South by and Cyber-censorship: The Monday Round-Up

World Day Against Cyber-Censorship (via RSF)

Today is the World Day Against Cyber-Censorship. In our round-up, we've got lots of articles exploring the various forms of online censorship that can take place in different countries worldwide, as well as some other compelling news stories: 

This One's For The Ladies

Ms. Pac Man, the most famous lady in tech?

Happy International Women’s Week!

NDI’s work strives to incorporate women’s meaningful participation in democracy and governance worldwide. Our Women’s Political Participation team is dedicated to mainstreaming women’s perspectives in all programs, and within the Institute there is a significant representation of women at senior positions both in DC and the field.

Of our full-time team members, I’m the only female. But for those keeping score, we're 6 for 6 in hiring women to work on our team. Like my predecessor Katherine Maher, my gender isn’t in the forefront of my brain. And while it’s still true that there are proportionally less women with technical degrees and represented in the technology workforce, the number of women in the ICT4D, net freedom, and democracy and technology space is vastly growing. There’s no shortage of “Top 10 Awesome Women in Tech for Development” or “The 30 Women in Digital Activism You Should Follow on Twitter Right Now”-type lists, which leaves some big shoes to fill, whether they be flats or heels.

But as women are becoming the majority users on social networking sites and nearing the number of male internet users worldwide, there is still much work to be done to incorporate gender considerations in ICT4D interventions. READ MORE »

Crowdsourcing is Hard Part 2: Barriers

Android Behind the Wire

Last time we considered how  incentives matter in crowdsourcing. This time we'll think about the barriers to participation.

So you've got people who have the incentive to assist in your big crowdsourcing project - great!

Unfortunately, there's a bunch of reasons why they might not do so, and if you don't think about things that stop your potential contributors, all the good will in the world won't get you the assistance you're looking for.

The most fundamental problem is simple knowledge. As the philosophers have put it, knowing is half the battle. If an individual doesn't have a clue that your system exists, they have absolutely no way to take part. This is one of the great challenges in places where vast swaths of the country are far from most advertising, much less a hashtag campaign on Twitter. A good example of effectively getting the word out was around Putin's romp to electoral victory. READ MORE »

Tweeting International Women's Day

In celebration of International Women's Day, the Women's Political Participation program here at NDI hosted a tweetchat featuring the State Department (@S_GWI), Secretary Madeleine Albright, and iKNOW Politics (@iKNOW_Politics). The discussion included opportunities and challenges to women's roles in politics. This event is an innovative approach to provide a space for stakeholders in women's empowerment to engage with thought leaders and policy makers across countries. Below is our Storify for the event: READ MORE »

The Need for Privacy and the End of Innovation: The Monday Round-Up


Following a busy week of exploring Open Data standards for legislatures and a roundtable for a NED-sponsored program to strengthen technology for participation, here are some of the news-worthy events that we have been watching:

Latin America: Increase Citizen Participation & Government Accountability

Broadband LAC.jpg

This week I spent a couple of hours working with our Latin America team on a project that allows citizens to pose questions to politicians and share information about candidates' positions on pressing issues through a web platform. These types of projects have been popular throughout the region. Peru, for example, has launched the Promesómetro website, which allows citizens to measure their representatives' promises and engage in online conversations on their progress. Chile’s Ciudadano Inteligente portal provides citizens with a wealth of information, from tools that allow them to follow their Parliament's debates to report cards on how politicians are progressing on their promises. In Nicaragua, the website Viva el Voto allows citizens to report on election irregularities and allows them to get historical data on election processes.  These are just a couple of projects - many more can be found throughout the region. READ MORE »

Crowdsourcing is Hard Part 1: Incentives

Crowdsourcing Challenges Whiteboarding

The idea that everyone anywhere will contribute to your world-improving project is a powerful concept. The tantalizing vision of an army of unpaid enthusiasts doing all the work for you makes it sound like crowdsourcing will make your job easy, but successful execution of such a project has proven to be very hard.

I told you a bit about the long-term election observation work we are doing with ISFED, GYLA and TI in Georgia, and the fact that even their extensive networks won't have eyes and ears everywhere. Enter crowdsourcing. We're going to try to take the strengths of trained observer election monitoring and meld with crowdsourced citizen reporting to combine the best of both worlds.

