Podcast & Video: Closing Civic Spaces in the Digital Age

In Conversations, Events, Past Events, Podcasts, Virtual Roundtables by Digital Impact33 Comments

Listen to Lucy Bernholz, Chris Worman, Mandeep Tiwana, Wilneida Negrón, and Dan “Blah” Meredith discuss the role digital resources are playing in the closing of civic spaces around the world.

Civic spaces are closing around the world. Digital data and infrastructure are playing an increasing role in this trend, as they reshape the foundation and boundaries of civic spaces, and create new digital dependencies and vulnerabilities for nonprofits, foundations, activists, journalists, and others agents of civil society. 

Digital Impact hosted a virtual roundtable to discuss the role of digital resources in the shrinking of global civic spaces and next steps for civil society in an age of digital dependencies and disruptions.

Moderated by Lucy Bernholz, Director of the Digital Civil Society Lab, the panel included:

  • Chris Worman, Senior Director of Alliances and Community Engagement for TechSoup;
  • Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programs Officer for Civicus;
  • Wilneida Negrón, Technology Fellow for Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Justice at the Ford Foundation; and
  • Dan “Blah” Meredith, Principal Director of Open Technology Fund.

The panel discussed the digital threats and constraints faced by civil society actors and organizations across global contexts; identified gaps between principles and practices in democratic societies; and described the increasingly complex ecosystem for civil society, as shaped by rapid shifts and evolutions in technology, policy, markets, and social change.

Watch the full discussion using the media player above, or listen to the podcast by using the audio player below or by visiting the Digital Impact podcast on iTunes.

A few highlights:

  • Closing civic space is the new norm: Addressing the state of civil society across global contexts, Mandeep Tiwana discussed how offline events, including the rise of “right-wing regressive parties and old-school autocrats,” are shaping online civic spaces, with governments using advanced technology and the “language of security” to crack down on civil society organizations, which by and large possess fewer resources and less digital capacity to defend themselves against more heavily resourced actors.
  • Assume public: Considering varying threats to civic spaces, Chris Worman discussed the ways civil society organizations (CSOs) and social justice movements are getting creative in their efforts to grow “big enough, fast enough” to achieve and sustain their work; one such approach is to adopt “radical transparency” as an adaptation to an increasingly interconnected world where actions and communications are subject to wide exposure, attack, and manipulation.
  • The ecosystem for civil society is increasingly dynamic and deeply intersectional:  Wilneida Negrón described the complex, multi-layered, and continually shifting technological and sociopolitical landscape in which social change is being both fostered and suppressed, and she described how CSOs are constantly playing catch up on digital security while struggling to look both ahead and abroad for emerging threats and lessons learned.
  • The sweeping new scale of digital behemoths raises new questions and challenges: Dan Blah discussed the challenges civil society faces in remaining effective, independent, and competitive in an age when privately controlled digital platforms reach billions and new, competing platforms and technologies are developed outside the context of democratic norms.

Looking for more information on this topic? The following resources are recommended by our featured speakers:

  • Open Technology Fund
    • Supports projects and people that develop open and accessible technologies promoting human rights and open societies, and helps advance inclusive and safe access to global communications networks
  • NetSquared
    • A project of TechSoup that brings together nonprofits and activists, tech leaders and funders, and anyone who is interested in using technology for social change (see below for more info)
  • Transparencee
    • Community of nonprofit, IT, and media organizations using technology to foster transparency, accountability, and governance in the Central and Eastern Europe region

Panelist responses to unanswered attendee questions during the discussion:

Given the fast pace of change – and the cross-sector nature of the challenge – what are the first three things a small-ish nonprofit needs to do or NOT do? Skills? Strategies? Connection?

“Map your data. Where is it (be specific) and who has access to it? Then start asking practical questions such as ‘when was the last time your team updated their passwords?’ More to come from TechSoup on digital security over the coming year but that is a useful exercise to get one thinking.”

“Read the fine print. Some ‘freemium’ web services that civil society likes to use because it is ‘free’ sell your data. Maybe don’t use those and look for alternatives.”

“Check out Netsquared.org. This year more than 50,000 people will attend one of our volunteer community offline meetups. They are a mix of NGO people and tech people and all civil society. They meet and talk about tech in social change, help each other and come up with some pretty amazing tools and projects. Check it out, there may be one near you. If not, start one, we will happily help you get up and running.”  Chris Worman

“Within the realms of market, social, technical, and policy, it can be super overwhelming for a small organization to constantly try to consider them all when evaluating appropriate strategy. Pick one and do it really well, while creating team space for regular but not frequent points of reflection the other non-priority realms. Do the a similar thing with support streams: pick one do it well and think of others later.”

“Maintain a non-competitive way of being, both in principle and practice, in both the organization’s work and how they engage with donors (don’t let them create a competitive spirit). The right line is different for every organization but strive for improvement always. Look for responsible ways to overcome fears of openness.”

“Double down on experimenting with community approaches, allowing for ever-changing but clear and multi-faceted definitions for what improving diversity, equity, and inclusion does, can, and could mean for you. Again, there is no right line, but strive to always improve it. Within this, continue to improve how the organization is assessing impact by those most affected by the organizations work.” Dan “Blah” Meredith

“One thing I would add is the need for CSOs to invest in learning on cutting edge technology as a means to advance their advocacy and campaigning work as those who oppose social justice work are way ahead of us at the game. However, at the same time it’s important that the technology we use to communicate is not exclusive and easily accessible to the public at large and to our colleagues in civil society, many of whom still struggle with basic things such as internet connectivity in substantial portions of the world.” – Mandeep Tiwana

Have thoughts or case studies to share regarding the role of digital resources in shaping civic spaces? Chime in below with a comment.

