRE Technology & Racial Equity Practitioner Fellow

Jasmine Walker has been an active volunteer moderator on for over a decade. She’s been an outspoken advocate for minority voices on the site and has worked closely with the site’s administration as they address racial, gender, and other demographic issues on the platform, particularly in the wake of the George Floyd protests. She has been featured in podcast episodes and news stories related to racial discrimination on Reddit, has spoken at an internal Reddit meeting for Black History Month, has been a panelist for several Reddit Mod Summits, and hosted an ‘Ask Me Anything’ session with the CEO of Reddit during the most recent Mod Summit. She is currently a contracted Reddit Community Mentor, offering mentorship to Reddit communities in need of guidance. Her current mentee is a subreddit dedicated to the civil protests in Iran. Her passion and curiosity for the way technology intersects with social justice and society has given her the opportunity to work with the Citizens and Technology Lab at Cornell University and currently the Digital Civil Society Lab at Stanford PACS. Professionally, she works as an environmental health specialist and holds a Bachelor of Science in Public Health from Tulane University and a dual Master of Public Health degree in Health Education and Communication and Maternal and Child Health from Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

Jasmine’s Project: Keeping it 100: What can be done to recruit and retain Black moderators?

Reddit Inc. changed its content policy in 2020 to take a harder stance against various forms of discrimination, including racism. One issue moderators of color brought up repeatedly is the lack of Black or POC (people of color) representation in moderator positions, especially in the larger and more popular subreddits. They described instances, which I have witnessed personally, in which they reported racism that was obvious to them to a majority white moderator team only to be told that the content was not racist and would remain. Meanwhile, majority white mod teams say they have a very hard time finding Black community members who want to help them moderate. What is keeping Black Reddit users from becoming moderators? For those that do decide to volunteer, what is their motivation? Can anything be changed or done to recruit more Black moderators? Content policies are toothless without culturally competent moderators, primarily moderators of color. I want to know why Black social media users do or do not decide to become volunteer moderators, what could be changed to make more Black people interested in being a moderator, and what causes Black mods to keep going or quit? For those that quit, I want to explore if anything could have been done to retain them for a longer period of time.