The focus of my trip was to get this project rolling. We assembled the leadership of all three organizations together at a gorgeous hotel at the foot of the Caucuses, about two miles from the border with Chechnya. There's plenty of posts to be written about the excercise in cat-herding that is pulling together a partner coalition, but today I'm going to focus just on our discussion of how to integrate crowdsourcing. It made for an intense couple hours.

Crowdsourcing is the inverse Field of Dreams problem: if you build it, they may not come. There's a host of elements that need to be in alignment to pull off a successful crowdsourcing project, and technology is the least of your problems. Thanks to the clever folks at Ushahidi's CrowdMap project anyone can set up their own basic dots-on-a-map site in about 5 minutes. READ MORE »

Security Threats and Social Media Opportunities: The Monday Round-Up

Visualization of Watchdog (courtesy of Mozilla)

The past week has demonstrated how governments and governing bodies are approaching privacy protection and filtering, and how benevolent and malicious actors have been able to take over social media and news platforms. Below is our round-up of these events, as well as other interesting tools and news stories:

Only Amateurs Steal Elections at the Ballot Box

Planning Election-Monitoring Programms in the Caucasus

I'm off in Georgia (no, not this one) working with an assortment of partners on the nation's upcoming Parliamentary elections, with a very important presidential poll a few months behind. It's a beautiful country with well-educated people, solid tech infrastructure, and awful grappa-like alcohol called chacha. It's come a very long way since the Rose Revolution of 2003, and is a relative democratic success story, but we still need to make sure no one puts a thumb on the scales in these upcoming elections.

NDI is assisting three big partners - the International Society for Elections and Democracy (ISFED), the Georgian Young Lawyers' Association (GYLA), and Transparency International Georgia (TI-G). Collectively these trusted Georgian organizations have a tremendous experience in monitoring and are supported by nation-wide networks of committed volunteers and activists. They have successfully kept a wary eye on numerous big elections in the past, but NDI is finding that focusing on the vote itself isn't enough any more. READ MORE »

Un-Conferencing and Re-Censoring: The Tuesday Round Up

The Features of Orbot

Following the holiday weekend, and subsequent Monday off, here's what you may have missed in tech news:

Corporate Policy, Public Policy, and Mobile Phones: Takeaways from the Media Action Project Event

Media Access Project

Last week I attended the Media Access Project (MAP) event, part of a series of forums on “How Technologies Are Changing Our World View”.  Tuesday's topic: The Global Internet and the Free Flow of Information. Panelists were invited from a number of sectors - including academia, business, and policy - to participate in two panels; the first discussed the threats and challenges facing online expressions and the second focused on public policies that can protect online freedoms. There were many interesting perspectives, opinions, and facts presented, and here are some of the most important ones that will affect our work.

  • Technology companies have been expanding their markets by providing tools and services to people around the world.  As companies enter new markets and introduce new products, they face a number of challenges. Will their technologies be used to limit human rights? Do local laws require them to share user information to governments, and if so will they comply? These issue have already been seen (Yahoo handing over data on Chinese dissidents who were then imprisoned) and will continue to be seen.  Moreover, there has been growing pressure on companies to develop policies surrounding human rights issues and regularly assess these issues as companies expand. The trend of companies developing policies around these issues is important, as it will change the threats and concerns that users face when using technology tools.

Radio (and other things): The Monday Round-Up

World Radio Day

Happy World Radio Day! Radio is a particular passion of mine, so here are some great links about this often overlooked medium:


Shutting It Down

Internet in Tibet?

Late last week, news broke that following several self-immolations among Tibetan Buddhist and clashes of violence against protesters demanding Tibetan autonomy, China has cutoff Internet connectivity and mobile phone signals for 30 miles around the main clashes taking place in Sichuan province. Last resort techniques like these are unfortunately not new. Even prior to the most famous case of unplugging the Internet, China cut off internet access and limited mobile services in the Xinjiang region in 2009 for several months as a response to outbreaks of violence. But while key officials under the Mukarak regime have been punished in their pocketbooks, the ability and desire of repressive regimes to deploy internet outages as a means to eliminate dissidence presents yet another hurdle in attempts to ensure democracy and transparency worldwide. During volatile political moments, it becomes challenging to verify information on current events. Currently, foreign journalists are prohibited from entering affected Tibetan areas, making it extremely difficult to verify reports about the current situation. Adding to the complexity of obtaining verifiable information are the “human elements”, where concerns about the threatened safety of involved persons can add a panic-induced frenzy and desperation for accurate information. READ MORE »