Have topics or ideas to suggest for future virtual roundtables? Contact us at hello@digitalimpact.org.

To stay up to date with the latest from Digital Impact, sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Twitter. Better yet, become a contributor. 


  1. Great post. I was checking continuously this blog and I am
    impressed! Extremely helpful information particularly the last part
    🙂 I care for such info a lot. I was seeking this particular info for
    a long time. Thank you and good luck. 0mniartist asmr

  2. Today, while I was at work, my sister stole my iphone and tested
    to see if it can survive a 25 foot drop, just so she can be
    a youtube sensation. My apple ipad is now broken and she has 83 views.
    I know this is completely off topic but I had to share it with someone!

    0mniartist asmr

  3. naturally like your web site but you need to check the spelling on several of your posts.
    A number of them are rife with spelling problems and
    I to find it very bothersome to tell the reality
    nevertheless I will surely come back again. 0mniartist asmr

  4. Great blog! Do you have any hints for aspiring writers?
    I’m planning to start my own blog soon but I’m a little
    lost on everything. Would you suggest starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a
    paid option? There are so many options out there that I’m completely overwhelmed ..
    Any recommendations? Cheers! asmr 0mniartist

  5. Hello! I’m at work surfing around your blog from my new
    iphone! Just wanted to say I love reading your blog and look forward to
    all your posts! Keep up the outstanding work! 0mniartist asmr

  6. Every weekend i used to go to see this web site, because i
    wish for enjoyment, for the reason that this this web site conations in fact
    good funny stuff too. 0mniartist asmr

  7. Hi it’s me, I am also visiting this website daily, this website is truly pleasant and the viewers are actually sharing fastidious thoughts.

    asmr 0mniartist

  8. Wonderful post but I was wanting to know if you could
    write a litte more on this topic? I’d be very grateful if you could
    elaborate a little bit further. Many thanks! 0mniartist

  9. I’m not positive where you’re getting your info, however good topic.
    I must spend a while learning much more or working out more.

    Thanks for wonderful info I used to be in search of this info for my mission.
    asmr 0mniartist

  10. I’m really impressed with your writing skills as well as with the layout on your weblog.

    Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself?
    Anyway keep up the nice quality writing, it’s rare to see a great blog like
    this one nowadays.

  11. Awesome issues here. I am very satisfied to look
    your article. Thank you a lot and I’m taking a look forward to contact you.
    Will you kindly drop me a e-mail?

  12. An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this onto a co-worker who has been conducting a little research on this.
    And he in fact ordered me dinner because I discovered it for him…
    lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!!
    But yeah, thanks for spending time to talk about this
    issue here on your internet site.

  13. Hello, i read your blog from time to time and i own a similar one and i was just wondering if you get a lot of spam comments?
    If so how do you protect against it, any plugin or anything you can suggest?
    I get so much lately it’s driving me insane so any help
    is very much appreciated.

  14. This paragraph is really a fastidious one it helps new web users, who
    are wishing for blogging.

  15. It is appropriate time to make a few plans for the
    longer term and it is time to be happy. I have read this post and if I may I want to counsel you
    some attention-grabbing things or advice. Maybe you could write subsequent articles referring to this article.
    I want to learn more things approximately it!

  16. I am sure this post has touched all the internet viewers,
    its really really nice piece of writing on building
    up new weblog.

  17. scoliosis
    Amazing! This blog looks just like my old one! It’s on a completely different subject but it has pretty much the same page
    layout and design. Superb choice of colors! scoliosis

  18. scoliosis
    Hurrah! After all I got a blog from where I be able to genuinely obtain helpful
    data regarding my study and knowledge. scoliosis

  19. scoliosis
    It’s remarkable to pay a quick visit this web site and reading the
    views of all mates regarding this paragraph, while I am also
    zealous of getting know-how. scoliosis

  20. dating sites
    I’ll immediately seize your rss feed as I can not in finding your email subscription hyperlink or newsletter service.
    Do you’ve any? Please let me know so that I may just subscribe.
    Thanks. free dating sites

  21. Asking questions are actually nice thing if you are
    not understanding something completely, but this
    piece of writing offers nice understanding even.

  22. We stumbled over here from a different web page and thought I should check
    things out. I like what I see so now i am following you.
    Look forward to checking out your web page again.

  23. Hello i am kavin, its my first time to commenting anywhere, when i read this paragraph i thought i
    could also make comment due to this brilliant piece of writing.

  24. I’ve been surfing on-line more than three hours as of late, yet
    I never found any attention-grabbing article like yours.
    It’s beautiful value enough for me. In my view, if all webmasters and
    bloggers made just right content as you probably did, the net might be a lot more helpful than ever before.

  25. I appreciate, cause I discovered exactly what I was taking a look for.

    You’ve ended my 4 day lengthy hunt! God Bless you man. Have a nice day.

  26. Heya! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any trouble with
    hackers? My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up
    losing months of hard work due to no data backup.
    Do you have any methods to prevent hackers?

  27. Link exchange is nothing else except it is simply placing the other person’s website link on your page at
    appropriate place and other person will also do same in favor of you.

  28. Hello to all, how is all, I think every one is getting more from this web site,
    and your views are good designed for new viewers.

  29. Hey there! I just would like to offer you a big thumbs up for your great
    info you have here on this post. I’ll be coming
    back to your web site for more soon.

Leave a Comment