Recent news out of Malawi has focused on the President dissolving her cabinet in the wake of arrests of several officials on suspicion of stealing state funds. The “cashgate” corruption scandal highlights the importance of accountability, and suggests an opportunity for citizens to play a key role. In this tense environment, the Malawi Electoral Support Network (MESN) plans to evaluate the conduct of the elections by the Malawi Election Commission (MEC). MESN is a network of civil society organizations working on democratic governance and elections.
An important component of that evaluation is the attention that MESN will pay to data collection and observer management. We’ve discussed many times the importance of high quality data in election monitoring, here.
Successful implementation of a common methodology includes preparing materials, staff, and tools. In order to keep costs low, and quality high, MESN has taken a simple and effective approach to communicating with their observers, and collecting and digitizing their data. Addressing key questions of cost (can users afford to keep the system running?) and capacity (does the organization understand how to administer and fix the system?) MESN is utilizing two tools in tandem: an SMS gateway called Telerivet, and Google Docs.READ MORE »
Our last RootsCamp ‘13 round-up identified free tools to maximize voice, and to collect and analyze social and mobile data. Each tool was quite specific in its purpose and execution. Beyond these, the attendees (vendors and activists alike) discussed a broader set of platforms (suites) that attempt to manage people and data in a way that allow for a variety of campaign and advocacy activities including petitions, member engagement, mobilization, etc. As before, find a round-up of the best-of-breed at the conference below. Send any of your own suggestions, and we'll update the list.
NGP VAN is the largest provider of political data management tools for progressives in the US. With it’s recent purchase of NationalField, which builds tools for managing field staff and volunteers, they provide an integrated platform of fundraising, organizing, new media, and social networking products.
NationBuilder is billed as “Political campaign software starting at $19/mo”, NationBuilder has developed an impressive set of online tools for campaigns including websites, voter databases, fundraising tools, and communications tools. Nationbuilder is looking to internationalize its platform. READ MORE »
Roots Camp 13 is over. This buzzy unconference of field organizers, digital directors, data geeks, and political wonks continues to be an intriguing amalgam of progressive activists growing skills, sharing knowledge, and building networks.
Many fascinating conversations tackled proactive and reactive messaging, mobile advocacy, testing and analytics, data-driven politicking, among others. The tweet stream and archive can be found at #roots13, and here's an initial review by David Weigel on Slate.
Striking the fancy of our @nditech team were the plethora of free online organizing tools that were highlighted throughout the sessions. I’ve posted a round-up of the best-of-breed below. Send any of your own suggestions, and we'll update the list.
Maximizing Your Voice (Message Distribution)READ MORE »
We talk repeatedly about transparency and civic engagement in our work, and often emphasize that it’s only when governments have the will and capacity to respond to citizen' demands that signficant social change takes place. Improving citizen action and government responsiveness always lies at the nexus of political institutions, local incentives, and power dynamics. Add to this the use of digital technoloy - ubiquitously by citizens, less so by institutions, and you see the need for very smart project design that takes all these factors into consideration. However, projects are often influenced by donors who not always understand how these systems work together. In a positive sign, a new funding mechanism requires strategic design and evidence of government and civil society collaboration up front.
Our friends in the Opening Parliament community have been busy this Fall, and are anticipating the Open Government Partnership (OGP) annual conference at the end of the month. We’ve been impressed by several projects that mashup accountability mechanisms with strong data visualizations, and are highlighting them below. For a full review of parliamentary monitoring accomplishments, find more news crossposted on the Opening Parliament blog.
In the Czech Republic, a Czech and Slovak parliamentary monitoring organization, KohoVolit.eu, has worked to visualize complex parliamentary information through social network analysis. Their visualizations demonstrate how often individual MPs sponsor bills and the collaboration relationship with other MPs (image at right).
Kenya's iHub recently released its research on crowdsourced information in the highly contested 2013 Kenya Presidential elections. The study sought to clarify the value of information collected from citizens about political incidents from online media, and to answer whether 1) “passive crowdsourcing” is viable in the Kenyan context - passive crowdsourcing being defined as monitoring social media such as Twitter 2) determine what unique information Twitter posts provided about the election, and 3) determine the conditions in which crowdsourced information is a viable news source. As part of the report, iHub provided a useful set of recommendations and a decision-making framework for practitioners who are considering similar methodologies.
The report provides great detail about the research methodology and data sources (Twitter, online traditional media, targeted crowdsourcing platforms like Uchaguzi, and fieldwork). Particularly impressive are the mechanisms described for capture, storage and classification of tweets and the detailed approaches to filtering for newsworthy tweets. The glossary is helpful in clarifying terminology such as that of "passive", "active" and "targeted" crowdsourcing of information from citizens. (NDI prefers the term "citizen reporting" over crowdsourcing for citizen-generated incidents data.) READ MORE »
I’m recently back from Electech Afghanistan, an NDI-hosted elections and technology conference in Kabul. The event brought together senior officials from government, civil society, the private sector, and the international community to discuss applications of digital technologies to enhance transparency and participation in the election process.