Open, Accountable, Appropriate: The Monday Round-Up

'Solve for X'

Last week was action-packed between the CIMA event on media development, Tech@State: real-time awareness, and beyond. Here are some highlights: 

Aiding Media: New Thinking on Media Development

Rethinking Media Development

Yesterday I spent my lunchtime at the Center for International Media Assistance's event on Media Development and Aid Effectiveness. This event celebrated the release of a new report, 'Rethinking Media Development,' which drew some conclusions from the ongoing Media Mapping Project. Many of these conclusions were reflected in the panel discusssion. Sina Odugbemi from the World Bank moderated a panel including Daniel Kaufmann (Brookings Institute), Mark Nelson (World Bank Institute), and Tara Susman-Pena (Internews). While 'aid effectiveness' took a backseat during much of the discussion, the panelists engaged in an interesting dicussion on the relationship media development has to media freedom and the development ecosystem as a whole. While there were many great takeaways from all the panelists, here are some of the most important:

  • While a good amount of research has been done on the relationship between media and development, this research has not been well applied to policy or practice. The "preponderance of evidence" supports the link between the media sector and economic development and governance, but this link is not entirely understood. This lack of understanding means the research hasn't been well applied to media development projects and policies.
  • Media development needs to be incorporated into an overall development strategy. It is equally important to incorporate national leadership and ownership of media projects, grounding media development in the culture and politics of the country.

Tahrir, Twitter, and Telephones: the Monday Round-Up

Tahrir Square - 25 January 2012

After the Internet blackout, news of the cyber world remained at the front of everyone's minds. See what you might have missed:   

Afghanistan: Innovation Nation

Kabul Innovation Lab

Innovation is, according to Bill Gates, the "key to improving the world." Innovative technology is making its mark in the developing world, garnering the attention of both the public and private sectors. Companies like Nokia, Microsoft, and Google have led the trend of "reverse innovation," designing technologies especially for emerging markets. More direct, people-led innovation is occuring in Innovation Hubs all around Africa. These tech hubs, which provide space for collaboration and innovation, should continue to grow in 2012 and beyond. Last year, we all marveled at the ingenious mobile phone system created by the rebels in Libya - further raising confidence in the innovative minds of North Africa. But this week has helped bring awareness to innovation in a seemingly unlikely place - Afghanistan. READ MORE »

Predicting the Future: the 2012 African Tech Space

Technology in Africa

This semester I am taking a course on "Prediciting the Futures". While I am no expert in the techniques that futurists use, I thought it might be fun to look at some predictions that have been made for 2012 and see how they apply to our field.

This year, Afrinnovator started 2012 by sharing 12 predictions for the African technology scene. These predictions touch on a number of industries such as health care, media, and business (to name a few) and present an exciting 2012 for the continent.

A few predictions that stood out and are bound to have an effect on our work are:

  • The shift from feature phone to smart phone and tablets. This prediction caught my attention because it builds on the findings of a report that was released by Center for International Assistance and the National Endowment for Democracy. As we mentioned a few weeks back, this report finds that by end of the decade virtually all cell phones sold will be smart phones. This shift is bound to impact our work. Take, for example, citizen journalism. With smart phones, citizens can report on issues by sending in a text, or a picture, or a video. Citizens can use their smart phones to capture stories through various mediums and thus bring to light stories that are missed by the mainstream media. This presents an opportunity for us to work with civil society groups and activists in new and exciting ways. Of course, it is not all rosy and it is imperative that we also address the challenges that come with switching to smart phones.

Top NGOs and visualizing everything: The Monday Round-Up

Sustaining Sustainability

Last week was focused on Internet Freedom issues here in the US, with the Internet-based protests led by Wikipedia, and the shut-down of the file-sharing site Megaupload. In case you missed them, here are some things from elsewhere in the world:  

Regulating the Internet .BY Decree

Is Luka Watching You?

