Voto Mobile - Engaging and Polling Citizens with the Power of Voice

Voto - Mobile Engagement, Simplified

There is an election in a week,  you want to poll the citizenry before the election, and your financial resources are limited. What should you do? Should you (A.) Give up because it is simply not possible to get a full-fledged poll out in the field. (B.) Beg your donor to give you a last minute cash infusion to bring on more staff and a polling company. (C.) Join the 21st Century and leverage technology to generate a fully randomized national telephone poll using a platform like Voto Mobile. Voto Mobile's goal is to make interacting with an audience via mobile phones - either one-way via broadcast or two-way in an interactive fashion -- easy and inexpensive.

Over the last few weeks I have had the opportunity to sit down twice with developers and staff from the socially conscious start-up Voto Mobile. Based out of Kumasi, Ghana, Voto Mobile has the straight-forward goal of “Mobile Engagement, Simplified.” The company is leveraging the ubiquity of mobile phones around the world to enable both research and social engagement that offers CSOs, NGOs, Political Parties and other organizations new capabilities. READ MORE »

The Story of a Software Audit

TrueCrypt logo

Auditing of software of both the license and the source code is nothing new, especially of tools that are new to the digital security plethora of tools. But what about software whose use is widely recommended, but where little is known about the licensing decisions and the differences between original code and platform-specific applications? This is the impetus for the audit of the encryption software TrueCrypt.

TrueCrypt allows you to create an encrypted container on your computer's hard drive to store sensitive files, that to the untrained eye, appear like any other file you might find on a user’s computer.  TrueCrypt storage “volumes” are typically made to look like a large video file (and hey, we even have a tutorial on how to make one that actually plays part of a video).

Despite being an open-source licensed project, there are legal and technical limitations to its openness.

While TrueCrypt’s source code is publicly available, the binaries (what makes TrueCrypt function without any installation process), are not. This matters because use of these binaries could potentially have security flaws that are unknown and unfixed. As cryptographer Matthew Green points out, the majority of TrueCrypt users only run and install it through the binaries, and while the source code sems trustworthy, it’s unclear if the binaries are.   READ MORE »

Have you Heard? China's Crackdown on Online "Rumors"

China leads the way when it comes to controlling online content. A push to counteract messaging that differs from “official” interpretation of events has spurred a wave of crackdowns that started in August, publically justified by the government as preventing the spread of online "rumors”.

Authorities have escalated their campaign against "cybercrime,” designed to prevent “hearsay” and “gossip” from spreading rapidly online, culminating in the arrests of hundreds of activists.

Prominent activist Murong Xuecun in a NYT op-ed stated that, “the vast state censorship apparatus works hard to keep us down. But posts race through Weibo so quickly that it’s difficult to control them with technology. Hence, the government is resorting to detainment.”

Chinese authorities utilize a number of methods for exorcising “bad” speech in its online communities. For over a decade, the government has been employing a task force to publish regime-friendly comments online in an effort to manipulate public opinion.  This force has become known as the 50 Cent Army, which pays homage to the rumored 50 cents of Renminbi paid per comment (though in a rare moment of transparency, the government budgets have listed “Internet opinion analysts” as official occupations, most notable at the China Employment Training Technical Instruction Center). In 2012, real name registration came into effect -- requiring web users to register their given name and national identification name with provider sites before posting comments.

The “campaign against cybercrime” has reached new heights in targeting those “perpetrate rumours” in China’s online communities. This provision has paved the way for mass arrests of outspoken netizens across the country, including the Big V’s-- microbloggers known for online activism. An August 24th editorial stated that popular bloggers who “poison the online environment” should be “dealt with like rats scurrying across the street that everyone wants to kill.”

Arrests have also spread amongst China’s Uighur population.  July and August were marked by a government movement against “religious extremist content on the internet” in the Xinjiang province.  Fearing a militant, religious uprising, police arrested 139 people for spreading “jihadist” sentiments and posting religious content online, according to state-run media.

READ MORE »

Technology is a life changer...

How is technology changing your life?

