Digital Civil Society Lab

Research and Projects

At the Digital Civil Society Lab, we conduct and support research to understand the transformations of civil society in the digital age. By design, the Lab is multi-disciplinary and cross-sector. We are therefore the proud home of a diverse range of research and projects. These span from traditional scholarly research in the form of peer-reviewed articles and edited books, to more practitioner-focused projects such as designing toolkits, developing policy recommendations, and supporting civil society leaders in the field. In addition to our deep commitment to academic rigor and excellence, we recognize that civil society communities are uniquely positioned to ask and investigate critically important research questions. As such, we see civil society as a space for theoretical and empirical co-creation. We not only conduct research about civil society in the digital age, but often with and for civil society.

Below you will find a list of our current and past projects, including information about the people involved, approach, and outputs.

Current Research and Projects

Reclaiming Digital Infrastructure for the Public Interest

A three-part event series exploring how to design and build digital infrastructures that specifically serve and protect public interests.

Digital Assembly Research Network

A global community of research and practice. Members conduct, examine, or research work that addresses the ways digital systems influence our ability and right to assemble.

Free Basics and the African Digital Civil Society

An investigation of the quiet expansion of Facebook’s Free Basics program in Africa, calling for an analytical focus on the landscape of the digital civil society in Africa.

Algorithms Against Linguistic Biases: The Africa Stereotype Scanner

The Africa Stereotype Scanner (ASTRSC) is a tool that seeks to help reduce misrepresentations of Africa in the media. This sharable, open-source tool allows authors to instantly identify and address clichés and linguistic biases in their writing.

Detecting Disinformation and Hate Speech in Sub-Saharan Africa

The aim of this project will be to strengthen the capacities of African civil society organizations in the detection of disinformation and hate speech, and pair it with their acute knowledge of the local political and social context, in order to eventually create a reliable system that can spot such content before it becomes viral on social media platforms. The system will entail multi-stakeholder collaborations, which will involve civil society organizations and content platforms.

Civic Tech: Racial Equity, Technology and the City of Minneapolis

This project seeks to build upon the existing City of Minneapolis’ Strategic and Racial Equity Action Plan­­ by adopting technology considerations such as transparent design in facial recognition,  predictive analytics used in bail algorithms, data collected from body cameras and video surveillance.

The Role of AgTech in Farmworker Communities

Digital technologies used for agricultural production, often referred to as AgTech, is a burgeoning industry currently valued at $17 billion and expected to grow exponentially. With all this excitement around technological growth, there has been virtually no exploration of how AgTech will impact the millions of farmworkers in the US, the majority of whom are immigrants. This project will explore the impact of the emerging AgTech industry on farm labor, and how the industry can be held accountable to support farmworker communities rather than harming them. 

Disinformation Creep: How Breaking News Stories are used to Engage in Online Voter Suppression

Black disinformation agents are using breaking news stories associated with the racial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the discussions around systemic racism raised by Black Lives Matter protests, which spread across the nation in response to the murder of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man who was lynched by Officer Derek Chavin in Minneapolis, whose death was uploaded to Facebook and shared across the world.

Civil Society Advocacy for a Public Interest Internet Infrastructure

This project seeks to identify pathways for civil society to advocate for a public interest Internet infrastructure. It strives to do so by identifying research and advocacy opportunities developed through a growing network of civil society actors, scholars, and technologists continuously cooperating to explore and prototype practices for strengthening civil society’s impact.

Exploring the Social and Political Consequences of the Spread of DNA Testing

The use of DNA testing is spreading around the world, but within these technologies lie a great deal of assumptions and biases, and many uses are based on science which has deep xenophobic assumptions at its core. Through this project, I will document their histories and how these technologies have been developed as a way of building up an evidence base to support civil society in advocating for these issues, and identify potential advocacy strategies that can and have been used to mitigate negative impacts.

Impact of AI on Fair Lending Laws and Practices

The emergence of AI in the consumer credit market has brought new types of opportunities and risks for historically disadvantaged populations seeking loans.  This project’s contribution will be to develop a mechanism for monitoring disparate impact by testing for and reporting on lending practices that are unfair, deceptive or abusive to vulnerable groups and communities.

Affirmative Action Algorithms to Correct Gender and Race Bias in the Algorithms

This project is a global alliance to create, pilot, and apply Affirmative Action Algorithms that upturn the current path of Automated Decision-Making systems at a critical point in history, fostering social justice through gender and racial equality.

