Come see Tech4Dem Innovations (and #fails)

Social Media Week DC

NDI is excited to host a series of events during Social Media Week DC

  • Tuesday, Feb. 19 from 4 pm - 5:30 pm: Women, Tech and Democracy - The Next Frontier

Tech plays a crucial role in this work but women are lag behind in access, use, and ability to afford to communicate online and via mobile devices. A panel of high-powered women will explore what we know about how women participate online, what we know about the effective use of tech in women’s political participation, and where we are still falling short.

While this event is full, we will be streaming the event online (stay tuned for updates) and you can follow the hashtag #smwwomentech4dem READ MORE »

Calling All Tech4Dem Workers: We Want to Hear From You (for a Salary Survey)

Do you work in the Tech4Dem space? Ever wonder what our field is worth? We are conducting an informal salary survey of this field to better understand the going rates for people at varying levels of job levels, experience, and education. If you fit the (admittedly lose) criteria outlined below, please fill out the salary survey. Real-time results are updated here! 

Tech4Dem in Myanmar

Aung San Suu Kyi speaking at the 2012 Barcamp Yangon

Times are changing in Burma. The by-elections in April resulted in the NLD winning 43 out of 44 contested seats, removal of the press restrictions that require journalists to submit articles to the Press Scrutiny and Registration Department prior to publication, and the historic visit of President Obama to Myanmar (the first time a sitting president has visited the country). 

Access to ICTs in Burma has historically been challenging. Throughout the country, there is low internet and mobile penetration. There were significant cost barriers to gaining access to basic technologies like sim cards (which can cost up to $900), and constant efforts to censor content and strike fear in activists through draconian telecommunications regulations.

This time of change has also reached the technology sector in Burma. The price of sim cards has dropped, the censorship of popular online news outlets such as the Irrawaddy and Mizzima News has been lifted, and use of Facebook has grown incredibly throughout the country.  READ MORE »

Internet Freedom - Not So Much in Mobile Land

African Countries with SIM Card Registration Requirement (Courtesy: Martin and Donovan)

Last week was Internet Freedom Day - a year after a bill attempting to restrict content online, the so-called SOPA/PIPA bill, was defeated in the United States Congress. We here at NDItech are people of the Internet. We believe, as described in the Declaration on Internet Freedom, that

a free and open Internet can bring about a better world. To keep the Internet free and open, we call on communities, industries and countries to recognize these principles. We believe that they will help to bring about more creativity, more innovation and more open societies.

But, we are worried. As an organization that supports and works for democratic principles and practices, empowered communities, and responsive and accountable governments under the rule of law, and, as a unit within this organization that believes and works on the effective and innovative use of technology in this work, we see troubling trends. 

These are trends not happening on the Internet as we typically define it per se, though even there is plenty to worry about. What we are seeing is in the land of mobile phones - the devices and networks where most of the world communicates today.  There is actually very little information on 'internet freedom' issues in telecommunications - there is no 'state of mobile freedom' report, and there is precious little data on mobile censorship, SMS tracking, surveillance, etc.  Much of it is anecdotal, unsubstantiated, or both. READ MORE »

You, Too, Can Browse Like James Bond, Using TAILS

Screen Shot 2013-01-23 at 10.48.57 AM.png

One of the best tutorials on 'browsing like James Bond without leaving a trace" using a tool called TAILS that NDI has worked on, take a look at this LifeHacker article. We work with a lot of people who prefer not to leave a bunch of files, cookies, or an IP address out there for someone to find when they browse online. 

Enter TAILS - a USB stick or DVD that anonymizes, encrypts, and, according to LifeHacker, "hides everything you do on a computer no matter where you are."

More from the article that describes TAILS way better than the project itself does: "When we say "browse without leaving a trace", we truly mean it. Using the Linux-based, live-boot operating system Tails (The Amnesiac Incognito Live System), you can use any computer anywhere without anyone knowing you were ever on it. Tails is a portable operating system with all the security bells and whistles you'll ever need already installed on it."

TAILS has a lot of tools baked in for easy use (thank you, Lifehacker, for the great descriptions): READ MORE »

Sustainability (in ICT4D) is Overrated

Women trained on computing fundamentals at iLab Liberia.

I started my day yesterday (deplorably early) at a (very engaging) discussion on the role of technology hubs in international development. It was the most recent Tech Salon sponsored by Inveneo.

I’m a big fanboi of these tech hubs (as you already know) so was happy to join the conversation. While the discussion had a habit of wandering away into a thicket of mobile apps monetization challenges, it did clarify some thinking on my part.

