Digital Policy Is the Nonprofit Sector’s Policy Agenda
23 Pages Posted: 24 Feb 2021
Date Written: September 30, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has cast civil society’s dependence on digital data, systems, regulations, and policy domains into stark relief, but the shift has been underway for decades. Policy domains as diverse as consumer data protection, intermediate liability laws and encryption now bound and shape nonprofits, collective action, and association. In this paper, we argue that nonprofits and foundations in the United States must now recognize and attend to these digital policy domains as a matter of course. To help the sector gain a better understanding of the different ways digital policies matter to nonprofit organizations and their funders, we put forward a three-tier model. The model comprises domain specific digital policies (those related to the domain of action of any given nonprofits); operations-specific policies (those related to the organizational function of all nonprofits); and definitional policy issues (those related to the regulation of digital systems which implicate values and rights upon which the entire sector is built). To develop and exemplify the usefulness of this framework, we use a multi-method approach consisting of focus groups and interviews with nonprofit leaders, advocacy and infrastructure organization, funders and scholars; and content analysis of a custom-built media database focused on digital surveillance and the role of civil society during the pandemic. These two approaches allow us to identify the digital policy issues that organizations within the sector identify (internal) as well as show how mainstream media (external) represents the role of nonprofits on a digital policy issue with broad implications across the three tiers in our model. We conclude by highlighting the many digital policy issues that matter across the full spectrum of civil society and by underlining why opportunities for future advocacy and coalition work are numerous, diverse, and existential.
Keywords: Civil society, non-profit sector, digital policy, surveillance, privacy, COVID-19, data, interviews, focus group, content analysis.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation