Introducing a barometer of digital civic engagement

Our Global Digital Civic Engagement Index in response to COVID-19 is based on a methodology that tracks what is catching people’s attention and where they are more inspired to take action.

First published at Aug 25, 2020
– By Lucas Pretti and Olga Mugyenyi

Future generations will hear stories about how the COVID-19 outbreak started out of nowhere, like an attack that caught everyone–regardless of culture, social status, age, and background–off guard. This narrative is partly true, considering the high mutability of the virus, the delayed response of most governments and the vulnerability of health systems worldwide.

But telling the story this way assumes that this surprise was met with paralysis and passivity. Future generations might think that in 2020, humanity simply shrugged and surrendered to the role of a spectator–this cannot be farther from the truth.

This trends report demonstrates that despite global social distancing and lockdowns, the Coronavirus did not result in helpless retreat, but rather sparked unprecedented civic engagement that led to social change. For the first time in decades, one topic got the whole world talking. Following the broader digitalization of society and the ‘new normal’, COVID-19 has ushered in a new era of digital activism.

A barometer of digital civic engagement

Change.org is the world’s largest social platform for change. As of August 2020, more than 406 million people across 196 countries in 12 languages are using our tools to engage with the causes they care about. On average, each day, there are 3,155 new petitions started, 2,896,297 new signatures recorded, 971,004 petition shares on social media, 671 updates posted on active petitions and 44 victories declared (petitions that reach their goals). Our data tells millions of unique stories about citizens around the world taking action to affect positive change.

Over the last  seven months we spotted trends, analysed data, followed patterns we were seeing across countries, and learned from the information we were collecting. The result of this work is now public through this Pandemic Report you are reading. 

In this report, you will be introduced to  a methodology to measure digital civic engagement largely based on the activities and actions recorded on the Change.org platform. This methodology enables us to deduce how people’s concerns and actions change over time, and to make comparative measurements between different countries. This is why we call it a “barometer” – a scientific device to measure pressure, in this case, civic pressure.

Our indicators and methodology

Our data intelligence team has created an index based on three indicators to build the civic engagement index. The indicators take into account the total number of petitions started on the platform, the total number of signatures in all active petitions and the rate of new users joining Change.org.

IndicatorWhat it measuresHow it measures
Petition Creation Rate 📄Level of ActionCompares number of petitions created by users in a period
Signature Rate ✍️Level of SupportCompares number of signatures collected in all petitions in a period
User Growth Rate 👤Level of AwarenessCompares number of total Change.org users in a period

All three indicators are relative, in two senses.

First, they are based on comparisons between two equivalent periods. For this Global Civic Engagement Index, we are comparing activity on Change.org from January to July (seven months) in 2020 and 2019.

Second, the indicators take into account the changing user base in each period, not basing its results on total numbers only. It means the measurements are proportional.

The Index is calculated as follows:

Now identifying each variable in more depth:

The three indicators have been given the same weight. Conceptually, this means that we chose to consider action, support and awareness as equally important to digital civic engagement.

We used this index to look at data from our top 25 countries by user activity. You can find more detailed information about the source data at the bottom of this article. 

Global Digital Civic Engagement Index, mid-2020

Let’s explore the findings! Below is the ranking of countries and the indicators that influenced the score.

RankCountryPetition GrowthSignature GrowthUser Base Growth
1🇿🇦 South Africa227.60%1,063.19%600.40%
2🇯🇵 Japan219.67%150.56%41.37%
3🇨🇦 Canada98.85%206.79%44.29%
4🇺🇸 United States93.40%217.13%40.18%
5🇵🇪 Peru66.34%162.90%62.78%
6🇬🇧 United Kingdom118.94%115.63%19.79%
7🇲🇾 Malaysia150.06%160.83%61.81%
8🇰🇷 South Korea23.42%122.73%11.15%
9🇵🇭 Philippines42.52%166.90%58.01%
10🇳🇿 New Zealand28.98%76.65%25.83%
11🇨🇴 Colombia125.44%115.28%63.14%
12🇮🇳 India104.37%58.90%77.10%
13🇮🇹 Italy125.72%9.44%13.81%
14🇪🇸 Spain68.51%4.40%6.01%
15🇧🇷 Brazil99.34%43.62%54.89%
16🇫🇷 France64.02%22.36%13.23%
17🇨🇱 Chile32.50%47.24%43.89%
18🇦🇺 Australia20.39%33.47%22.47%
19🇦🇷 Argentina61.95%35.76%33.23%
20🇲🇽 Mexico19.53%45.70%34.88%
21🇩🇪 Germany45.40%23.56%27.27%
22🇹🇷 Turkey41.65%6.79%7.15%
23🇷🇺 Russia37.15%-16.30%10.76%
24🇹🇭 Thailand-19.58%-63.49%4.31%
25🇮🇩 Indonesia-50.50%-82.23%14.71%
Global Average80.23%81.51%32.80%
What each column is indicating:

Petition Growth 📄
How do the number of petitions started in 2020 differ from the number of petitions started in the same period in 2019?

Signature Growth ✍️
How do the number of signatures in 2020 differ from the number of signatures in the same period in 2019?

User Base Growth 👤
How did the growth rate in 2020 differ from the growth rate in the same period in 2019?

This is an index of countries that have seen the largest increase in engagement during the pandemic period and should not be misunderstood for a ranking of the most engaged countries on Change.org.

To better illustrate how to read the ranking, let’s take a look at three countries:

🇿🇦 South Africa – Over 4 million new users in South Africa joined Change.org this year, which is 6 times higher than the growth rate from last year. Within this period, the number of signatures increased 10 fold and the rate of new petitions tripled. South Africa ranks number one across all indicators.