We often take for granted the impact technology has on our everyday lives. I was poignantly reminded of the importance of technology a week ago when I used my smartphone and the Internet to diagnose the warning signs of appendicitis. Having had the last few days at home after surgery, I began to ponder several important aspects of technology.  Critics often scoff at the importance of technology in development saying that technology has a limited role if any. I do not claim that technology is the silver bullet, yet my own immediate experience indicates that technology has an important role to play in both general human development activities and also more pertinently to our own work in democracy and civil society development.  READ MORE »

Learning ADIDS - Digital Security Trainings for Grownups

I thought it was a brand of athletic shoes, but apparently I was wrong.

I was recently at a training-of-trainers with some of the best digital security experts in the business. We’re working with a crop of young trainers from around the world eager to improve their skills in teaching others the critical - and timely - topics of safety and privacy online.

We’re not children anymore. (I, at least, am nowhere close.) That means, in part, that we don’t learn in the same way that children do - and a lot of the teaching methodologies we’re brought up on don’t work well for adults. We are building out a set of digital security training materials and in the process I’ve been learning about a pedagogical approach called ADIDS. I’ve also been learning how to pronounce “pedagogical.”

ADIDS stands for Activity, Discussion, Inputs, Deepening, Synthesis. It’s a proven approach based on experimental results and sound learning principles - and entirely new to me. This may explain much of my academic career. In any case, by taking a topic and approaching it through these five lenses, one gives a broad audience of adult learners the best chance possible to absorb new, complex information.

People don’t learn everything all at once. It’s a frequent sin in digital security trainings to blast through a complicated topic, say “any questions?,” nod in satisfaction, and move on confident that the information has been absorbed and will be faithfully lived from that day forward.

With ADIDS, you’d go through a series of stages on a given topic. It also makes Death by Powerpoint refreshingly implausible. READ MORE »

The Amazing Open Government Guide: Action Steps to Accountable and Transparent Governments

Open Government Guide

One of the coolest things this week that we have seen is the newly released Open Government Guide. NDItech is this week at the Open Government Partnership Summit in London where NDI is launching the Legislative Opennes Working Group focused on parliamentary openness, among other things.  The OGP is a voluntary international effort focused on fostering more transrparent and accountable government. Member governments sign on to a very high-level declaration of principles on government openness, accountability, and transparency and then develop action plans that are developed, in the ideal case, with a legitimate civil society consultative process. The action plans are supposed to be actionable and measurable.

Enter the Open Government Guide. It is meant to support the development and then adherence to specific goals in 19 areas currently. These include, for instance, budgets, public contracting, right to information and cross-cutting issues such as parliaments and elections (Disclosure: both of those chapters were contributed by NDI staff.).  Each category is divided into initial, intermediate and advanced actions that are also supported by specific recommendations, standards, and case studies.  All is presented in a highly accessible visual format. READ MORE »

An App That Spotlights Your Risks

Panic Button Logo

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to participate in an event to determine how human rights defenders might approach an emergency alert mobile app given their diverse risks, and to ensure that activists first consider their risks before adopting such a tool.

The following is a summary of this event, written by Alix Dunn of the Engine Room and Libby Powell of Radar. 

How can an app developer make sure that an app doesn’t do more harm than good? For Amnesty International, that question could be one of life or death for human rights defenders using their new Panic Button app. READ MORE »

Mobile Data on the Go: How to Use FormHub and ODK in 5 Easy Steps

Data Collection Gone Mobile - Image Courtesy FormHub

One of the key components to any well run organization is an efficient process for information gathering. This can seem a daunting task for professionals working from differing locations or even transnationally. Traditionally, organizations have relied on paper forms for collecting data only to later gather the forms and enter them manually into a database for analysis. Using web-based forms allows for real-time monitoring and analysis of data. Mobile collection of data also offers the ability to collect advanced data such as GPS coordinates, images, videos, and time stamp data - all on the go and in the field.  

The best part of using mobile-forms is that you don’t have to be a programmer or statistician to utilize them. Building web-forms is a fast, uncomplicated task that can be executed by even the least tech-savvy individuals.  In order to prove this, over the last week I have been working with two tools that are increasingly popular for mobile data collection: Formhub and Open Data Kit (ODK). Below is an easy 5-step breakdown for using Formhub and ODK Collect to enhance your data collection process.

READ MORE »

Counting All Voices - New Fund Deadline November 8

Making All Voices Count website screenshot.

