Assessment

Pitfalls in Tolerance: An Analysis of Twitter Data for Electoral Predictions

How-to-Follow-the-2012-US-Presidential-Elections-on-Twitter.jpg

As we all know, Twitter is a platform for creating and sharing short bursts of information instantly and without borders. Scholars have taken note and analyze Twitter data to “take the pulse” of society. Since 2010 a number of studies have tried to assess the viability of Twitter as a substitute for traditional electoral prediction methods. They have ranged from theoretical works to data analysis. These studies have been inspired by the lure of access to real-time information and the ease of collecting this data.

In recent study, Daniel Gayo-Avello of the University of Oviedo in Spain examined a number of previous attempts at predicting elections using Twitter data. The author conducted a meta analysis of fifteen prior studies to analyse whether Twitter data can be used to predict election results. He found that the 'presumed predictive power regarding electoral prediction has been somewhat exaggerated: although social media may provide a glimpse on electoral outcomes current research does not provide strong evidence to support it can currently replace traditional polls." READ MORE »

RootsCamp '13: Free Tools

Roots Camp Logo

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 »

That's Random: RCTs in Democracy and Governance

Random Number Generators

Data-driven decisionmaking has a lovely alliterative sound. It also makes a lot of sense in the international development world - shouldn’t we have good, solid information to help shape the choice of program activities?

Easier said than done, regrettably. Our team has been mulling about how we can use concepts from randomized control trials - RCTs - to get information on what works and what doesn’t in NDI’s tech4dem work. It is particularly important with new technologies that we’re often pushing because often there’s not enough of a track record for these shiny new tools or approaches to determine if they are effective.

In a a randomized control trial, you need five basic things: READ MORE »

Mobile Data on the Go: How to Use FormHub and ODK in 5 Easy Steps

Data Collection Gone Mobile - Image Courtesy FormHub

One of the key components to any well run organization is an efficient process for information gathering. This can seem a daunting task for professionals working from differing locations or even transnationally. Traditionally, organizations have relied on paper forms for collecting data only to later gather the forms and enter them manually into a database for analysis. Using web-based forms allows for real-time monitoring and analysis of data. Mobile collection of data also offers the ability to collect advanced data such as GPS coordinates, images, videos, and time stamp data - all on the go and in the field.  

The best part of using mobile-forms is that you don’t have to be a programmer or statistician to utilize them. Building web-forms is a fast, uncomplicated task that can be executed by even the least tech-savvy individuals.  In order to prove this, over the last week I have been working with two tools that are increasingly popular for mobile data collection: Formhub and Open Data Kit (ODK). Below is an easy 5-step breakdown for using Formhub and ODK Collect to enhance your data collection process.

READ MORE »

Foreign Assistance Dashboard: Aid Transparency About Where US Aid Is Going

ForeignAssistance.gov

Every year the United States gives out around $50 billion in aid to developing countries around the world.  This means the United States gives out twice as much in foreign aid as the next four counties on the list of major international donors (UK, Japan, France, and Germany).

So, where is this money going?  The U.S. Department of State and USAID have developed a new tool to help in answering that question. In late 2011 the U.S. signed the International Aid Transparency Initiative, a voluntary multi-national strategy to make information about foreign aid more transparent, accessible, and understandable. Launched in 2013, the U.S. Foreign Assistance Dashboard provides a way to view U.S. foreign assistance funds in a standard, easy to understand, format.  

The dashoard enables a wide spectrum of stakeholders in the U.S. aid process to examine, research, and track U.S. funding. It presents data in two ways:  First, the website presents data in user friendly graphics in specific categories such as funding received by a particular country, sector, or agency. Information can also be accessed in machine-readable form, allowing users to execute manual queries and download data sets.

Critics of the program note that while the Dashboard is a step forward for transparency, agencies have been lagging in posting information to the Dashboard.  They have also noted that data on the Dashboard is not presented in a clear format, or that information is incomplete.

READ MORE »

Crowdsourcing Political Incidents Online

Candidate posters, Kenya Presidential Elections, March 2013.