Namely, ICT4D (tech for development for the uninitiated) sustainability can be a red herring.

Of course in the development biz I believe successful projects are the ones that continue on through lo the many years. However, if one is too doctrinaire on this point, incredibly valuable ideas may never see the light of day. iHub Nairobi came into being on the back of a bunch of Ushahidi money, and served very usefully as a home for projects dedicated to social good without being able to cover their costs for years.

The perfect example is iLab Liberia. That organization has the second fastest internet connection in Monrovia (number 1: NDI field office) and they have to pay through the nose for it, to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars a month. The need to cover those costs - let alone staff, computers, space, electricity - would condemn the project to failure. It’s completely unimaginable that profits from developed applications or user fees could cover those costs for years. They do a good job bringing in additional money via consulting (NDI’s a satisfied customer) but that can only go so far. READ MORE »

#NDItech +1: @Social Media Week

Are you planning on attending Social Media Week? There are more than 100 events scheduled in town, focused on digital and mobile media, campaigns, politics, participation, as well as marketing and advertising. Take a look at the list of amazing speakers, and register today, as the spots fill up quickly. NDI is hosting three events that cannot be missed. They include:

Women, Tech, and Democracy: the Next Frontier (#smwwomentech4dem)

Tuesday, February 19, 4:00pm to 5:30pm

Tech plays a crucial role in this work but women are still behind in access, use, and ability to afford to communicate online and via mobiles. A panel of high-powered women will explore what we know about the effective us of tech in women’s political participation and where we are still falling very short. Takeaways for the audience: Getting the lay of the land of women, tech, and democracy, and concrete projects and ideas for how to increase women’s technology prowess for their full and powerful participation in governance and politics worldwide.

When Good Projects Fail: The Tech4Democracy FailFaire (#smwfailfaire)

Wednesday, February 20, 5:00pm to 7:30pm

Tech4Democracy is the next big thing. NDI, as a leader in the field, has had a decade of experience in using tech for democracy support worldwide. As such, we have seen our share of tech4dem failures – projects that aimed to use tech to advance democracy but did not work as intended.  We have invited colleagues and friends form the field to present failures in tech4dem to present at the Tech4Dem Failfaire. FailFaires are entertaining, interactive events that feature #fails in using tech for social change. The Failfaire will feature a lightening round of talks on amazing failures and the learnings they generated.

The Tech4Democracy Science Fair (#smwtech4demfair)

Thursday, February 21, 11:00am to 1:00pm

Join us for a showcase of #tech4dem tools and projects the world over. Handling issues from data for elections in Ghana to open source tools in Cambodia, from reporting on abuses in Nicaragua to texting to MPs in Uganda, come to a Science Fair of amazing projects using tech in innovative ways to support democratic movements and activists worldwide

All events will be held at NDI's headquarters, at 455 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20001

In Memoriam: Aaron Swartz

NDItech mourns the death of Aaron Swartz who killed himself on November 11, 2013. Aaron was a fiercely brilliant programmer, a passionate advocate for an open and free Internet that supports and promotes freedom of information, and a true democracy activists in the very essence of that word. Aaron Swartz was 26. 

The projects Aaron worked on impact our lives here at NDI every day: Open data feeds using RSS, news and opinions on Reddit, a simple way to write via Markdown, secure web browsing in Chrome via HTTPS Everywhere, a way to share and reuse content using Creative Commons, and a more free Internet thanks to Demand Progress that used his technological savvy, money and passion to leverage victories in huge public policy fights, to name just a few of his astounding accomplishments.    Changing the world to be better, more true, and more free animated Aaron. editor Kevin Poulsen said it well, articulating the loss of Aaron to the world:
“Worthy important causes will surface without a champion equal to their measure. Technological problems will go unsolved, or be solved a little less brilliantly than they might have been. And that’s just what we know. The world is robbed of a half-century of all the things we can’t even imagine Aaron would have accomplished with the remainder of his life.” 
We are deeply saddened by his death.  In this tribute we are posting his inspired speech to the Freedom to Connect conference last year, describing how he and Demand Progress fought against SOPA/PIPA, the online censorship act that was ultimately defeated.  Here he describes what drove him to become involved in this fight for a more free, open, and equitable Internet and ultimately, world.    Our deep condolences go to his his family, his partner, and his friends in our Internet tribe.