We talk repeatedly about transparency and civic engagement in our work, and often emphasize that it’s only when governments have the will and capacity to respond to citizen' demands that signficant social change takes place. Improving citizen action and government responsiveness always lies at the nexus of political institutions, local incentives, and power dynamics. Add to this the use of digital technoloy - ubiquitously by citizens, less so by institutions, and you see the need for very smart project design that takes all these factors into consideration. However, projects are often influenced by donors who not always understand how these systems work together. In a positive sign, a new funding mechanism requires strategic design and evidence of government and civil society collaboration up front.

The new 45-million Making All Voices Count fund is supported by USAID, DFID, SIDA, OSF and Omidyar and is implemented by Hivos, IDS and Ushahidi. The first round of proposals are due by November 8, 2013. READ MORE »

The Changed Conversation About Surveillance Online

Logo, Crimson Hexagon, the platform we used for this research

The revelations about sustained and pervasive NSA surveillance that started in June and are still ongoing are having a sustained effect on the global conversation about censorship and surveillance on the Internet. Using 'big data' analysis of public sentiment we can illustrate the change in this conversation. The increase in online posts on the topic important because it indicates that the global conflict over Internet norms is occurring in real-time and is not fading out of the global consciousness or being consumed by a Huxleyan dystopia. If anything, the conversation has increased and has remained significantly higher than it was in the months prior to the first wave of revelations.

Our analysis, using Crimson Hexagon's media monitoring platform, comprised more than 2.5 million online posts from April 6 until October 1 from almost every country in the world. The conversation was and remains dominated by the expected players (largely due to an English language bias or our survey), United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.  Even though we conducted our survey for English language posts only, the global geographic location of posts accounts for nearly all nations around the world. READ MORE »

Opening Parliaments In Beautiful Visualizations

Social network analysis by KohoVolit.eu

Our friends in the Opening Parliament community have been busy this Fall, and are anticipating the Open Government Partnership (OGP) annual conference  at the end of the month. We’ve been impressed by several projects that mashup accountability mechanisms with strong data visualizations, and are highlighting them below. For a full review of parliamentary monitoring accomplishments, find more news crossposted on the Opening Parliament blog.   

In the Czech Republic, a Czech and Slovak parliamentary monitoring organization, KohoVolit.eu, has worked to visualize complex parliamentary information through social network analysis. Their visualizations demonstrate how often individual MPs sponsor bills and the collaboration relationship with other MPs (image at right).

READ MORE »

Fake or Real? Fake Domain Attacks on Civil Society Web Sites

Fake Domains

We work with civil society organizations around the world that are facing increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks against them from relenteless, well-resourced, and tecnically extremely savvy adversaries that attempt to curtail, surveil, and otherwise hinder their work. We are routinely called to assist our partners in preventing and mitigating denial-of-service attacks against and hacking of websites and online services, expecially during political events such as elections.  Our partners are under threat  in myriad ways, ranging from account compromises, social media takedowns to regime trolls and spammers, and malware. 

ACCESS Now, a US-based advocacy organization focused on internet governance and digital security has just compiled the first in a series of reports focused on these threats to civil society organizations.  The first assessment focused on fake domains when an adversary creates a similar-looking website or social media profile to one of a civil society organizations. These fake domains are used to dilute or confuse the message of the organization and subvert their effectiveness by drawing readers from the original site, or in order to serve malware to specifically target the audience of the original website. READ MORE »

Our Digital Future: What's Next for Internet Research

NDItech was recently at an event on Our Digital Future: Ideas for Internet Research hosted by The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. A diverse panel of experts in the field were invited to the discussion: Matthew Reisman, a Senior Manager at Microsoft, Milton Mueller, Professor at the Syracuse University of Information Studies, Brian Bieron, Senior director with eBay, and Carolina Rossini who serves as Project Director for the Latin American Resource Center.

