PACS news / January 27, 2020

New Report Charts Path Forward for Digital Civil Society

Civil society organizations need targeted support and learning platforms to enable them to advocate effectively on the digital policy issues that shape modern societies. So finds a new report from Stanford’s Digital Civil Society Lab, released today. The report offers a roadmap that meets organizations where they are and proposes ways to help them develop their capacity and build coalitions.

The report, entitled “Integrated Advocacy: Paths Forward for Digital Civil Society,” is authored by lab director Lucy Bernholz along with non-resident fellows Nicole Ozer and Kip Wainscott and research assistant Wren Elhai. The authors spoke with dozens of civil society organizations in the United States, Europe, the United Kingdom, and Canada. Nearly universally, organizations reported an awareness that digital issues—facial recognition surveillance, data privacy, algorithmic bias, and many more—now affect every issue of concern to civil society. They identified needs including funding for learning and building relationships and support for efforts to build a common language between digital policy organizations and other civil society groups.

The report proposes a tiered strategy for support to civil society, grouping organizations into three categories based on their current capacity.

For The Core—existing diverse alliances of organizations already advocating on digital issues—the report recommends support to continue substantive, collaborative work and also to develop training materials and collections of knowledge for groups that have not yet engaged on digital issues.

For The Energized—groups ready to engage on digital policy for the first time—the report recommends focusing on creating spaces where groups can meet natural allies and join existing work.

For The Affected—groups that are ready to learn about digital issues, but need support to do so—the report focuses on ways to support groups’ efforts to learn, including about ways to manage their own use of technology.

The report includes issue-spotting exercises and worksheets to help readers lead discussions within their organizations and networks on the overlaps between digital issues and other policy domains. “Sustainable, cross-cutting relationships that integrate digital expertise into the many domains of civil society expertise are critical to the health and success of independent civic action in democracies,” the report’s authors conclude. “We need to come together to create a future where digital technology works for civil society, rather than civil society getting worked by digital technology.”


The research for this report was supported by funding from The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.