Ahead of the Presidential elections in April 2014, the Afghan public lacks confidence in the government’s ability to run a credible election and this is diminishing participation and prospects for stability and democratic development. Afganistan is, of course, a supremely insecure environment with low rates of literacy throughout the population.
Participants identified ways that technology could improve participation and confidence by helping election authorities in administration, improving how political parties compete, increasing citizen’s participation, and enabling civil society organizations to observe more effectively, all while allowing journalists such as Pajhwok News to publicly share results and analysis. Discussion focused on the changing nature of political participation mediated by technology.
Kenya's election is over and was largely peaceful, even as there are ongoing court challenges. We @NDITech assisted the Kenyan civil society organization, ELOG, in it's election observation effort on Election day so had an inside view of this much-anticipated and closely-watched election. NDI specifically supported ELOG's data collection effort where observers gathered process and incident data at polling stations around the country as well as vote share data to verify the results publicized by Kenya's electoral commission, IEBC. As the IEBC found out the hard way, it’s not easy to collect electronic data from tens of thousands of polling stations around the country. ELOG’s observers were trained by master trainers to collect relevant data and then send coded text messages for processing to a central database. READ MORE »
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 »
Collecting election-related data provides information about the conduct and integrity of elections - critical events in emerging democracies. This data is collected from both trained observers deployed in a systematic manner and from empowered citizens contributing their witness reports to provide a lense on the election. Collecting such data in an election allows civil society groups and citizens assess and evaluate the process, mitigate the potential for violence, reform the legal frameworks for elections, and engage citizens in menaginful ways.
As I noted before, decisions on what tools and techniques to deploy for data collections in an election need to be driven by the intended goals.
NDI and our partners in many countries have pioneered and over the years greatly improved election-related data collection through trained and organized observers. Still still involves moving paper but also call-in centers, and, of course, highly efficient and systematic SMS-based reporting. Citizen reporting efforts with the goal of engaging them meaningfully have, of course, proliferated. Unfortunately, they also have often been plagued with the “Garbage In, Garbage Out” problem that has made it difficult to tell a cogent story about an election or come to any definitive conclusions. That said, we believe that citizen reporting can be useful especially in the period before election day to flag and highlight potential issues with voter registration and other preparations for election day.
We are exploring a number of tools and methods in our work to intelligenty combine both systematic election observation and citizen reports both prior to- and during an election. Some of these tools underused right now are:
1) Interactive Voice Response (IVR)
IVR systems (ex. Freedom Fone) enable automated, interactive, audio-based data collection and communication through mobile phone networks. They can be set to respond with prerecorded or dynamically generated audio to further direct reporters through a series of simple interactions. Their importance has been highlighted for reaching offline or illiterate constituencies, bridging language barriers, and allowing users to move past the 160 character limitation of an SMS. 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 »
The latter, policy development, is central to the conference series, and we discussed ways that smart applications of technology can improve the outcomes of policy development.
As we’ve witnessed in the last few years, the “internet public” reflects the changed nature of human beings as social and civic individuals. As part of this phenomenon, new connections are increasingly important, and pertinent information gets shared rapidly. One driver of these tools for political use has been the perception that political bodies are self-interested, dysfunctional, and don’t represent citizen interests. We’ve seen citizens rebelling against this order in ongoing Arab Spring uprisings, the Occupy Movement, and newly founded political parties and organizations. READ MORE »
NDItech is hiring an Information and Communication Technologies Program Officer. Are you an experienced veteran of technology in politics or development? Join us!
This is a senior position on our team tasked with juggling the strategy and implementation of appropriate technology on multiple NDI democracy programs. In one day you may be advising DC's regional experts on how to add language for IVR systems in a grant proposal, joining a Skype call with developers in Lagos building an elections app, and playing with the newest release of FrontlineSMS to see how it can help partners achieve their communications goals.
We also get time to think, write and discuss this exciting and evolving field with colleagues in DC and around the world. For the right candidate, the position also includes travel to the field for assessments on appropriate tech strategy or helping with boots-on-the-ground implementation. READ MORE »
Ahead of the intense effort and coordination involved with PVT-type data collection on an Election Day, organizations choose to simulate the reporting and data management processes which will be required in a tense political environment.
In massive data collection exercises, “stress” or “load” tests can assess the training and commitment of the observers, the effectiveness of the communications system and the training (video!) of staff in the center.