Panelists made a number of interesting observations about the status and power of the internet in today’s global society. Matthew Reisman pointed out that Microsoft, in particular, is interested in studies of how government regulatory policies are affecting the ability of entrepreneurs to conduct business online - which would be most easily measured by conducting econometric research on internet policies enacted around the world.  As trade and services burgeon online, governments are creating barriers that complicate the ease of doing international business. It is important for those researching the modern impact of the internet to consider just how these barriers are affecting businesses, economies, and people, especially in a world where eCommerce has grown to encompass over 6 percent of the global retail sector over a period of ten years. Milton Mueller further asserted that developing an understanding of intimate relations between technology and social relations is essential, including how [we] are going to govern newly implemented technologies, and what the global impact of this governance will be.

The internet is global and as such has particular impact on the economic possibilities for developing countries. We hope to see tangible data from conversations such as this that makes the point wht the internet - in economic and political terms - is a vital resource for countries worldwide.

READ MORE »

The Next Billion: Jumping the Digital Divide

Over the last 20 years the Internet and globalization have had an impact on the way we as democracy activists think about our work. It has not superseded our fundamental person to person interactions, yet it has provided us and those with whom we work a new toolbox with which to push for improvements in approaches to civic engagement and activism. Yet, even as more than 2.4 billion people around the world push forward into the digital frontier what can we say about the nearly 4.5 billion who are not on the Internet? How do we reach those individuals and get them pulled into an online digital discourse and civil society so their voices can be heard? This post examines the digital divide globally and presents some of the technologies available to bridge the digital divide to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard.

The global communications infrastructure is truly in its infancy. The Internet has only been a major force globally for about 20 years. The Internet in its short relevant lifespan connects us in ways we never before thought possible. In the 1970s it was imagined that a computer would one day fit inside a large room, now we carry a computer vastly more powerful than the one that resulted in the successful lunar landings on the moon in our pocket every day. But, while we, in our every day society, carry more and more sophisticated computing devices, we often forget we are among the lucky 1/3 of the planet’s population with access to a treasure trove of information and communications capabilities. READ MORE »

Foreign Assistance Dashboard: Aid Transparency About Where US Aid Is Going

ForeignAssistance.gov

Every year the United States gives out around $50 billion in aid to developing countries around the world.  This means the United States gives out twice as much in foreign aid as the next four counties on the list of major international donors (UK, Japan, France, and Germany).

So, where is this money going?  The U.S. Department of State and USAID have developed a new tool to help in answering that question. In late 2011 the U.S. signed the International Aid Transparency Initiative, a voluntary multi-national strategy to make information about foreign aid more transparent, accessible, and understandable. Launched in 2013, the U.S. Foreign Assistance Dashboard provides a way to view U.S. foreign assistance funds in a standard, easy to understand, format.  

The dashoard enables a wide spectrum of stakeholders in the U.S. aid process to examine, research, and track U.S. funding. It presents data in two ways:  First, the website presents data in user friendly graphics in specific categories such as funding received by a particular country, sector, or agency. Information can also be accessed in machine-readable form, allowing users to execute manual queries and download data sets.

Critics of the program note that while the Dashboard is a step forward for transparency, agencies have been lagging in posting information to the Dashboard.  They have also noted that data on the Dashboard is not presented in a clear format, or that information is incomplete.

READ MORE »

Can Open Data Improve Democratic Governance?

Analyzing MP Voting Records by Kohovolit.eu

Earlier this month, I sat in an auditorium with political scientists, civic start-ups and data geeks that were prompted to answer the question: Can open data improve democratic governance?

NDI supports projects that deal with opening up government data, particularly in emerging democracies (such as these examples on our sister site Openingparliament.org). We, along with many of our partners engaged in this work, believe that open data can improve governance by facilitating better decision-making and potentially help build trust in and engagement with policy makers. With better information, citizens and governments are also able to ultimately make better decisions.

At the event “Can Open Data Improve Democratic Governance” hosted at U.C. Berkeley, presenters focused on how policymakers can better benefit from data use, i.e. how open data can improve democratic governance. Participants also discussed achievement gaps in order to understand how the open data community should evolve in order to improve governance outcomes.

READ MORE »

Is Tech a Scapegoat for Political FOIA Failures?

"Public access to information is democratic aspiration still to be fulfilled."  This insight comes from CIMA’s new report, Breathing Life into Freedom of Information Laws: The Challenges of Implementation in the Democratizing World. Evaluating case studies from Albania, Armenia, Indonesia, Jamaica, South Africa, and Ukraine, the report lists the following recommendations to improve upon existing Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation:

  • Officials of national and local governments who are responsible for responding to citizens’ requests for information must be properly organized, trained, funded, and protected.

