DDI Update: Survey says…

Our last update focused on sharing who responded to the survey. This latest blog will feature what respondents actually shared with us.

Digital Tech Knowledge

One of the first questions we asked was how respondents rate on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest, their knowledge in using digital technology. The highest rated skill is digital literacy or the understanding of how the Internet works at 3.39. The lowest rated skill is mental health awareness or knowledge about the mental health impacts of being online and their ability to protect their mental well-being at 2.96. From the table below, it can be observed that the ratings across the seven knowledge areas do not stray too far from each other. On average, the 49 respondents rated themselves in the middle of the scale or at 3.18.
A list of the average self-rated scores of survey respondents' knowledge on digital technologies.

A review of the respondents’ profiles potentially suggests several reasons for the average rating. Sixty-one percent of respondents indicated human rights defenders (HRDs) as one of the primary communities they represent or work with. As the CIVICUS Monitor shows, most countries in Asia have either obstructed, repressed, or closed civic spaces. This points to the need for civil society organizations (CSOs) and groups to undertake digital security training or build their capacity in managing risks. In addition, the severe lockdowns many in East Asia experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic also forced activists and HRDs to move their campaigns and advocacy to online spaces. They had to quickly adapt and learn how to operate in digital spaces and how to use digital technologies.

Fifty-nine percent of respondents also indicated that youth and students are one of the primary groups they represent or work with. This does suggest the necessity of learning about online technologies to meet, serve, and empower the youth who are more at ease and present in online spaces. Lastly, self-selection bias cannot be discounted. The survey itself was only done online. Innovation for Change – East Asia communicated with and invited people to complete the survey via email and secure messaging platforms. There was already a bias towards respondents who are able to access and navigate the Internet.

What do they do online?

We asked what kinds of activities respondents do, either online or offline. From the table below, the top five responses were community organizing, capacity building, human rights training for their community, human rights education for the general public, and advocacy for policy changes. The purple bars indicate that the activities are done offline or in person, while the pink bars are online activities. A casual observation points to a situation where the majority of activities are still done offline. We are unsure if this is a preference from the organizations themselves or from the communities they serve. Does this suggest that online activities are only organized if these cannot be done offline?

A bar graph of the list of activities that the respondents do. The top bar for each activity indicates that they do this offline or in person, while the bottom bar indicates if the activity is done online.

In relation to risk and security, it can be noted that organizations have a particular focus on offering services (e.g. capacity building, human rights training, support groups) instead of advocacy. Does this suggest that advocacy work is too risky, not only for them but also for the communities they represent? If yes, this is additional evidence showing that marginalized groups find it challenging to advocate for themselves since I4C-East Asia specifically invited organizations from or representing marginalized groups.

Barriers to using digital technology

When asked about the barriers respondents face that prevent them from more effectively using digital technologies, their responses were clustered into seven different areas:

  • Lack of internal digital infrastructure (e.g. lack of tech personnel, lack of funds to subscribe to apps)
  • Lack of knowledge (e.g. lack of digital security knowledge, lack of mental health knowledge)
  • Traditional state attack strategies (e.g. censorship, red-tagging)
  • Lack of external digital infrastructure (e.g. no Internet coverage, intermittent power outages)
  • Restrictions on digital infrastructure (e.g. Internet shutdowns, network interference)
  • Regulatory/Legal environment (e.g. laws against online expression, laws against one’s identity)
  • Digital attacks by both state and non-state actors (e.g. doxxing, online sexual harassment)

More examples of the responses can be seen in the table below.


List of barriers that prevent respondents from using digital tech more consistently and/or effectively.

From the clusters, there seems to be two overarching themes. One of them is that they lack the resources to sustain the use of digital technologies, especially if these come with costs like app subscriptions or hardware purchases. More importantly, they do not have the human resources to have someone focus on technology or security. This contributes further evidence that the chronic under-funding of CSOs does not enable them to catch up with technology and makes them less secure.

Another theme is government interventions have made use of technology much more difficult for civil society. There are direct attacks from state actors but also attacks through a more restrictive regulatory environment. On the other hand, the inadequate support for expanding affordable digital infrastructure has made access to the Internet more difficult.

The kinds of support needed

When asked about the kinds of support respondents needed, the overwhelming response was more funding and capacity building. They listed funding to cover costs of app and virtual private network (VPN) subscriptions, to have digital technology trainers, to have technology-focused staff, and to develop their own solutions. They also wanted capacity building on digital security, risk management, mental health, digital literacy, understanding new technologies, learning best practices, and being part of communities of practice. Even though they rated themselves to be at the middle of the scale in terms of their knowledge about digital technologies, they still indicated that they need more capacity building.

Clustered responses on the question of what kinds of support do respondents want.

There are also specific ideas that several respondents shared and we wanted to highlight. One said they wanted to build a database on digital rights violations and threats against civil society. Another said they wanted to engage social media services as platforms for counter narratives. Lastly, one suggested a capacity building workshop for migrant workers on how to use social media platforms to report harassment and engage with political leaders. These are noteworthy ideas that could come up again in the ideation and prototyping stages.

What will the support enable you to do?

The last set of responses we want to highlight is around the overall objective respondents have in using digital technology. Their responses were clustered within the following groups:

  • Create more effective advocacy
  • Focus on higher priority goals
  • Expand collective safety and learning
  • Develop a safer working environment for HRDs
  • Develop cutting edge solutions
  • Protect their mental well-being
  • Improved marginalized communities’ ability to communicate more powerfully

The clusters show that respondents see digital technologies as a way to amplify the voices of and to have spaces for marginalized communities to speak for themselves. They are hoping digital tools can help broaden their reach for more effective advocacy. There is also a desire to have a more holistic perspective on safety and security for civil society and HRDs. This includes being aware of the impacts of digital technologies on peoples’ mental well-being and gaining a broader support-base.


List of responses describing what respondents will be able to do with the support they could receive.

It is very interesting to read and analyze the responses to the survey. They already allude to the possible kinds of support that could potentially emerge through the co-design process of the DDI program. From here, what ideas are already forming in your mind? Let us know!

The next step in our process was to organize two online sensemaking sessions with the survey respondents as well as other members of the I4C-East Asia Hub community. It was an opportunity to go deeper into what folks have to say about their own experiences and how these relate to the survey results.

What came out of these sessions are the key points to be highlighted in our next blog post.


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