Last week, ahead of the first round of elections in Nigeria (National Assembly Elections), Project Swift Count (PSC ) undertook the first of three simulation exercises, wherein all 798 LGA Supervisors and 7,114 Observers were to send in a sample text message. As with most simulations, this one revealed problems and potential threats, thereby initiating immediate fixes as well as longer term back-up measures.
Some of the technology and communications threats included: READ MORE »
Preparing collectors for this type of process most often involves in-person trainings (ex. Training of Trainers (TOT) for large groups), supplemented with guiding materials and simulations.
In order to observe three successive weekends of elections in Nigeria (National Assembly, Presidential & Gubernatorial), Project 2011 Swift Count plans to deploy approximately 8,000 observers to a representative random sample of polling stations in all 774 Local Government Areas (LGAs) of the country.
Preparing the associated materials and trainings to guarantee the ability to collect, analyze and share comprehensive information, involved just some of the following: READ MORE »
Elections cannot be separated from the broader political context of a country, and efforts to protect electoral integrity must examine how pre-election or post-election developments uphold or negate the democratic nature of an election. i.e. “Elections are a process, not a one-day event.”
ICT in the service of “peace” often refers to a broad range of activities encompassing conflict prevention and management, peace operations, humanitarian relief and disaster assistance, and post-conflict peace building and reconstruction.
For example, the ICT4Peace Foundation is committed to effective communication in “crisis management, humanitarian aid and peace building”. A recent USIP collaboration, Blogs & Bullets examines how new media can change the politics of unrest, revolution, violence, and civil war. Their work emphasizes five levels of analysis: individual transformation, intergroup relations, collective action, regime policies, and external attention.
NDI’s approach to ICT & Peace has focused on how key tools can help communities and stakeholders improve communication, facilitate negotiations, increase transparency, and build trust.
Democracy assistance is often seen as falling in the range of activities associated with peace building and conflict resolution, as democratic institutions help maintain peace by providing mechanisms for managing or resolving conflicts without resort to violence. READ MORE »
The final results were announced last week in Southern Sudan’s independence referendum. While voter’s preference was never in doubt (nearly 99% voting for the “open palm”), the results were not officially announced for more than 3 weeks after the last day of voting. In an instantaneous news media culture, which often demands updates on an hourly, or minute-to-minute basis, this delay of information on an electoral process would often mean that audience attention gets diverted, or politically-motivated groups can more easily compete for narrative and truth in a vacuum.
However, those following the referendum closely had an (over?) abundance of options for finding out how the process went. These options reflect how technology is enabling new voices to participate in the process, and how established organizations can reach new audiences. These new tools have their strengths and weaknesses, however together they allow a broad account of an evolving political situation.
This abundance of tools is even more profound given a political and social environment where the majority of the region is inaccessible, the communications infrastructure is weak, and reporting is challenged by divisive politics and years of violence.
We're looking for an online messaging guru to travel to the Middle East for a 3-week field assignment to work with NDI partners (local NGOs) who are monitoring and highlighting government conduct during an electoral period. This position is similar to the previous Thailand gig mentioned by Katherine.
We're looking for someone to work with our local partners to tell their stories about the election, and to use data collection and compelling visualization to further citizen understanding of the process. See full skills description here.
In many parts of the world, countries are taking first-time steps to make their governments more open and accountable. Yesterday, NDI had the opportunity to host participants under the auspices of the Department of State's International Visitor Leadership Program. These business and political leaders came by to discuss NDI's approaches to ensuring accountability and transparency in government. Many of the leaders had not heard of NDI nor its programs, however, of the 18 countries represented from Albania to Uganda, NDI had offices in 17 of them. This was therefore a great opportunity for private and public leaders to get to know the organization better with a view to establishing future working relationships.
My own contributions focused on presenting the technology components of NDI’s accountability and transparency work, identifying ways that NDI leverages new technologies to strengthen the foundations of open government. Anyone who has read every post on this blog will immediately recognize some examples; for those who haven’t consider the examples below.
NDI’s government accountability support often involves working with civil society organizations (CSOs) to monitor political processes. READ MORE »
Detailed information about Election Day can be collected from thousands of observers in many ways given the need for accuracy, speed, minimized costs, and taking into account the particular communications infrastructure and organizational capacity. (Chris Spence wrote previously on this methodology.)
For the Constitutional Referendum in Kenya, the Kenya Election Observation Group (ELOG) built a system which relied on observers using mobile phones and text messages to pass the data on their observation forms to a center multiple times throughout the day. Ahead of Referendum Day, I was lucky enough to travel and assist ELOG in their use of technology, with a focus on supporting their efforts in collecting observer data. READ MORE »