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 »

#FutureNews - Techifying Parliamentary Communications

#FutureNews - The Communications of Parliamentary Democracy in a Digital World

A new report published in the UK examines the role that technology plays in providing citizens access to information and events related to Parliament. The report: “#FutureNews - The Communications of Parliamentary Democracy in a Digital World,” provides an interesting look at a strategic approach of the UK to increasing the openness of White Hall.  It's long been evident that technology is diversifying the media through which citizens consume news and entertainment. It's also clear that it is incumbent upon governments to keep up with citizens to maintain transparency and accountability in democratic processes.  Using new technologies and media strategies, the report argues, Parliament must insert itself in to the public debate and add substantive value to the the political conversation. 

Following are key findings from the report and a brief discussion on how these takeaways are applicable in the developing world from an NDI Tech4Dem perspective.  READ MORE »

Smart SMS Parsing for Better Election Observation

Parsing Sequence

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 »

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."

Tech for Elections: Improving Data from the Crowd

Russia's Yandex smartphone app for reporting vote fraud (Economist.com)

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 »

Where There's Organizational Will There's a Way: Liberian Legislative Tech Modernization II

The Liberian Senate, now with voting machines

Like any large organizations, the Liberian Legislature is a complex minefield of relationships. I'm lucky that I have my coworkers here; I may be a dilettante that pops in and out of countries, but my colleagues have spent years working with Liberia's political institutions and building relationships with the elected members and staff. This combination is one of NDI's great strengths, and it's incredibly useful when thinking how to shepherd development projects through an organization. Particularly when you're talking tech, a fly-in-fly-out engagement is almost doomed to failure, as institutional change is really the name of the game, not air-dropping shiny new tools.

With the 53rd Legislature's priorities coming into focus from our various meetings of the last week and elements of a workplan falling into place, we on the tech modernization team began crafting a new strategy on how to move forward. The biggest gap, we saw, was finding the right internal champions. In the 52nd Legislature we had a number of excellent partners to work with who had a vision for how the legislature could be stronger in the future; however, as I explained last time, there's been a lot of turnover and those left have been playing musical chairs. READ MORE »

The best-laid IT modernization plans o' mice an' men...

Low-tech, high-impact bill tracking at the Liberian Legislature

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 »

Tech for Elections: Grounded Processes and Smart Tools

Get 'em in a row.

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 Row READ MORE »

Technology and Economic Development: What's the Relationship?

Map: Latin America and the Caribbean

Earlier this week I escaped the office for a couple of hours to attend an event at the Council of the Americas, "Is Technology the Key to Development?" The event focused on a new study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) that explores whether investment in ICT in Latin America has an impact on economic development. The findings: ICT alone is not the answer to economic development.

Before focusing on the implication of the findings, let’s first look at some background on the landscape and methodology of the research. Latin American and the Caribbean have seen large investments in ICT in the past decade. This investment bought with it hopes of development and growth, yet until this study very little was known on the impact ICT was having on development in the region. In order to address this gap, the IDB team conducted a this survey. The study conducted randomized controlled trials across a number of sectors (labor, education, institutions, health, finance, environment) and studied nearly 50 projects. After studying this wide variety of programs they found that in 39% of the projects the impact in ICT was strong - but in 61% of projects it was much less so. From this data and their analysis, the researchers concluded that ICT alone doesn’t work, but rather it needs to be coupled with human capital, infrastructure, and regulations in order to have a positive impact. READ MORE »

The Benefits of Backwardness

Leapfrog

I'm just back from my assessment trip with the Liberian Legislature.

I had a great time with a lot of interesting folks. In a number of ways, this assessment was easy.

  • Tech infrastructure and capacity of the Legislature: Virtually nil.
  • Long-term infrastructure development plan: The same setup needed for, say, a small college .

The real challenge is the short term, and it's basically a question of triage. What are the most critical, targeted steps that can be taken in the next year or two that will have the greatest impact for the most people when you are starting from zero?

The Legislature has some great opportunities precisely because of their complete lack of infrastructure. This is the "benefits of backwardness" - when you're catching up you have a chance to leapfrog technologies. Historians suggest that's one reason Germany did so well when it first industrialized; it was able to jump to cutting-edge capital equipment, not start from spinning jennies. READ MORE »

Field Trip

Tea in Erbil

I'm currently in Erbil, Iraq in the Kurdistan region, doing an assessment of an upcoming project with the Iraqi Parliament.

It's hot.

The NDItech team travels a good deal for this kind of assessment. When one of NDI's regional teams is going to be running a program that has a significant technology component, we'll get involved to make sure that the best technology given the local conditions is put into place and implemented well.

There are a lot of questions to consider when getting a technology and development project up and running. READ MORE »

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