Legitimizing True Safety

A centuries-long conflation between safety and security has helped propel society down a trajectory prohibiting numerous opportunities for visionary resistance to societal ills. This project seeks to create tools and initiatives for systematizing true safety by minimizing the conflation between safety and security, countering the public safety narrative which has become synonymous with surveillance and activating opportunities for visionary resistance.

Ayeta: Proactive Toolkit for African Digital Rights Actors

As with ayeta, the protective gear that ancient Yoruba warriors wore for protection against gunshots during warfare, this toolkit will arm civil society actors — who protect the rights of citizens in their countries — with the information, resources and community they need should their work put them in harm’s way. The toolkit will also built on existing resources to allow Africa’s digital rights advocates and organisations to have access to information that can help them run efficient campaigns. 

How We Give Now: Philanthropy by the Rest of Us

The How We Give Now research project engages individuals and groups in a reflective discussion about all the ways they direct their private resources for public benefit, beyond what is traditionally captured in official giving data.

Mapping the Policy Infrastructure of Digital Civil Society

This research project investigates how digital public policy implicates civil society in democracies and how to strengthen, expand and diversify the practical connections between civil society support organizations and digital policy experts.

Open Source Projects as Critical Digital Infrastructure

This research project explores the legal definition of critical digital infrastructure as it relates to open source projects, and investigates the values, methods, and funding relationships of groups that build these projects. 

Digital Technology and Democratic Theory

The goal of this three-part workshop and publication series is to examine the meaning and implications of the growing role of digital technology in democratic institutions.

Research Team

Previous Research and Projects

Technical Intuition in Philanthropy and Civil Society

This project aims to understand pathways to technical intuition, build and test instruments that can accelerate technical intuition development, and explore scalable development of technical intuition by non-technical audiences.

Regulatory Sandboxes in FinTech for Financial Inclusion

This project will produce a policy white paper exploring “regulatory sandboxes” in a U.S. context for emerging technologies aimed at promoting financial inclusion.

OpenArchive for Civil Society

This project aims to develop the next phase of OpenArchive, a free and open-source mobile application that routes mobile media to user-created collections in an accessible public trust.

A Framework for Data Trusts

This project proposes to answer questions about the creation of trusts and ideas of mutual benefit for data trusts as used by civil society organizations. Can CSO data trusts benefit the public?

Coding Caring: Human Values for an Intimate AI

The research project aims to advance our understanding of the interactions between human values and these powerful emerging technologies, and to inform the debates about what role Al can and should play in caregiving.

#GivingTuesday Data Collaborative

With the amount and diversity of giving data available from #GivingTuesday, the leadership team set out to learn more about the drivers behind it, the behaviors around it, and what might inspire more of it.

Privacy Patterns

The Privacy Patterns project aims to increasing awareness around privacy issues associated with the collection, use and disclosure of personal data, combined with the lack of guidance or regulation for civil society organizations.

Digital Security Exchange

Josh Levy, Non-Resident Fellow at the Digital Civil Society Lab, built the Digital Security Exchange to connect U.S. civil society organizations with digital security experts.

Democratic Design for Digital Publics

In order to understand and reimagine political structures, process, and associational life, we must simultaneously critique and reconsider our communications tools.

Nonprofit Data Governance

Networked digital data has inspired an exciting era of innovation. But the reality for most civil society organizations is that governing these resources safely, ethically and effectively is an extreme challenge.

Trusted Data Intermediaries

A key obstacle to unleashing the social benefits of digital data involves the development of trusted intermediaries for sharing and aggregating data. Many variations on “trusted data intermediaries” have emerged in the last decade.  

Enabling Great Employee Engagement

How can companies engage their employees in smarter, more informed charitable giving? With new data sets, online volunteering and information sources, and ever-more networking tools, there are many opportunities to experiment with employee giving programs. 

Philanthropy in Democratic Societies

This book project brought together expert philosophers, sociologists, political scientists, historians, and legal scholars to ask fundamental and pressing questions about philanthropy’s role in democratic societies.

Ethical Data Review Processes

In an age when data and communications infrastructure undergird everything we do, many nonprofits and civil society organizations are seeking ways to responsibly govern the data they collect from, by, and of the communities they serve.

Ethics of Data

Digital data – from remote sensors, research, communications tools, donated human tissue and other sources – are becoming a key resource for social change in a number of settings. Using data well and ethically requires new skills, new thinking, and new codes of practice.  

Private Resources for Public Purpose

Individuals have at least four distinct ways to use their private financial resources for public purpose. We track these revenue flows separately and rarely consider the intersections and dynamics between them.