Design for Trust

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Project Overview

Human rights defenders, researchers and activists risk their lives to gather proof about human rights violations around the world. Being in possession of sensitive media puts these activists at-risk from people organizations and governments involved in the human rights abuses. Through this project, my teammate, Rajasi Desai and  I tried to address - How can we better protect people who save the lives of millions and bring about global change?


To design an application which field researchers could trust and empower field researchers to upload the sensitive media they collect or encounter


My amazing colleague, Rajasi Desai, worked with OpenArchive during the summer of 2018. This organization was building a platform that helped human rights activists share media with their teams. We were both deeply moved by the stories and the change they bring to the world. As we discussed her work over the summer, we realized that the interaction this particular population had with technology was very different from the rest and we could look into it deeper and help them by designing an application sculpted to their needs.

Literature Review & Expert Interviews

Since we were new to the field of human rights, we had a lot of questions! We reached out to the community at UC Berkeley who had worked with trust and human rights to gain a better understanding of how to start with designing for trust.

Figure: Who we spoke to and what they helped us learn

Figure: Who we spoke to and what they helped us learn

New Goals

This would be a two part project where:

  • Part 1: Understand the ecosystem of our target audience and the factors that affect their trust with technology (Described below)

  • Part 2: Verify the factors through design and come up with design principles to guide creating applications for this population


For the interviews, we wanted to recruit human rights activists and citizen journalists with field experience - whom we referred to as senders as well as activists who verified the media dispatched by senders, whom we refer to as receivers. Apart from these two groups, we also interviewed experts who have an overarching idea about this ecosystem.


We were looking out for people who did not want to be found, which made recruitment a challenge. We crossed this hurdle through heavy reach out via Linkedin, Webforms and snowballing technique. We reached to a total of 60+ participants to have 7 interviews.


We conducted a total of 7 interviews from researchers all over the world -  Syria, Israel, Paris, United States, Pakistan, Iran, Sudan  and Colombia. The following were the main questions we focussed on:

Figure: Who we interviewed

Figure: Who we interviewed


To analyze the interviews we used Grounded Theory. We transcribed all interviews and then independently created codes for each interview. These codes were then categorized into buckets. My teammate and I then discussed our categories, and came up with findings for senders as well as receivers


Reputation, network and past experiences are factors that influence trust among individuals working in politically vulnerable populations.

Here are few trends we saw on the sender’s end:

Reputation: Reputation of the organization building the tool, and reputation of the people who use the tool influenced the tools adopted by activists on the field.

Networks: The opinion of their networks played a key role in finding videographers and interpreters for their work.

Past Experience: The past experience with technology set the tone for future use. For instance,  if there’s data loss, network failure or security failure, the interviewees were more weary of using the same technology

Here are few trends we saw on the receiver end:

Verification: The receivers often used multiple sets of eyes to verify the information received. In some cases, they also spoke to experts in the field to verify a pattern or occurrence

Ease of Use: Many a times the  receivers of media tend to be the decision makers of which technology to use. The top priority for receivers is the safety of the field researchers. This made them flexible to use any technology convenient for the field researcher, due to the higher risk  field researchers face


Key Learnings

  1. Being aware of context: To ensure the success of the interviews, we had work familiarize ourselves with the work of the researcher as well as the political situation they are working in. This helped us hone in to the problems they face on the field in the valuable time they were offering us rather than spending that time going over the political situation

  2. Recruiting: For this particular population, it was critical to start recruiting early to meet the required timeline and also recruit consistently as people tended to drop out more frequently

  3. Working in a scrappy environment: As graduate students we had limited resources and couldn’t compensate for our interviews. Additionally, as the interviewees were spread across multiple timezones, we adapted a flexible schedule to meet their convenience.

Future Work

We are excited to announce that we got funded by the Center of Long-term Cybersecurity and Center of Technology, Society & Policy to continue our project.

We are currently conducted the second part of the study to come up with design implications and principles for creating application for this population.