Mobile Voter Education and Radio in the Election in Ghana

The friendly dog of Freedom Fone

IIn Ghana's recent election NDItech partnered with the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO), an independent Ghanaian NGO focused on election accountability. Our goal was to increase information to citizens about the election. CODEO ran a large monitoring program where 3999 citizen observers transmitted incidence and election results data via SMS to a central data center - a standard systematic election observation.  

CODEO also used social media as part of a citizen communication campaign to voters via a Facebook page where political issues facung the country were actively debated, and a call-in service for radio stations to broadast voter information (listen to the audio below this post). 

We spoke with NDItech's Program Officer Chris Doten about this innovative mobile audio-to-radio project. 

Why Ghana? 

Ghana has a robust technology infrastructure and a great NDI partner that was willing to try some new campaigns for this election and invited us to work with them.  There also was a little bit of funding in place to do new media voter outreach, and we were able to run with it on a short time frame.  Additionally, CODEO has a very good reputation in the country and we worked with them before in several previous election. The staff there is exceptional and was a pleasure to work with.  


Closing the Technology Gender Gap

The covers of the two reports

Two recent reports emphasize the importance of the ICT gender gap in developing countries. These in-depth analyses provide statistics, case studies, and conclusions that clearly demonstrate why closing that gap is so essential to development and to increasing women's political participation.  

Last year, the GSMA (the association of GSM mobile operators) and the Cherie Blaire Foundation produced a report on women and mobile technology. Intel, in coordination with Dalberg and GlobeScan, released a report yesterday that focuses on Internet access in developing countries. Key takeaways from each publication: 

Women & Mobile: A Global Opportunity A study on the mobile phone gender gap in low and middle-income countries

  • Closing the mobile gap for women represents a $13 billion dollar opportunity: With the gender gap representing over 300 million women, providing service represents not only an important step for human rights, but a monetary incentive to the private sector as well.
  • The top three benefits of cell phone ownership for women: feeling safer (93%), feeling more connected with friends and family (93%) and feeling more independent (85%)
  • The top five factors predicting ownership of mobile phone: Household income, urban/rural location, age, occupation, and education level.
  • Barriers preventing ownership of mobile phones: cost of handsets, no need to have one as everyone is local, and use of landline instead of mobile.
  • The report also includes: case studies of projects in Pakistan promoting female literacy, culturally appropriate advertising for women in Afghanistan, distance learning in Mexico, and providing input for women in Kosovo's constitution

Download the report here. 

Women and the Web: Bridging the Internet gap and creating new global opportunities in low and middle-income countries

  • Closing the Internet gap for women represents 50 to 70 billion dollars: Similar to mobiles, increasing the number of women online also represents a potential increase in GDP of $13 to 18 billion across 144 developing countries.
  • Internet penetration varies greatly among continents: while North America experiences 79%, the Middle East has 40%, Asia has 28%, and Africa lags behind at 16% internet penetration.
  • Access to the Internet provides both positive individual and ecosystem outcomes: including increased confidence and self worth, more opporutnities for education or employment, and access to networks, as well as economic development through GDP growth, gender equality through the leveling of opportunity, and diversification of markets.
  • Major individual inhibitors to Internet access: awareness of the content and use of information on the Internet, ability to navigate and consume web content, and an environment lacking in encouragement of use.
  • The largest ecosystem inhibitors to Internet access: network infrastructure, economic viability of Internet connection options, policies encouraging women to use the Internet, 

Better Use of Tech for 2013

Need help?

New Year, new beginnings. The beginning of 2013 is a great time to try new ideas and improve upon existing projects. In this week's Monday Round-Up, we've collected a set of guides and resources that can help meet your resolutions to build your tech expertise:

More than a Like: Creating Facebook Pages with Impact

A Guide with Impact

While creating a Facebook page or group may be easy, maintaining and gaining meaningful impact can be difficult. The folks at Social Media Exchange (SMEX) recently published "Creating Facebook Pages with Impact: A Guide for Arab Civil Society Organizations", which breaks down several important components of a successful Facebook-based campaign or initiative. The main audience for this guide is MENA region-based organizations (Arabic language guide is here), but there are several lessons that can be applied to other regions where Facebook is the most popular social media platform. 

The topics include:

  • Get to Know Facebook & Get Inspired
  • Lay Your Foundation
  • Assemble Your Team
  • Pinpoint Your Destination & Identify Who Can Help You Get There
  • Plan and Produce Your Content
  • Develop Interaction Guidelines
  • Publish & Promote Your Page
  • Monitor Your Page Performance with Insights
  • Survey Your Success, Tweak, and Do It All Over Again
  • 6 Tips For a Secure Facebook Page


Social Media The World Over: People Connecting Everywhere.

