esmallberg's blog

The Tweeting MPs: New Social Media Guidelines for Parliaments

Social Media Guidelines for Parliaments (

The Inter-Parliamentary Union has released a new guide for members of parliament on how to use social media. It is not the flashiest guide, and it does not go on for pages about the potential uses of social media that would benefit an MP. The guide does provide, however, the essentials for how to approach social media use within parliaments. It makes no assumptions about the knowledge level of the reader, and provides basic information about what social media actually is, and gives examples. The guide is exactly what members of parliament need to read to start thinking about social media use.

The guide covers areas often neglected areas, such as copyrighted material, privacy, and how to measure effectiveness of social media use. The piece emphasizes the importance of strategic planning, of sufficiently staffing, and of training staff members. It also provides helpful charts on what to consider before starting social media campaign and even on how to respond to different types of posts (see below)

The publication does not provide the magic key to creating the Facebook page that will gain ten thousands of "Likes", or the Twitter account that will garner the most followers. It is honest in stating that "There is no right answer; how you use social media will be influenced by a wide variety of on- and offline variables." That honesty and the focus on strategy, make this guide a great starting point for any government organization seeking to enter the world of social media.  READ MORE »

Checking the Online Pulse: Sentiment Analysis for Politics and Participation

Facebook Likes

Online sentiment analysis -- measuring the pulse of what is being said about a brand, an idea, a position, or a person online -- provides an interesting and quick (albeit non-scientific) pulse of the 'vox populis' in so far as that voice uses social media. Using adjectives used with a specific term (such as love, hate, like, loathe, etc.), sentiment analysis tools scan public tweets, blog posts, or other available online media to mine for these keywords and a sense of the how a public audience feels about it. We were curious about how this might apply to our work in politics and for democracy support. Here is what we found. 

1. Sentiment analysis is far from perfect or often even accurate. Algorithms cannot distinguish between nuanced usages of words ("No way am I voting for Obama" vs. "No way! Obama has a new app! So cool!") nor can they detect sarcasm. Additionally, Pew Research, an American research institute focused on polling analysis, conducted research showing that for large public opinion polls, Twitter tends to skew either towards liberal or conservative ends, making the world look more polarized than it is.  Sentiment analysis and online digital media monitoring needs to take into consideration he unrepresentative nature of an online audience (wealthier, more male, younger) and account for that.  Pew researchers also point out in a recent study that out those "who comment on Twitter about news events the to share their opinions on subjects that interest them most;, whereas national surveys ask questions of a random sample [of Americans], regardless of their personal engagement on the issues."   For a great, critical and nuanced article on how news media is using sentiment analysis about poltics, read this Niemann Lab piece.


New on iTunes: NDI's Survey of Parliamentary Monitoring Organizations

Cover art from our newest ePublication

Check out the new publication NDI has on iTunes. "Strengthening Parliamentary Accountability, Citizen Engagement and Access to Information," the guide is now available to anyone with a iPad/iPhone/iTouch, a Nook, and available for download from the Lulu store

Strengthening Parliamentary Accountability surveys the amazing work of parliamentary monitoring organizations around the world that are working with parliaments to hold them more accountable, make them more responsive, and ultimately better serve citizen needs. The guide is part of the work of NDI's Opening Parliaments initiative.  

What is Lulu? Glad you asked. It is the service we used to publish and distribute the books. Following a formatting guide for how to upload, we were able to create a template through Google Drive, making it easy to upload the content into proper formatting and then used Lulu to convert into an epub. After some tinkering, guide was submitted and approved. After a bit more waiting, the ePub was placed on the iBookstore and Nook bookstore for free distribution, and free downloading.

Keep an eye out for more NDI publications on iTunes, and look for us to pop up in the Kindle bookstore soon.




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! 

#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

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, 

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. 

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:

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. 

Rules of (Tech) Engagement

"Mr. Watson--come here--I want to see you" was the first conversation via phone. How engaging (source: Library of Congress)
If nothing else, technology provides us with a great platform for discussion. Ever since the first phone call, technology has connected us with one another, though the quality of discussion varies (and sometimes suffers) greatly. According to a new report by the Knight Foundation, technology can also help communities "shape their own futures" by improving the ways we engage with each other and with leaders in government. Today's Monday Round Up features other examples of technology and engagement:

Can I Ask You a Question? Tech for Engagement in Somalia

Gathering information, increasing knowledge

Want to know what Americans think about the status of the US economy? There's a poll for that. What about if people in the UK would rather be brainy or beautiful? There's a poll for that, too.  Pollsters in the United States gather information through all sorts of channels, be it mobile phones, websites, Facebook, and utilize lots of demographic proprietary databases to reach respondents.  

But polling is not just for rich countries. Asking citizens for their opinions can result in powerful insights into new topics in lower-resource environments as well. 

Voice of America, in partnership with Google Ideas, surveyed 3000 Somali citizens earlier this year. Asking questions about the constitutional review process in the country, Voice of America gathered information from Somalis using an open source platform. As Google Ideas notes on its blog,

"As the draft constitution has undergone revisions in recent months, Google Ideas developed a pilot project with the Somali service, Africa Division of Voice of America (VOA) to help Somalis register their opinions. Starting in April, with just a few clicks, VOA pollsters could call and survey Somalis for their thoughts on a new constitution, asking questions such as: Should there be a strong central government? Should Sharia law be the basis of the constitution? And should there be a requirement that women be included as elected officials? Over three rounds of polling, VOA used the internal site to collect the survey results."

