Elections remain an integral part of a good democracy, as well as an opportunity for transitioning countries to demonstrate their openness and ability to manage the process. Civil society organizations use tech for domestic monitoring and citizen reporting projects and governments increasingly put election results online and use tech to help citizens with the voting process. In today's Monday Round Up, we look at examples of both:
The twitterverse is no stranger to hashtag-calls-for-action, spanning from #free an arrested activist to #stop a particular piece of legislation from moving forward. The most well-known example of a hashtag campaign was the one to stop SOPA and PIPA legislations in the United States. Despite the lack of coverage of these proposed laws on traditional media, mobilization spurred through social media was effective to build a full-on campaign that ended up stopping the passage of this legislation. Recently, NGOs and other civil society actors have been trying to capitalize on this success to try and stop the passage of other internet-restrictive laws, such as in Malaysia (#Stop114A) and in Jordan (#BlackoutJo).
While the revisions to section 114a in Malaysia’s Evidence Act and the proposed amendment to the Press and Publication Law in Jordan are alive and well, the online mobilizations to stop them can still teach us some valuable lessons in use of social media in the campaigns. READ MORE »
The Open Government movement that has been groundbreaking in getting governments to open up their vast data sets on the delivery of services, is seeing a new frontier: Parliaments. Opening Parliament, a project led by NDI, the Sunlight Foundation, and the Latin American Network for Legislative Transparency released its groundbreaking Declaration on Parliamentary Openness, a set of principles that has been signed by more than 80 organizations that are monitoring parliaments. Parliaments and their data on bills, amendments, and proceedings are on of the big frontiers for open government advocates that are now beginning to see traction of their work to open up legislative bodies the world over.
We took a look at some of the exemplary parliamentary monitoring organizations and how they are presenting parliamentary information to get a sense of the state of affairs in parliamentary openness. While we have a long way to go to present legislative data in compelling ways that tell effective stories about key issues, legislation, and legislative processes, there are some interesting examples of groups all over the world that are worth highlighting.
Newpublik.nl from the Netherlands features a great timeline of media coverage of specific bills, mixing different data sets to create context to legislative data that gives a viewer a sense of how a specific bill fits into the current social context. Adding additional, contextual data such as news coverage makes parliamentary data far more useful.See for instance this dossier.READ MORE »
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang aft agley
Someone will have to get back to me on what an agley is, but I'm pretty sure the basic idea holds true for development.
I've returned to Monrovia to pick up the threads of a technology modernization plan for the Legislature of Liberia. I spent two months there last year doing an assessment and creating a workplan for how the organization could leapfrog into the 21st century. At the time we went through the standard best practices in quality developmental program design to arrive at a plan that was a joint vision of NDI and the legislative leadership, and launched initial implementation. The basic framwork was a new joint legislative technology center staffed with crack geeks; cabling the building for network access; a wide-ranging training program; a legislative website; and introduction of open-source software. Plan in place, I headed back to the US and turned to other programs.
Then something happened to the program. Er, more accurately, nothing happened with the program. READ MORE »
Often discussions of technology for (fill in the blank here) get confused about tools, techniques and processes. This is especially true when the discussion turns to crowdsourcing, a technique where a group of individuals voluntarily undertake a task. In an electoral context, crowdsourcing often emphasizes participation over systematic evaluation. The use of online maps (a tool) emphasizes analysis and story-telling based on geographically relevant conclusions, at the expense of other analytical frameworks.
Instead of tools and techniques driving strategic decision-making, it’s important to identify intended outcomes and the processes supporting those outcomes.
In a recent NDI "ElecTech" workshop in Nairobi, we posed that any use of tech in elections should have as the primary outcome the ability to assess and evaluate the electoral process. We think it is helpful to think about four specific processes, a series of actions taken to achieve an end, where technology can significant impact the achievement of these outcomes.
These include: Organizational Structures, Data Collection, Telling a Story and Outreach. Let's focus on organizational structures first.
Organizational Structures: Having Your Ducks in a RowREAD MORE »
Internews' Crowdglobe Project recently published a report on Ushahidi and Crowdmap. Crowdglobe surveyed the (at the time) 12,795 publicly hosted users of Crowdmap, the hosted Ushahidi platform, to get a better quantitiative picture of what is being mapped. The report found, noticeably, that the "long tail" distribution was indeed long indeed with "93% of the 12,000+ Crowdmaps analyzed...containing fewer than 10 reports." A few highlights from the report:
93% of Crowdmaps had fewer than 10 reports.
61% of Crowdmaps had absolutely no customization at all, i.e., they still had the four default categories and the default report.
89% of Crowdmaps had four categories, including those with the four default categories.