  • Because government touches everything, a FOI law should touch everything.

  • It should be recognized that a FOI law is most important to average citizens at the local government level.

  • Many FOI laws are based on a presumption of access, stating that government records are accessible with certain exceptions; the exceptions should be based on the likelihood of harm that could arise as a result of disclosure.

  • The law should not require that government officers, employees, or agencies go to unreasonable lengths to accommodate applicants.

Crowdsourcing Political Incidents Online

Candidate posters, Kenya Presidential Elections, March 2013.

Kenya's iHub recently released its research on crowdsourced information in the highly contested 2013 Kenya Presidential elections. The study sought to clarify the value of information collected from citizens about political incidents from online media, and to answer whether 1) “passive crowdsourcing” is viable in the Kenyan context  - passive crowdsourcing being defined as monitoring social media such as Twitter 2) determine what unique information Twitter posts provided about the election, and 3) determine the conditions in which crowdsourced information is a viable news source. As part of the report, iHub provided a useful set of recommendations and a decision-making framework for practitioners who are considering similar methodologies. 

The report provides great detail about the research methodology and data sources (Twitter, online traditional media, targeted crowdsourcing platforms like Uchaguzi, and fieldwork). Particularly impressive are the mechanisms described for capture, storage and classification of tweets and the detailed approaches to filtering for newsworthy tweets. The glossary is helpful in clarifying terminology such as that of "passive", "active" and "targeted" crowdsourcing of information from citizens. (NDI prefers the term "citizen reporting" over crowdsourcing for citizen-generated incidents data.) READ MORE »

OpenSpending.org: Promoting Transparency in Government Spending

Source: Openspending.org

In an effort to increase transparency and citizen oversight of government spending, a new online project was developed to track government as well as corporate financial transactions throughout the world. Operated by the Open Knowledge Foundation (OKFN) and funded by organizations such as the Knight Foundation, Omidyar Network, Open Society Foundation and 4IP, Openspending.org “maps money” by collecting information about government spending across the globe, and presents results in an accessible and engaging manner. 

A community-driven organization, OKFN uses technology to promote open knowledge and data, making it easier for citizens to observe how their taxes are being spent by government. Members of the OKFN’s Openspending.org community work together to build tools and online communities that encourage collaboration in the use and production of digital information. As mentioned on the site, the Openspending.org team is comprised of staff and volunteers who constantly discuss and develop new and innovative ways “to monitor and explain budgets and government spending through the use of technology.”

According to the OKFN team, Openspending came about because, as they note "there is no 'global atlas' of spending, no integrated, searchable database which would be a valuable resource for policy-makers and civil society alike. We want anyone to be able to go to their local council or national government, request the data, upload, understand and visualise it and contribute to this 'spending commons', which anyone can benefit from.” READ MORE »

EMOTIVE, "Mapping the Mood of a Nation"

EMOTIVE NLP Pipeline for Sparse Text Processing

It goes almost without saying that Twitter has changed the landscape of how people express and exchange their opinions online.  Currently Twitter is host to 554.75 million users with an average of 135,000 new users signing up for the service every day. It is estimated that there are 9,000 new tweets every second. What is more, Twitter users have broken the news on events before the mainstream media.  The Boston Marathon explosions, key events during the Arab Spring, and the London G20 riots as well as numerous earthquakes and other natural distasters were events where real-time updates were found on Twitter before anywhere else.  

Based on this, Researchers at Loughborough University in London have developed a new system for “Extracting the Meaning Of Tears Information in a Visualization of Emotion” aptly adapted into the acronym EMOTIVE. The academics working on this project say this new program can analyze up to 2,000 tweets a second to serve as a map of real-time public sentiment. READ MORE »

Taking the "Social" and "Media" out of "Social Media"

Image courtesy of NamViet News

Early this summer, the Wall Street Journal published a widely-circulated article on the increasing restrictions to free speech online. South East Asia continues to be a region where internet freedom is under threat.