Pew Global Topline Findings

The ever-prolific Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project, not surprisingly, found in its latest research that social media is ubiquitous - at least among the young and the wealthier in the 21 countries studied.  Social networking online is spreading fast round the world, and not just in richer, Western countries.  

Some key findings relevant for the work we are doing here at NDI:

  • It's not just about Gangnam style.  Very usefully, Pew Global asks respondents about the content they share online and while music and movies are commonly shared, there is also significant content sharing and discussion about political issues. The survey notes: "Expressing opinions about politics, community issues and religion is particularly common in the Arab world. For instance, in Egypt and Tunisia, two nations at the heart of the Arab Spring, more than six-in-ten social networkers share their views about politics online. In contrast, across 20 of the nations surveyed, a median of only 34% post their political opinions." 
  • Social networking is not just popular in rich, Western countries.  The survey found that "there is considerable interest in social networking in low- and middle-income nations. Once people in these countries are online, they generally become involved in social networks at high rates. For instance, the vast majority of internet users in Mexico, Brazil, Tunisia, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Russia and India are using social networking sites."
  • Social networking is for the young.  The Pew research notes that "in every country polled, use of social networking sites varies by age. In 17 of 21 countries, there is a gap of 50 points or more in usage of social networking sites between those younger than 30 and those 50 or older."

Talking Politics Online: Who does and who doesn't? READ MORE »

We Want You!

Come join us!

Torn between your love of politics and your love of tech? Fret no more!

The NDITech team is hiring a Senior Program Officer to join our crew. 

The Senior Program Officer will work across NDI's programs to create and mainstream innovative project approaches through technology, from proposal development to project implementation. You'll help to keep our team's engines running by attracting more funding opportunities and helping to manage the day-to-day operations of our team. You'll also work frequently with our team, software engineers internally and externally, and other NDI staff in DC and in the 60+ offices worldwide to accomplish NDI's democracy programs, with your passport potentially getting some good use to help with on-the-ground implementation.

Want to learn more? Check out the job description and apply at, --> "4. Technology" and "Senior Program Officer".

Liveblogging #GhanaDecides Day 2: The Revenge

CODEO Dataclerks, Ghana 2012

Goooood morning #Ghana

In a bit of a personal tradition, I'm liveblogging elements from today's Groundhog Day-style election Part the Second.

Updates are added in reverse cronological order.

Epilogue READ MORE »

Technology Tools for Activists Handbook

The best way to find out? Check out their handbook

Tech Tools for Activism (TTFA) has just released the latest version of it's handbook, with information and instructions for tools any activist can use. The handbook is not filled with flashy, sexy programs, nor does it give you THE one comprehensive answer that takes care of all your security needs. What the handbook does well, however, is to give you a simple explanation about why your security is at risk, and give you free programs that will help keep you safe.  Both the easy to read layout and educational explanations make this handbook a good primer for activists, their partners, and for anyone who has a general interest in security while using communications technology. 

Included in the manual are topics such as:

Tech@State Videos and Recap

Engaging discussions

After much preparation and planning, Tech@state came together last Friday and Saturday, bringing together some of the top thinkers and doers on the subject of election technology. The collaboration between the State Department and NDI featured not only the latest and greatest use cases but in depth discussion on how to ensure that technology supports organizations and processes in place.  You can still see much of the conversations that occurred on Twitter via #techatstate. For those of you that missed the event, a number of the videos are available below for today's Monday Round Up:

First, watch the opening remarks from Suzanne Philion (beginning of video), Spencer Overton (1:59), and Daniel Baer (9:18). The video also includes the Keynote address by Robin Carnahan (22:01) :



Coming up This Friday and Saturday: Tech@State

Register today!

This Friday features the Tech@State conference at the George Washington University, followed by the unconference hosted here at NDI. This year's topic is ElecTech, and looking at the agenda for the event, it will not be one you want to miss (you can register here). There is even a visualization to capture the excitement.  So for this week's Round Up, we've included information about and pieces by a few of the amazing people who will be speaking this Friday for the event:

The Day That Data Shook the World

photo by ChrisDag on Flickr

Now that the elections are over, a number of articles have shown the amazing ways that information systems worked behind the scenes during the presidential election this year. Between Nate Silver's success in predicting state election outcomes, and the top notch team behind the President's success, the way in which data was used for this election warrants further investigations to gain understanding for how this information will be used in future elections. For this week's Monday Round Up, we feature the latest technology trends in elections and democracy. 