Now that both of the US political conventions and their associated weather systems have passed, the campaigns will be running on high gear through the US Presidential elections in November. Technology, of course, plays a key role in providing direct access to candidates and parties, ways to raise money, build list, and even have some fun.. In today's Round-Up, we look at the way technology has affected the 2012 campaign:
NDItech is on the ground in Charlotte, North Caroline for our International Leaders Forum at the Democratic National Convention, the quadrennial political extravaganza for the Democratic Party. NDI has been bringing international visitors to these showpieces of American democracy since 1984. This year we have 300+ guests from over one hundred countries who will observe and learn from the big show.
The NDITech team is on the ground tweeting (@NDItech) and liveblogging. Here are some recaps of panels and sessions:
ILF has now concluded, but you can follow the Twitter conversations on #ILFNDI and read the recaps above linked through NDI.org/ilf. We will be posting the full video of the events as soon as possible.
We know the Internet has been a tremendous tool for growing economies, but how can it strengthen civil society and democratic governance? Ginny Hunt, global civic innovation manager at Google, addressed this question to the audience during the ILF "Democracy Spotlight."
A free and transparent Internet is transforming the interactions between government and citizens. Already, more than 6 billion devices connect people to the Internet, a number which is expected to triple in four years. Innovators continue to make networks faster and citizens increasingly have access to information in real time. The shear quantity of information is also growing. “Every minute, 72 hours of video footage is uploaded to YouTube,” she said.
Fast new ways of communicating and vast quantities of information online can be intimidating to governments, which are used to controlling information or at least using familiar information channels. Some governments have responded by filtering, monitoring and censoring what people read and share. According to Hunt, one-third of Internet users live in countries where the Internet is heavily filtered. READ MORE »
Golos, a long-time partner of NDI in Russia, was awarded the prestigious Sakharov Prize of the Norwegian Helsinki Commission today. The Commission especially lauded Golos for its innovative work during the recent Russian legislative and presidential elections. Golos, Russian for "The Voice", is the only independent election monitoring organization in Russia. It has worked for over a decade on independent domestic election monitoring but became extremely popular during the recent Duma and then Presidential elections for its interactive map that allowed citizens to report violations during the election period and on election day. These elections were marked by the savvy use of Russians of social media and camera phones to record and report election violations on YouTube and on Golos' map.
The map became one of the 25 most-visited sites in Russa at the time, noted the Commission. Shortly after launch, the site was removed from Gazety.ru where it had been published, Golos director was detained, and the organization was fined multiple times. Golos was accused of collaborating with Western agents and a slander campaign was launched against the organization on state media. READ MORE »
“How can we foster democracy in a hyper-connected world?” asked Dutch Member of the European Parliament, Marietje Schaake. During a TED-style talk she focused on the implications of the rise of the “Internet public,” global citizens connected by new communications technology. Schaake discussed new opportunities for empowering the "Internet public", while warning of weakening governments and strengthening corporations. While the Internet has created openness, regimes and groups who fear giving up power are also using it to repress citizens.
Schaake was inspired by the example of Neda Agha-Soltan, killed in Iran during post-election protests in 2009. Because the world saw that Iranians could fight their fear, others came to believe anything was possible. Since then, Iran has decided the only way to control their citizens is to create a “halal” intranet, separate from the rest of the world. She listed Syria, China, Iran and Tunisia prior to the ouster of President Ben Ali as authoritarian regimes that also use online tools to repress and control, but noted that such problems are not exclusive to autocratic governments — democracies have also created their own repressive laws. READ MORE »
It's Hiring Friday in the #tech4dem field! Here is a line-up of jobs and internships of interest to those working on tech-for-democracy projects.
Making democracy work and working for democracy with tech - here at NDI. @NDITech has openings for software developers and interns. Intern position information is here - the deadline is approaching! We also have several software engineering positions open. All involve working with dynamic project teams to conceptualize, design and implement technology into NDI’s democracy assistance programs around the world. International travel may be required. Go to http://www.ndi.org/current_openings --> Technology to see the current openings.
Human Rights First is looking for a full-time web developer to help maintain and extend Drupal website, maintain the existing Wordpress website and deploy digital advocacy products through Salsa. The salary and benefits for this position are competitive, the team is collaborative and creative, and the position is located in the NY office. Details here.
New America Foundation - The Open Internet Tools Project (OpenITP) seeks a well-organized, persistent researcher with investigative skills for a part-time consulting contract lasting approximately 4 months, to research and report on the state of circumvention technology usage in Asia, concentrating on mainland China. Pay will be based on experience. The research will likely involve travel to Asia, with expenses reimbursed. More information here.
The Citizen Lab in Toronto is seeking a Software Developer to engage in software development to support a range of research projects at the intersection of information communications technologies, global security, and human rights. You will work with the Citizen Lab team to develop existing and new projects, assisting with all phases of software development from requirements gathering and implementation to testing and deployment. Full details here.
