I’ve been thinking about how virtual worlds might fit into the work
life of an advocacy-focused non-profit in a meaningful way. Here’s one
scenario I dreamed up that isn’t science-fiction — it can basically be
implemented today with current technology. Hopefully it might help some advocacy groups imagine the potential for virtual worlds to enhance their work, capitalizing on the unique affordances of these digital spaces.
Enjoy the virtual world
Han Lee, advocacy coordinator for the San Francisco-based Genocide Action Network, is out grabbing a falafel for lunch when he gets a text message on his smartphone. It’s from his friend Tanya, telling him that the Communications Team for the “Arrest Asavedo” campaign needs to check in with him ASAP. Coming back to his computer, he sees an IM inviting him to join a virtual conference going on. He clicks the “Join Now” icon as he pops his headset into his ear.
His avatar rezzes into a small conference room that he recognizes as part of the Human Rights Watch sim, pretend sunlight pouring into the industrial-style loft space. As he turns his head, the headset registers the movement and changes his camera angle in turn. He sees that four other avatars are already there: Tanya, the communications officer for Human Rights Watch; Jorge of the Mexico City chapter of Amnesty International; Nguyen, a consultant with the UK Justice Watch and another avatar Han doesn’t recognize.
“Hi Han, thanks for logging in on short notice,” Tanya says as she turns from the large SmartBoard she had been rezzing. Her avatar is a tall brunette in a wine red Victorian gown and matching combat boots. “We needed to get your advice before going forward with the Asavedo web campaign tomorrow.”
“No problem, Tanya,” Han says, his headset transferring his voice from his computer into the sim, his avatar’s lips move in sync. “I know time is very short on this. Glad to be of help if I can.”
“You know Jorge and Nguyen from the conference last month in Austin,” Tanya gestures to the other avatars, a steampunk robot and ninja respectively. “But you probably don’t know Joydeep Patel. He’s a press officer for the International Criminal Court in the Hague.” A South-asian avatar in a three.jpgece business suit walks forward and proffers his card.
A few weeks ago, Han met up with 25 other human rights activists in Texas to coordinate a public campaign to get the Colombian General Arturo Asavedo turned over to the ICC for torturing prisoners of war and ordering his soldiers to rape women in rebel-held villages. Han had volunteered to serve on the Communications Team launching a new “Arrest Asavedo” website and sim tomorrow morning. They have been holding regular virtual meetings to coordinate the multi-national, multi-media effort ever since.
“A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Lee,” says Joydeep as he passes his vCard to Han. Contact info for Joydeep starts downloading to Han’s contact manager program at the same time.
“Mine as well. Just call me Han if you like,” Han replies, passing over his own vCard. “So what’s this all about?”
Jorge points to the SmartBoard and calls up the web banner for the “Arrest Asavedo” campaign.
“We were about to queue this up for launch on 21 news sites tomorrow, when Joydeep contacted us about new developments at the ICC,” Jorge explains. “In light of his new information, we think we might want to rethink the campaign strategy.”
“Oh yeah?” Han replies, curious. “What’s the new info?”
“Asavedo was spotted in Havana last week,” Nguyen says. “And the ICC Prosecutor is about to file an order to extradite to the Cuban government.”
“That’s right,” Joydeep interjects. “The Prosecutor thinks that if we act quickly, we can have Arturo Asavedo in custody by next week. But obviously we need the Cubans to cooperate. Since your group told us that you were launching your arrest campaign tomorrow, I thought it best to see how we might take advantage of it to encourage the Cubans to work with us.”
“Wow, that’s awesome,” Han says. “Thanks for thinking of us. This certainly does change our messaging a bit. Tanya, what do you recommend?”
Tanya’s avatar calls up a 3-D map of the world that rezzes above the conference table.
“Let’s look at who has the most influence on the Cubans,” Tanya suggests, focusing the map on Latin America. “Mexico is a good start. Human Rights Watch has a small chapter in Brazil, but that’s about it. What other countries are friends with Cuba?” She adds a spinning blue arrow over Brazil on the map.
“Well, Amnesty has groups in Mexico, Brazil and Venezuela that can put pressure on the governments there,” Jorge adds, placing green arrows over those countries on the map.
“I forget if Vietnam is still friends with Cuba, but anyway we can contact some groups in Southeast Asia to see if they might do some lobbying of their governments,” Nyugen notes, adding question marks over Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
Han drops a bunch of purple arrows over the United States. “Well the Genocide Network can focus on our chapters with large Cuban-American populations on the East Coast and Florida. Maybe they can get their relatives to do some quiet diplomacy back home,” Han suggests. “Waitaminit, we have a Cuban-American on staff in Florida. Let me add him to this conference.”
Han opens the “Dial Out” tool to call the cell phone of his colleague Ramon Santos in Miami.
“Ramon, here. Como estas, Han?” says Han’s colleague over a staticky cell connection.
“Hola, Ramon, sorry to bother you. I’m v-conferencing with a bunch of folks from the ‘Arrest Asavedo’ campaign and we could use your advice. Can I add you to the conference?”
“Sure thing, drop me in, Han.”
The avatar of Ramon rezzes into the virtual conference room, but remains grayed out and unmoving to indicate that he is only connected to the call over a phone line. They quickly bring Ramon up to speed on the news from the ICC officer.
“That’s great news,” says Ramon. “I think we should able to be get an alert out to our Cuban-American members and to other relevant groups in the region that might help. Just drop on my avatar the revised press release and anything else you think I should have. I’ll be back at my computer in about an hour.”
“Excellent, Ramon,” Han replies. “Ping me later if you want to talk about it. You sound like you are in the middle of downtown Miami, so I’ll let you go.”
“No problem, Han. Just stuck in traffic as usual. Chat you up soon. Bye, all!” His avatar rezzes out in a flash of light.
Tanya calls up the Google doc of the press release on a separate SmartBoard. For the next half-hour, the group tweaks the press release until they are all reasonably satisfied with it. Nyugen grabs the text, adds the Campaign logo to it and drops it on each of the avatars present. In a few seconds, the PDF version of the press release appears on Han’s desktop.
“Look great, guys,” enthuses Han. “I’ll get this around to our chapters in the next hour so we’re ready for tomorrow. Can someone post the machinima of this meeting for later, in case my colleagues want to know about the change in messaging?”
“Already on it,” Tanya says, nodding.
“I’ll have the Spanish version available in about 45 minutes,” Jorge adds.
“You all should know that the ICC Prosecutor will release the Order to Extradite at 0900 CST tomorrow during a virtual press conference,” notes Joydeep, passing text and video files to each of the avatars. “Here’s an advance version of the text and video statement, which I trust you won’t publicize until then.”
“Of course, Joydeep,” Tanya replies. “Thanks for being so accommodating. I think we have a decent chance of getting this guy behind bars soon.”
“This is so exciting!” exclaims Han. “I love working with you guys. Next time you are in town, drinks are on me. Take care, all.”
Han logs out his avatar and calls together his team to give them the news.