Using Research in Digital Rights Advocacy: Understanding the Research Needs of the Internet Freedom Community

The importance of research within digital rights advocacy cannot be understated. Whether your objective is to persuade policymakers, communicate with companies, educate journalists, convince funders, or influence public opinion, you need accurate and systematically collected information. All advocacy organizations engage in research even if they don’t realize it—advocates are identifying a problem, strategically analyzing causes and effects, seeking potential solutions through information gathering, and communicating this information in a compelling way with core stakeholders. While most organizations have some capacity for research, many organizations do not have the time, funding, or expertise to understand how to deploy the best, most robust, and most convincing research methods to fuel data-driven advocacy. This is especially true for digital rights-related activism, where methods for studying the effects of internet policies, internet user behavior, and corporate decision-making online are often highly technical.

This report, based on a 2017 survey of 79 organizations engaged in digital rights advocacy from around the world, seeks to provide clarity on how the community understands and utilizes research within current advocacy efforts and to identify the needs for future research and collaboration efforts. Through the survey, we asked organizations to consider their capacities for conducting research and using it within their campaigns, perceptions of current research being produced on internet policy issues, and thoughts on barriers to and opportunities for collaboration between research and advocacy organizations.

The study seeks to address the following key questions:

  • Which research methods do organizations use the most in internal research?
    What capacities for research exist
    within organizations and via existing collaborations with research institutions?
  • What issue areas are perceived as the most researched and the least researched?
  • What kinds of aggregated datasets would be most useful for organizations’ advocacy?
  • Who are the perceived audiences for digital rights organizations’ research and advocacy?
  • What are current barriers to collaboration between research and advocacy organizations?
  • How can funding be directed to improve collaborations, increase research capacity, and produce research needed by and representative of the community?

Authors: John Remensperger, Laura Schwartz-Henderson, Kristina Cendic

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