During the last six months, I’ve learned more about Information and Communications Technology than I realized was out there: how our work can impact individuals, cool tools like Tor and Tails, and that a huge community of people are passionate about #tech4dem and are excited about creating solutions together. I learned about digital security practices, risk assessment, and that passphrases will always be better than passwords. READ MORE »
Every four years NDI hosts hundreds of political and civil society leaders along with diplomats from more than 100 countries to observe the US nominating process at the Democratic National Convention - which starts next Tuesday. Our guests include legislators, cabinet ministers, leaders of civic organizations and over 100 ambassadors from the diplomatic corps based in Washington. NDI puts together an entire daytime program of interesting panels and events for our international guests that complement the official evening convention speeches and activities.
This year NDI's International Leaders Forum (ILF) program has a tech4dem thread running through it that provides a unique opportunity for tech leaders to introduce key themes and issues to the global group of political leaders. We've partnered with Google to host a series of three "Democracy Spotlights" that will highlight important trends and ideas in technology and politics, and a panel discussion - called 21st Century Campaigns - that will feature digital strategists from the Obama, Romney and successful online issue-based campaigns. READ MORE »
I will be working with the pioneers at NDItech, and the creative program staff in the NDI offices that are using tech in innovative ways to support representative democracy in areas such as citizen participation, elections, open parliaments, strong parties, and accountable and transparent institutions. Democracy and governance, as the field is affectionately known by those inside it, is where I started more than 20 years ago, and I am thrilled to return to it, throwing into the mix creative uses of online technologies, new media, and mobile (of course). And while 'innovation' is a much-(over)used term these days, I'm hoping to put our own imprint and interpretation on it as a part of the growing #tech4dem field. READ MORE »
If you are in Washington, DC, join us for the first-ever Tech4Dem Tuesday Happy Hour this coming Tuesday, August 28 at RFD. Think beer, open government, tech for parliamentary monitoring, elections, good governance - all things tech for democracy worldwide. Laugh, cry, and drink with your fellow DCers who work to make democracy work with tech the world over.
Who: If you're working on or interested in tech for democracy, fair elections, good governance, a free media, and citizen voice, come on over. We'll feature several interesting projects each month (informally, over the din of the bar), so if you have cool stuff to show off, bring it! We'll be bringing TAILS, the tool that gives you privacy for everyone anywhere.
Where: RFD Bar 810 7th Street Northwest Washington, DC 20001
When: Tech4Dem Tuesday, of course - August 28, 5:30pm on.
Why: Because anyone who works in this field knows that we love to socialize, talk shop, and share ideas. And hey, as they say, working for democracy and making democracy work never ends, but it's better with a beer.
RSVP below so that we have an idea of headcount and can warn the bar. We may just spring for your first round if you let us know you're coming!
We're back with our regularly scheduled programming after a productive team retreat last week. We highlight recent security issues around the world in this week's news round-up, from Russia, to China, and on to Alexa Dell's Twitter account.
Working on the ICT team isn't like your internship on the Hill. Yeah, there's paper to be pushed and research to be done*, but ICT interns get to work on some reallycoolstuff, not to mention attending events and posting on this blog. And the team is pretty awesome, too: we're a knowledgeable group from diverse backgrounds, all passionate about technology and democracy. If you like all things international, tech, and/or activism, our team is probably the right place for you.
Oh, and did I mention it's a PAID internship?** READ MORE »
The web site can be the beginning of a project, but is definitely not the end. In many situations, the web site becomes the central focus of all efforts; this is particularly true with slick modern data visualization or citizen reporting systems. As so much time and effort is poured into one central platform, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the site is not the program. I'm sometimes in meetings where people have clearly conflated the good of the web site with the goals of the project. It's one of the problems with monitoring and evaluation for such projects; the metrics you can watch easily, such as web hits, are useless for measuring impact.
In my recent work in Georgia, we are working on what is shaping up to be a fairly slick data aggregation and analysis system on the pre-election environment, http://electionportal.ge/en/. Because everyone's focus has been on this platform, the tendency has been to lose perspective on the goals of the project, the related target audiences, and the best ways to reach them. READ MORE »
Our team is on retreat today, so in lieu of a Monday Round-Up we have a few news items to share from the weekend and, of course, the necessary bit of random trivium. Enjoy your Monday and we'll be back with the Round-Up next week. READ MORE »
The need for civil society organizations and activists to understand best practices behind digital security and digital safety has grown exponentially over the past few years. This need has expanded beyond closed environments to more open societies that may not have as looming of a threat of communications interception, targeted malware attacks, and other dastardly deeds.
While there have been a lot of “wins” for civil society in restrictive environments to use ICTs to mobilize ahead of key political moments, these regimes continue to step up their efforts to counteract such communication.
Computer security is unpleasant. It's inconvenient. It's confusing. It makes your life harder, prevents you from accessing what you want when you need it, and requires being very thoughtful and careful at all times. All together, it's no wonder that so many people don't do what they should even when they know it's the right thing to do. You have to make choices to keep yourself safe and anonymous, and we all go with the easy default settings at times, or slip up occasionally.
What we really need is a system that makes people Do the Right Thing without taking any special, onerous action.