If an Election Falls in a Forest and No One Hears It...

A Digital World Tree

NDI works with the best citizen election monitoring teams in the world. As we've described in the past our partners are really good at getting the information in quickly. The question then becomes what you do with it - and traditional methods need to change here, too. I'm currently working in Ghana with CODEO, the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers on just such a project.

These days, standard press conferences are not enough. Getting excellent data quickly is useless if you can't also turn it around and share it with the people equally rapidly. It's the tree-falling-in-the-forest problem: if your organization has the best information in the world but no one knows has heard it, what's it all for?

NDI's election observation partners often know better what's taking place on the big day than the electoral authorities themselves. There's an irony there: at the very moment when the eyes of a country and the world are focused on a particular election these partner organizations know exactly what's going on - and have traditionally had no ability to share it.

Well, that's now changing.

The most important information and analysis requires the complete picture to draw the most wide-ranging and significant conclusions possible, and that ain't happening until all the data is in. But the individual snippets of information still have value. READ MORE »

Maps, Texts, and Video, Oh My! Following the road to crisis response and good governance through technology


As technology closes the time between when events happen and when they are shared with the world, understanding what approaches and tools are the best solutions to implement in crisis response and good governance programs is increasingly important. During the “Technology for Crisis Response and Good Governance” course, which I took earlier this month offered by TechChange at GW, our class was able to simulate different scenarios of how such tools can be used effectively.

The first simulation we did was on how to use FrontlineSMS and Crowdmap to track and respond to incidents in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Each team was responsible for managing FrontlineSMS, mapping incidents and other information on Crowdmap, and going into the field to get more information and verify reports. Management of the incoming data at this point becomes the highest priority. Designating specific responsibilities to different individuals, and determining how to categorize data (reports to be mapped, questions to be answered by other officials, overly panicked individuals, etc.) helps to more efficiently handle processing a large amount of information during a short timeframe. READ MORE »

Don't Forget to Vote Tomorrow!

Don't forget!

As you probably already know, tomorrow is the last day to vote in the Presidential elections in the US. As a organization that encourages citizens around the world, we would be amiss not to encourage you to go out and vote! As you've probably been overwhelmed with election stories, for today's Monday Round Up, we feature a mix of exciting news from around the world:

Tech for Elections: Telling a Compelling Story About an Election

"Great stories happen to those who can tell them." - Ira Glass

Beyond developing an effective organization and improving the quality of incoming information, technology is being used in systematic election monitoring to strengthen story-telling and outreach. 

Why Does Storytelling Matter?

People experience political change and electoral competition not as a series of numbers and results but as an experiences and narrative in building a democracy.  When collecting massive amounts of data as part of a systematic observation process, it’s important for election monitoring organizations to be able to tell a good story, often simplifying the conclusions to a few takeaways. These conclusions still need to be evidence-based and representative requiring an honest accounting and analysis.  But in our experience, a systematic analysis told in a compelling way is something few election monitoring organizations are able to do effectively.  Often, the story of an election is outsourced to journalists or political actors.  Simple data-visualization can help - together with a smart and sound strategy on how to deply them. READ MORE »

iLove iLab

iLab Liberia

Liberia has one of the least-developed communication infrastructures in the world. Literacy is at roughly 60%.  The nation is still recovering from one of the most brutal civil wars in recent history. All in all, not perhaps where one would expect to find a burgeoning group of tech innovators and wanna-be geeks. However, walk in the door of iLab Liberia and you'll find just that.

Kate Cummings, iLab's executive director, came to NDI last week to share some of her experiences working in Liberia. iLab is one of the tech hubs that have sprung up across Africa following on the model from granddaddy iHub Nairobi, epicenter of Kenya's digital development. One of the most exciting concepts I've seen in the world of development in recent years, these tech hubs provide a supportive environment for the experienced to teach the novice, for ideas to percolate, for business ideas to bloom, and for new tools to be shared. iHub, however, has an unfair advantage - they have an in-space coffee shop with amazing Kenyan coffee. READ MORE »

Fish Bowl Technology: Making Governments More Transparent

So clear that you call see there are only plants, no fish
In case you have not already heard the news, there is a new blog in town!, the site for the network of parliamentary monitoring organizations, will feature conversations and news from the very active PMO Network Google Group and original content and analysis on parliamentary monitoring organizations (PMOs)." In order to celebrate this wonderful new resource, the week's Round Up features news items on increasing transparency. 
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