DDI Update: Who were the survey respondents?

Last month, we shared that Innovation for Change – East Asia is working with CIVICUS to implement the co-design phase of the Digital Democracy Initiative. The first step in that process was developing a survey to learn what members of the I4C-East Asia Hub community are facing in terms of the use of technology for inclusive democracy. It is part of a larger mapping exercise that should give a better picture of what kinds of financial and non-financial support civil society needs  to better leverage technology for advocacy.

For this update, we wanted to share some information about who responded to the survey. It will better lay the groundwork for understanding the survey results as well as their limitations.

Who responded to the survey?

To provide some context, we chose 150 individuals and organizations from the I4C-East Asia Hub community to respond to the online survey. They were chosen using the following criteria:

At the end of the two-week period, we received a total of 49 responses, thanks to our partners who also shared the survey to their networks. Responses came from 12 locations with the Philippines (14), Malaysia (7), Myanmar (5), and Thailand (5) making up the top 3. See the chart below for a more detailed breakdown.

A multi-coloured doughnut chart indicating from which countries the survey respondents came from.

Invitees from a particular country with a closed civic space declined to participate giving the following reasons:

  • They do not see themselves working on democracy of any kind;
  • They are afraid of being associated with any group working on democracy;
  • Many groups have either disbanded, shut down or are laying low; and
  • Many human rights defenders have either left or been forced into exile.

Although not necessarily the focus of the survey, these do suggest the continued persistence of silos within civil society and the ever-present risks of doing any kind of democracy work.

Respondents also indicated the communities and groups they either represent or primarily work with. The question had an initial list of groups such as children, women, LGBTQ+ persons, people with disabilities, etc. Respondents were able to add their own if they didn’t see any of their communities represented on the list. The added options would’ve been available to all respondents moving forward. The top three are: Human rights defenders (61%), Women and Youth/Students (59% each), and LGBTQ+ (49%), while the bottom three are Prisoners (8%), senior citizens/elderly (6%), and neuro-divergent individuals, persons who use drugs, and sex workers (4% each).


A funnel chart showing which communities the respondents primarily work with or represent.

We have been reflecting on what these numbers mean. We have questions but no definitive answers. Do the numbers for under-represented and under-served communities suggest that there are not many members of civil society who serve these communities or is it more reflective of the composition of the EA Hub network? Relatedly, does working with these communities represent higher risks for people to safely engage and advocate? How much decision-making powers do minorities actually have in organizations that represent minorities?

We also asked respondents to share who they primarily target for their advocacy. Similar to how the previous question was constructed, an initial list was provided, and respondents can add their own if necessary. An interesting result is that 86% of respondents said that their primary target audience is civil society itself. There could be several potential interpretations of the data. It could suggest that many of the respondents work on movement and solidarity building, trying to gain more support for their advocacy within civil society. Another is that since we specifically invited groups that we think are working on inclusive democracy, the respondents could be trying to make civil society more inclusive. See the chart below for a more detailed breakdown.


A doughtnut chart indicating the target audiences of the survey respondents.

Lastly, here are several other data points to consider. Thirty-three percent said that they have no website and another 14% said they have no social media accounts at all. Even after the COVID-19 lockdowns when many groups moved their advocacy online, there are still a significant number of groups without any online presence. This could suggest either that their own communities do not have Internet access or the work they do has no need for online spaces.

More than half of respondents or 53% use Signal, which is a free and secure messaging platform as compared to services such as Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. It is a positive development, which shows greater awareness of digital security and safety. Compare this with the number of respondents using VPN or virtual private networks at only 20%. VPNs could mask your Internet traffic as coming from different places, making it more difficult to track someone online. This, however, comes at a cost of slower Internet speeds while using free VPNs. Faster VPN services are available, but they do come with monthly subscriptions. Similar number of respondents, at 16%, said they use Protonmail, a more secure email service provider.

We can end this blog post with what respondents say about the kinds of support they received when it comes to the use of technology. About a quarter of respondents or 24% said that they do not receive any kind of support at all. This simply points to the need to make more support available to civil society, which provides opportunities for the DDI programme.

For those who have received support, the overwhelming kind of support they received is digital security training at 45% of all respondents. Next is access to software, VPNs, and other services to keep themselves secure at 18% and closely followed by funds for working on digital campaigns at 16%. Some respondents however did include in their responses that the support they have received is not enough. We’ll go more in-depth about this topic for the next blog post.

With all of these in mind, what are you thinking? What do these numbers suggest? We’d love to hear from you!


The Digital Democracy Initiative is made possible with the support from: