Our inaugural Digital Policy Leadership Summit took place in Brussels 15-16 February. The event was both inspiring and affirming, and served as a springboard to accelerate the Policy Leadership program we will prototype with this emergent community and our inspiring group of advisors.
We cannot express deeply enough our gratitude for everyone’s enthusiasm, ideas, and for showing up as their full selves. We continue to feel the power of what has been manifested through these discussions, reflections and connections over these two days.
This event dramatically underscored the value that a plurality of voices, identities, experiences brings to essential digital policy conversations, and how crucial those voices are to driving meaningful policy change on the European level.
What we learned
The overwhelming feedback from participants was how transformative it was to participate as their full selves. The Summit offered a safe, creative space, where we didn’t have to mask our views or analyses, and didn’t need to justify why we want to talk about countering systemic oppression in the various spaces we operate, or how to build vital and sustainable organizations that support staff and prevent burnout.
The Summit agenda navigated a broad range of topics, from how to build equitable partnerships and practice intersectional and distributed leadership; to sharing lessons learned on the Digital Services Act (DSA), Artificial Intelligence Act (AI Act), and Climate Justice coalition building, to evolving critical narratives on issues including privacy and freedom of expression. Participants shared practical skills in peer learning sessions, from confidently navigating the Brussels policy maze, to refining negotiation strategies, to establishing bonds and setting boundaries when doing policy work.
Over the course of the Summit, participants realized that many of their challenges were not individual, but were instead part of larger shared struggles. We reflected on how truly rare it is to be authentic in the rooms where policy decisions are made and how intimidating the Brussels policy space can be for new entrants. There was a rich affirmation of the fact that there is more to working on digital policy than simply understanding technology; policy practitioners also need to apply a more holistic analysis that understands the impacts on human beings, different communities, and on society. Other Summit conversations addressed how to cultivate an abundance mindset when working with limited resources and time constraints; overcoming the feeling that funding is a scarce resource; and how to prioritize focus when everything feels urgent.
We discussed how to have uncomfortable conversations, how to make space to care for the people in your organization, your partners, and collaborators. There was constructive tension between the need to support and empower actors engaging in structured systems, which can oftentimes feel rigid and hard to navigate, and the need to change them all together. As power and privilege are intersectional, these dynamics can change depending on the room you may be in. Leadership means acknowledging this reality, and elevating, empowering, and standing behind those who may not have power or privilege in that moment. This is one critical way to show solidarity and support for those operating in these sometimes hostile contexts.
Everyone was present both to learn and to generously share their knowledge, expertise and lived experience. Whether they were in the early part of their policy journey, mid career, or seasoned policy practitioners. Brussels based, European, or from outside of Europe - we were grateful to have a diverse range of perspectives on how to drive meaningful impact in our policy work while also caring for ourselves, each other, and our movements.
Where to from here
We are truly feeling invigorated and full of energy and hope for what’s to come. Our focus now is on serving and building with this community, co-designing useful resources and services to support, develop, and nurture leadership in the digital policy space in Brussels, Europe, and beyond.
Over the next months, we’ll continue the conversations that we started at the Summit, while piloting initiatives intended to deepen strategy and support policy practitioners at all stages in their journey. This includes launching our first learning cohorts, convening virtual strategy sessions, exploring what it means to be a community of practice, and more.
We are committed to building this program together with those who share in this vision. Whether you are in the early stages of your policy journey, or a seasoned practitioner, we’d love to hear from you.