Report: Intersectional approaches to data and digital rights advocacy during the pandemic

Barbara Paes

In 2021, The Engine Room conducted a research project exploring intersectional collaboration between social justice communities and data and digital rights (DDR) communities during the pandemic. With support from LuminateMedia Democracy Fund, and the NetGain Partnership, we set out to understand the current barriers to and opportunities for greater collaboration between the two communities, with the goal of strengthening the work of both.

We are excited to publish the findings from this research.

About this research

During the course of our research, we hosted five community calls with participants from Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, western Europe and the United States, and held 58 interviews with social justice and digital rights advocates from a variety of movements. 

We saw that despite strong evidence that stronger collaboration between social justice groups and digital rights groups was urgently needed, inequitable funding and power imbalances between different regions and sectors have produced an uneven landscape where this kind of collaboration has been lacking. 

Our research surfaced a number of grounds for working towards stronger collaboration between the two communities: 

  • Digital inequities have deepened during the pandemic and the digital divide has only widened. This is especially true in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, where digital literacy and access was already a concern prior to the pandemic.
  • Activists are facing a digital emergency. Forced to rapidly recalibrate their work and services in online spaces, many organisations are balancing existing work with the new DDR issues created by the pandemic.
  • Intersectional collaboration is critical, given how Covid-19 has unevenly impacted communities, often replicating existing patterns of oppression. An intersectional approach could more effectively address compounding inequities, as compared to a single-issue approach. 
  • Cross-sector collaboration can yield benefits, such as rooting DDR issues in the realities of social justice communities, strengthening the message of DDR work and making it easier for organisations to achieve their objectives. In particular, we found that making DDR knowledge more accessible to a wider, more diverse group of civil society organisations makes it more actionable for a broader set of groups.

In our report, you’ll find:

  • An overview of challenges related to data and digital rights that civil society faced during the pandemic.
  • A synthesis of the barriers to collaboration between social justice and data and digital rights groups, as well as the characteristics of strong collaborations. 
  • Reflections on how the pandemic has accelerated the need for the data and digital rights field to become more inclusive, accessible, interdisciplinary, diverse and intersectional. 
  • Our recommendations for funders and other actors interested in fostering more collaboration.

This report wouldn’t be possible without the contributions of researchers Maya Wagoner and Wilneida Negrón and the dozens of organisations and individuals who participated in the research – thank you so much to everyone we spoke to for your time and insights.


On Tuesday, February 15, 5pm CET, we’re hosting a community call to discuss the report findings and explore strategies for further collaboration between data and digital rights communities and social justice communities. Joining us as speakers are Temi Lasade-Anderson (Alaase Lab), Luã Cruz (IDEC), Patronella Nqaba (Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity) and Paromita Shah (Just Futures Law). 

Sign up to participate here.


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