Creative Heads - Owen Valentine Pringle


Owen Valentine Pringle is Director of Digital Communications at Amnesty International. Before empowering Amnesty supporters to fight human rights abuses he's worked in senior roles at BSkyB, ITN and Southbank Centre.

Owen wears Blake Blue Textured Blazer.

  

So tell us...

Q: What drew you to Amnesty?

I've been fortunate enough to have worked in digital since the early days, when the web was a wee nipper, so have watched this thing that I love take its first steps, show huge promise, get into a spot of trouble but eventually grow up and exceed all expectations. I'm also a current affairs geek and a voracious consumer of news content in all forms. My two obsessions aligned perfectly in a job I landed at broadcast news organisation, ITN. The thing about current affairs is the more you learn about what's going on in the world, the less you know. Working in news opened my eyes to a range of things I'd previously been unaware of, including things that never made it onto the final news agenda, but it also gave me a sense of helplessness. When the role at Amnesty International arose a few years later, it afforded me the opportunity to marry my two obsessions once more, but with the added bonus of being in a position to change things instead of simply bearing witness.

Q: How is technology changing activism and the role of the NGO?

Technology is a connector and an amplifier, which by no means constitutes the impetus for change in itself, but can be a rapid enabler of change; the Arab Spring being the most oft-cited example of recent years. This development demands adjustments in the way global NGOs operate. Organisations like mine used to be thought of as the conduit of truth, in that we shone a light on events taking place in lesser-reported parts of the world. Digital, specifically social media, has completely disrupted this model, given the voices that are already in those parts of the world can now be heard, verbatim and in real-time. This empowerment is unprecedented, but results in a firehose of information. The role of the global NGO, in this new environment, evolves into that of a curator, through the examination of that information through to testing the integrity of sources.

Q: How do you use the internet and digital tools to empower Amnesty's supporters?

As with most organisations in the not-for-profit space, we use the internet to drive campaigns, communications and fundraising amongst our supporter-base. However, increasingly, we're using technology to investigate new ways of allowing supporters to 'join' and 'donate' to Amnesty International, albeit beyond their traditional definitions. At its simplest, this might involve enabling supporters to take action on a particular issue which resonates with them, but this is really about moving supporters up the ladder of engagement, whilst acknowledging the fact that they may want to leave and rejoin at any particular point, and being okay with that. I dislike the term 'clicktivism' as it denotes a lesser form of active participation, carried out by those whose sense of outrage is transient. I think this is view of engagement is outdated as it fails to reach supporters where they are.

Q: What do you see the internet allowing activists to do in 5 years time?

Activists have long been regarded as extensions of civil society organisations, particularly the outward-facing functions such as campaigning and advocacy. The internet has given this a turbo-boost. It's interesting to see how far this model has come by doing a quick analysis between Obama's US Presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012, where the latter placed digital at the hub of operations as opposed to one of a series of parallel workstreams. This trend will be seen across all activism-based organisations in the next five years, but with a greater focus on traditionally inward-facing functions. For example, in the last 12 months, we've initiated a programme of work relating to the development of technologies for social change, the first solution of which, a panic-button for activists at risk of unlawful detention, was developed through an open innovation process. In the future, we might look at technology-assisted evidence gathering or crowdsourcing the translation of our materials into more languages than we're able to do internally. These are uncharted waters.


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