WIA Report

Civil Society Goes Online: Civic Groups with Websites in 152 Countries, 1995-2005

Over the last 10 years, nearly 10,000 civic groups in 152 countries around the world have asserted a digital presence. More than twice as many civic groups came online between 2000-04 as came online between 1995-99.

Surprisingly, the rate of growth in online Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) based within a country is faster than the rate of growth in online civic groups working in a country. ((Downlaod WIA spreadsheet Civic Groups Online in 152 Countries, 1995-2005)) The majority of civic groups working in poor countries are International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs) that are actually based in developed countries. But in comparing the two periods, 1995-99 and 2000-04, we find that the number of online INGOs doubled while the number of NGOs increased five-fold. This is a good thing, because it means that an increasing number of local civic initiatives in developing countries are using the Internet for organizing themselves, promoting their work, and offering services to their citizens. The degree of civic engagement online, however, does not always match the degree of Internet use within a country.

To compile this data, researchers catalogued the NGOs and INGOs listed at www.oneworld.net. ((Staff Research. (2006). World Information Access Report. Seattle, WA: World Information Access Project, Department of Communication, University of Washington.))  Although civic groups must volunteer for registration, this website has one of the best long term collections of registered online NGOs and INGOs.  This compiled data was merged with data on numbers of internet users from 2000 and 2005. ((Staff calculations based on data from: International Telecommunication Union. (2006). International Telecommunication Indicators. Geneva: International Telecommunication Union; Miniwatts Marketing Group. (2005). Internet World Statistics: http://www.internetworldstats.com/.))

In sum, we can point to four important trends. First, in some developing countries, civil society online is dominated by groups that are working there but actually based in developed countries. Countries such as Thailand, Nicaragua, Brazil, Nepal and India have a significant online civil society, but a relatively small portion of those groups are actually from the countries they serve. Second, other countries have a vibrant civil society that is online and populated by local groups. Countries such as Honduras, Slovakia, Zambia, Martinique and Oman have a comparatively vibrant and local online civil society. Third, in some countries civil society is particularly vibrant, and growing at a rate greater than the growth rate of Internet users. In Palestine and many small island states, the number of civic groups online has grown significantly. Fourth, online civil society actually seemed to shrink in countries where the number of online civic groups has not kept pace with the rapid rise in the number of Internet users. In Brazil, Poland, Turkey, Taiwan and Mexico more Internet users may not necessarily mean a more vibrant civil society online.

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