The most notable case is in Vietnam, where the draconian Decree 72 has been implemented. (More details on other restrictions in Vietnam can be found here). According to the decree, “[A] personal information webpage is a webpage created by individual on their own or via a social network. This page should be used to provide and exchange information of that individual only; it does not represent other individual or organization, and is not allowed to provide compiled information.” This law has severe implications for any journalists, academics, and others who seek to share work accomplished by others. In addition, the decree requires all foreign websites to include at least one server in Vietnam, so that the data stored on those servers can be accessed by local authorities. READ MORE »

ElecTech Afghanistan: Increasing Transparency and Participation

MTN welcomes visitors to Kabul International Airport

I’m recently back from Electech Afghanistan, an NDI-hosted elections and technology conference in Kabul. The event brought together senior officials from government, civil society, the private sector, and the international community to discuss applications of digital technologies to enhance transparency and participation in the election process.

Ahead of the Presidential elections in April 2014, the Afghan public lacks confidence in the government’s ability to run a credible election and this is diminishing participation and prospects for stability and democratic development. Afganistan is, of course, a supremely insecure environment with low rates of literacy throughout the population.

Participants identified ways that technology could improve participation and confidence by helping election authorities in administration, improving how political parties compete, increasing citizen’s participation, and enabling civil society organizations to observe more effectively, all while allowing journalists such as Pajhwok News to publicly share results and analysis. Discussion focused on the changing nature of political participation mediated by technology.

From Broadcast to Mobile and Social READ MORE »

Mobile Phones in International Development: Insecure and Problematic for Security and Privacy

Creative Commons Photo by flickr user gruntzooki

There is a new report by Hibah Hussein, a researcher at the New America Foundation that sharply critiques the lack of privacy and security considerations in mobiles-for-development projects. As readers of this blog know, mobile phones are proliferating as a communications and information delivery channel in international development - in health care projects, those focused on economic development and livelihoods, and also in social accountability and transparency work. We here at NDI have certainly extensively used mobile phones in systematic election monitoring, for citizen outreach and delivering civic information, and for citizens to hold their elected officials accountable. 

But, as Hussein poses, mobile phones are inherently insecure channels easily surveilled and monitored by design (after all, telcoms charge by usage and thus watch closely what you do), poorly regulated if at all with meaingful privacy protections in most developing countries, and thus inherently subject to deliberate or inadvertent privacy and security breaches. Since mobile projects in development often target the most vulnerable and marginalized populations and much of development happens in countries with poor governance all the way to outright dictatorships, this combination, Hussein argues, is a recipe for disaster.  She notes that international development projects lack privacy and security procols and guidelines and proposes a framework for them to consider in their projects. 

READ MORE »

Election Passport - Election Data and the Challenge of Unreliable Narrators

Data from ElectionPassport.com

I’ve recently been digging into the useful resource Election Passport - it’s a compilation of constituency-level official election results for over 80 countries around the world.

Having this basic information can be a great asset, particularly as we try and find new ways to provide context for citizens by visualizing and mapping electoral environments. One of the best ways to understand a country can be via a classic political red/blue-state style map as has been routine for elections in the United States.  I prefer more shades than just red and blue, of course, to show party preference and intensity of that preference, and it’s certainly more complicated to visualize party preference or election results for multi-party democracies.  But such historical data can provide useful context for countries where election law violation incidents might be taking place. READ MORE »

Just Your Average Tech User

Lesley here- travel junkie, steak enthusiast, and hardline supporter of the oxford comma. What brings me to ICT, you ask? Good question.

For the last six years I have devoted myself to the study of international affairs and political science, not an uncommon background for our team here at ICT. I have traveled extensively and lived for prolonged periods of time in Turkey and recently returned to the U.S. from a short stint in Berlin. From these experiences, one thing has become increasingly clear to me: Technology matters. More than that, technology matters to everyone, not just tech devotees and computer scientists. Technology impacts every person, every day, around the world. This is what brings me, a normal everyday tech user, to ICT.

Technology is an ever expanding asset for civil society and democracy development. As I watched my beloved Turkey go through the Gezi Park protests at the end of May, I couldn’t help but wonder at how technology and media impacted what was going on. It wasn’t just the use of social media to coordinate and spread the word about the protests, but also the silencing of media that prevented the rest of the country from knowing what was happening in Gezi Park. READ MORE »

Syndicate content