The recent announcement of a Belarusian law on aspects of Internet regulation certainly raised a number of alarm bells for many groups seeking to protect free expression online. Certainly, Belarus is no stranger to internet repression, ranging from pro-democracy websites repeatedly under attack, tracking down and arresting activists, and many other insidious acts. Given the extensive and differing coverage of the law in the press, here is a summary of what is expected to take place with this law.

In order to implement the norms stipulated by Decree of the Council of Ministers on February 1, 2010, No. 60 (which states that any entity in Belarus selling goods or services to Belarus citizens on the web must use the .by Belarusian domain name), Belarusian authorities have implemented Law No. 317-3. Fines for breaking the law range as high as 1m Belarus rubles (£77; $120).

The First Round-Up of 2012: Internet Rights and Restrictions

Africa's Undersea Cables

After a break for the Holidays, the Monday Round-Up is back! In case you missed it, NDItech's first podcast looks at some of the work we've been doing in Nicaragua.   

Internet Governance in a Year

Internet Visualization - Courtesy of UNC

This year has certainly been a roller coaster for the role of the internet in global society. While there have been many advances in protections for the rights of users, unfortunately, there have also been massive steps backward in this arena. Recently, the Diplo Foundation hosted a webinar with Jovan Kurbalija (who literally wrote the book on Internet governance) about the 10 biggest developments in IG in 2011. After participating in the webinar, I began to reflect on these developments have been tied to NDI's work. The full list of developments are available here, and below is a sample of how NDI has contributed to and tracked these developments:

The Internet gets highly political: power of ICTs to push for political change. As stated in the webinar, “social media is now perceived as a decisive tool in modern political life”. NDI will continue to work with local partners over the coming years to adapt and evolve innovative approaches to using ICTs in the political landscape to ensure transparency, accountability, and other features of democratic processes. READ MORE »

Hacking Legislatures

A report on parliamentary monitoring organizations

If there's a statute of limitations on event-blogging, this update probably exceeds it - thankfully, innovations in government transparency and citizen monitoring are always timely. Three weeks ago, Facebook teamed up with the offices of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer to host a "Congressional Hackathon." While no actual hacking took place during the event, it was a great opportunity to collaborate and brainstorm new ideas as part of an ongoing conversation about demand for legislative data, standards for sharing, and how to modernize constituent relations. Congressman Darryl Issa even announced a new platform that allows individuals to collaborate and mark up legislation with their own proposals and suggestions. READ MORE »

Monitoring the North Pole

Are "Reindeer Games" a form of elections?

I've blogged about the importance of studying failures, but the most recent Fail Faire inspired me to speak out today about the tech team's most disappointing failure to date: the persistent status of the North Pole as the last truly closed society. Even North Korea regularly leaks reports and video via channels of dedicated citizen journalists using stealthy new technologies.

And while I can't speak to the details of our (*cough*netfreedom*) work, I can say that I'm sorely disappointed that not a single report from rumored "Reindeer games" to select the sleigh-leader has surfaced. This being a season for hope, I'd like to believe this is because the happy elves simply don't have any messages to broadcast to the outside world. But we all know just how unaccountable the Workshop can be, so if you find any curious images or recordings on your shiny new Christmas electronics, please let us know. READ MORE »

NDItech is Hiring: Data for Democracy in Eurasia

Now Hiring. Enquire Within.

Skilled political organizer used to wrangling data? Russian speaker? Got tech? We're hiring.

The NDItech team is looking for someone to run a critical project in Eastern Europe for a period of approximately three months. The job: teaming with activist organizations who are learning to use online datastores and CRM systems to manage their information to win elections. They're savvy campaigners and used to tech, but the cloud will be new to them and comes with significant risks.

In addition to teaching how to take advantage of such systems safely you'll be helping these groups design field plans, advising on communications strategies and assisting with setting up training programs. Language skills are critical to ensure the ability to work side by side with our partners in these highly motivated activism and advocacy groups.

As our boots-on-the-ground operating out of an NDI field office you will have significant project input while being be supported by an expert team of tech, advocacy, and communications professionals. This is an excellent gig for a data and organizing ninja/rockstar/guru. You must be highly mobile, competent, and self-directed.

Check out the details then send any questions and your applications to

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