Speak Your Mind: Citizen Participation

Taking action to make changes

Have you ever watched local access channels and saw a glimpse of a budget participatory meeting? Let's be honest: you probably didn't watch too long (unless you're watching Parks and Rec). Yet meetings like those determine where millions of dollars are spent and where taxpayer money goes. The 21st century has presented us with interesting alternatives to the old gavels and chairs formats. For today's Monday Round-Up, we'll be looking at other examples of citizen participation using ICT: 

Gather 'round, see the latest and greatest in election technology!

This gentleman exercising his right to vote

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: 

From Bieber to Dylan: Mapping the (Crowd)Maps

Source: David Ramsey

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.
  • 13% of Crowdmaps had 5-10 categories.
  • 94% of Crowdmaps had only one user.

Technology in Political Campaigns, Anno 2012

President Obama's working on his AMA (via Reddit)

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:

Telecoms, Government, and Privacy, Oh My!

Toto, I've a feeling we're not using dial up internet anymore

Technology moves and grows at exponential rates; policy, on the other hand, does not. This combination leads to a potential conflict in the relationship between governments, private industry, and citizens. Huawei, the giant Chinese telecommunications company, is currently struggling with this very issue, as it balances large growth in the private sector with concerns over the state's relationship with the company. India, China's neighbor to the south, is also attempting to address this issue: the government received criticism for shutting down websites and restricting texts in response to ethnic violence. This week's Monday Round-Up inlcudes stories about mobile, advice about your passwords, and donkey powered WiFi.

Monday Round-Up: Forecasting the Future of Digital Publication

Books? Or future wall decorations? (Photo Credit: William Hoiles)

In the ongoing debate of potential business models for media publications, the New York Times believes it has found the right model for media publication, and an analyst at Barclay's agrees. According to Kannan Venkateshwar, digital subscriptions to the paper will exceed its print subscriptions by 2014. In another realm of publication, Amazon in the UK (not to be confused with a sound-alike song name) has announced their ebook sales have outstripped their print book sales. Both Amazon and the Times must contend with lower prices for digital media access as they explore how to best utilize technology, but increasing online subscriptions may point towards what the future holds for the paper publishing. In today's Monday Round-Up, we also have the latest on disaster mapping, the newest mobile developments, and more:

Lessons Learned: A Shift in ICT Programs

The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking. - Einstein

Just like any other industry, the ICT for Development (ICT4D) field has experienced significant shifts. As major international development stakeholders have begun focusing on funding ICT projects, these shifts have widespread implications for how programs develop in the field.

The tone of the conversation surrounding ICT4D seems to be changing, as more emphasis is being placed on the strategy and implementations of projects instead of the infinite potential of technology. We have been a part of this converstaion, rethinking the question sustainability, ICT as a means and not a goal, and escaping the tunnel vision of technology.  Richard Heeks wrote about the early history of these changes in a paper entitled The ICT4D 2.0 Manifesto. Mr. Heeks explained the difference in earlier attitude between the first programs, and the projects in the field today. Early programs relied upon "technovelty" and focused more on spreading access as quickly as possible instead of on thoughtful implementation. He generalizes the outcome of those early projects into a few words: “failure...and anecdote[s].” Often programs would return with great stories about how technology had changed one individual's life, without analysis to the larger effects. Past the promotional materials, positive impact became difficult to assess, which in turn led to many projects today being framed by sustainability, scalability, and evaluation.  READ MORE »

Monday Round-Up: The fastest net in the West

Elmer Fudd has no chance catching this wabbit
Google, in its onward march towards making everything, now offers internet service boasting speeds 100 times faster than what you currently have. Don't get too excited; as of now, the only city that has access to the incredibly fast speeds is Kansas City, Missouri. Not only that, but neighborhoods must reach a threshold in order to receive service and become a "fiberhood" (except for schools, hospitals, and community buildings, of course).  Still, with 5Mbps speeds for free, and 100 Gigabit internet speeds for $70, Google has given traditional ISPs a run for their money. Our other news today for the Monday Round-Up includes major donors renewed committment to ICT, findings from the latest Black Hat convention, and mobile phone impact:

Monday Round-Up: The Battleground for Internet Freedom

The signal for internet freedom!
In an effort to combat restrictive internet policy, such as ACTA or SOPA, a number of internet sites including Mozilla, Imgur, Reddit, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have signed up to be a part of the Internet Defense League (IDL). Anyone can sign up, with the understanding that if such policy comes close to passing, all signees will take other unified action for internet freedom. This week's Monday Round-Up explores more stories concerning internet freedom and privacy, new advances in small computers, and the latest in dropping prices of mobile phones in developing countries. 

Monday Round-Up: When Movies Come True

Using touchscreen before it was cool

When "Minority Report" was released, it featured slick-looking, futuristic technology and a psychic police force. But is predictive crime fighting no longer limited to the silver screen? In this week's Monday Round-Up, we look at stories involving policing technology, Yahoo and Apple being hacked, and conferences discussing the importance of ICT, among other items.

The more you know...

...and knowing is half the battle

"Imagination is more important than knowledge" - Albert Einstein

...and perhaps technology allows the opportunity to use both. That's at least what I believe. Before moving to DC, and starting as a Project Assistant on the ICT team here at NDI, I spent 3 years as a social worker in Chicago. Besides enjoying the amazing food in the city, I got to see firsthand the empowering effect technology gives new users. After explaining to one client struggling with barriers to employment how her computer mouse was not the type she had to "shoot at in her basement," I showed her how she could both simplify her job searching and use instant messaging to talk to her grandson. Both of these realizations (mostly the latter) gave her the encouragement to come in once a day, five days a week, to regularly look for jobs, and to regularly send smiley faces to her grandson as she chatted with him after school. Sure enough, she eventually found employment and was able to give her grandson the presents he wanted for his birthday. READ MORE »

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