New GPD report identifies critical challenges for civil society engaging in digital policy

11 Mar 2021

What are the key challenges facing civil society organisations when it comes to digital policy? What are the big issues on the international agenda—and why are they there? How should groups decide which of the dozens of forums and processes are worth engaging in? And how can funders best support groups in an ever-evolving landscape? These are some of the core questions tackled in a major new report by GPD, Digital Rights at a Crossroads: Recommendations for Advancing Human Rights and Social Justice in the Post-2020 Period.

The report, co-authored by GPD’s Executive Director, Lea Kaspar and Head of Legal, Richard Wingfield, draws on original research—including a survey of 36 civil society organisations, 18 in-depth interviews, and two focus groups—to identify a range of core trends and challenges facing civil society engaging in digital policy in the post-2020 period. 

The overriding picture that emerges from the report is of a field in a state of flux and transition. Longstanding issues such as digital divides and surveillance have been joined by a rapidly increasing number of newer ones, such as artificial intelligence and online content, as priorities on the policy agenda. At the same time, the most impactful discussions on these issues are increasingly held in multilateral spaces, like the UN General Assembly, which often have limited opportunities for civil society engagement—raising questions about the future of “traditional” internet-related forums popular with civil society, like the Internet Governance Forum. As “digital policy” issues become mainstreamed within broader discussions around issues such as crime and security, economics and social justice, the need for greater collaboration beyond the traditional digital rights community has become vital.

Is the digital rights community keeping up with these trends? The report identifies several areas where more action is needed, including encouraging greater coordination between groups, efforts to bring more global South voices to the table, addressing gaps in resources and capacity, and a need for greater strategic prioritisation of issues and forums. It finds the digital rights community to be at a critical inflection point, and offers five concrete recommendations to ensure that the wider ecosystem “keeps up” with the evolving state-of-play.  

The report, with its core focus on monitoring developments and mapping trends, follows and builds on GPD’s longstanding commitment to tracking and unpacking developments in the wider digital policy space; whether through interactive tools like its World map of encryption laws and policies and Disinformation tracker, live info hubs on a range of international forums, or the analysis and updates in GPD’s monthly Digest.

Commenting on the report’s launch, co-author Lea Kaspar said: “A core part of our mission at GPD is to monitor developments in the digital policy field, and give civil society the tools to interpret, locate and act on these shifts. We hope that this report contributes to a greater understanding of the challenges that face us—and we’re excited to continue investigating these questions in the coming months.”

For more information about the report, please contact Richard Wingfield (richard{at}