🇯🇵 Japan – More than 2,700 petitions were started in Japan this year, which is 3 times higher than 2019. Signature rate increased by 2.5 times. Japan’s percentage increase across all indicators is the highest recorded among countries in the Global North, followed by Canada, the USA and the UK.

🇵🇪 Peru – Nearly 3 million signatures were recorded in Peru this year, which is more than 2.5 times higher than the engagement from last year. Apart from South Africa and along with the Philippines, the Latin American country has the highest signature rate in the Global South. Peru ranks second in terms user growth, with more than 2 million people joining Change.org during this time period.

Did COVID-19 influence these numbers?

We asked ourselves the same question. In 22 out of the 25 countries, signatures have increased – generating a global average of 81.51%. In 23 out of 25, the number of petitions increased dramatically: 80.23% on average. And the user base has grown in every country.

Was it all because of the pandemic? To a large extent, the answer is yes. Let’s see what data tells us.

The charts below display information for each of the 25 countries, ordered by its position in the ranking. The main line in the chart represents the weekly percentage of signatures that are COVID-19-related.

For example, if the line reaches 60% it means that 60% of all signatures in a given week were in support of petitions related to COVID-19, while the remaining 40% were action taken on other issues. The main line measures the level of relevance of COVID-19 for civic engagement in different countries.

The straight line is the trendline, which calculates the average relevance measured over time and compares each week to the next in a linear progression. This tool allows us to understand data historically and to identify the trend of the fluctuating main line. 

Weekly percentage of COVID-19 signatures over total signatures

In 10 countries the COVID-19 outbreak played a major role in boosting civic engagement (purple), while in 9 countries it played an important but not necessarily central role (red). In 6 countries civic engagement was not impacted by COVID-19 related petitions (yellow).

The table below groups countries into three categories based on how much the pandemic affected civic engagement. The relevance rate is the average percentage of signatures in pandemic-related petitions compared to the total signatures in the past seven months. The display order follows the index ranking:

Role of COVID-19 in civic engagement increase
RankCountryRelevance RateCOVID-19 Role
1🇿🇦 South Africa23.76%Major role
2🇯🇵 Japan24.96%Major role
3🇨🇦 Canada12.38%Important role
4🇺🇸 United States11%Important role
5🇵🇪 Peru26.94%Major role
6🇬🇧 United Kingdom16.78%Important role
7🇲🇾 Malaysia26.79%Major role
8🇰🇷 South Korea2.37%Secondary role
9🇵🇭 Philippines34.70%Major role
10🇳🇿 New Zealand37.35%Major role
11🇨🇴 Colombia14.42%Important role
12🇮🇳 India28.35%Major role
13🇮🇹 Italy15.96%Important role
14🇪🇸 Spain25.07%Major role
15🇧🇷 Brazil27.01%Major role
16🇫🇷 France11.19%Important role
17🇨🇱 Chile12.48%Important role
18🇦🇺 Australia10.64%Important role
19🇦🇷 Argentina7.42%Secondary role
20🇲🇽 Mexico5.20%Secondary role
21🇩🇪 Germany8.80%Secondary role
22🇹🇷 Turkey5.46%Secondary role
23🇷🇺 Russia28.10%Major role
24🇹🇭 Thailand6.70%Secondary role
25🇮🇩 Indonesia19.67%Important role

Stories and trends behind the numbers

Beyond percentages and rankings, what can data from over 400 million people tell us about what they want and how civic engagement has changed? What have we learned from the pandemic?

We believe this index can be read in many different ways. It can be seen as a reaction to COVID-19 spreading, or as an assessment of how officials and country decision-makers are managing the pandemic and its social and economic effects. But, beyond that, these insights provide clues that will help us and future generations interpret how society responded to this unique time in history. 

This report contains a collection of articles by Change.org staff from 12 countries in response to the following questions:

What do people want?
What has changed?
What are we learning?

Informed by data, each article explores trends and tells stories they have witnessed and gathered from interactions with our users. Through their lens, you can follow a more in-depth look at Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Spain, Thailand, UK and the USA.

About the data

The data above covers the user base of the 25 largest countries using Change.org. That data analysed is from December 30, 2019 to July 31, 2020. We looked at petitions that had a minimum of 10 signatures each, totalling to 250,306 petitions.

To identify which petitions are related to COVID-19, we ran a query searching for specific words within petition titles and petition bodies (“coronavirus”, “corona”, “COVID”, “quarantine” and “lockdown”) in 12 different languages (English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Hindi, Japanese, Thai, Bahasa Indonesia, Russian and Turkish). The results gave us a total of 36,197 petitions.

Change.org has staff in the following countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Spain, United Kingdom, United States, Thailand and Turkey.

All charts are open-ended. This means the data is changing as you read this, and will continue to change over time as people continue to sign petitions and engage on our platform. This is why the index ought to be read as a trend, and not a final truth. 

Our team will be updating the index on a regular basis until we feel we have approached the “end” of the pandemic. As time passes, we will be  able to better measure the engagement progression and strengthen the analysis and interpretation on civic engagement – and what this means at a country and community level.

Written by – Lucas Pretti
Head of the LAB, Change.org Foundation
Data Intelligence by – Tushar Badwhar
Evaluation Strategist, Change.org Foundation
Edited by – Olga Mugyenyi
Chief of Staff, Change.org Foundation
Data Research by – Federico Álvarez
Product Manager, Change.org Foundation

Listen to the voices on the ground

This report contains an insightful collection of essays by Change.org staff based in 12 countries. Discover what people want, what has changed and what the pandemic has taught us through the voice of our campaigners.