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 »
Last Tuesday, NDI was lucky enough to hope Anders Pederson to talk about Open Knowledge Foundation’s new project, OpenSpending.org. Understanding how governments spend money is important; It affects the lives of citizens. Governments often claim they spend money “on behalf” of their citizens without any real monitoring of exactly where the money goes once it leaves taxpayer pockets. Perhaps your government announced an increase in spending on education, a position you supported, as part of their election campaign. However, without open and easy access to government spending it is almost impossible to know if that promise was followed through on. READ MORE »
What do Chinese citizens think about democracy? Would they support political reform? And what might those reforms look like? To answer these kind questions, political scientists and policymakers have historically turned to polling. But polling is notoriously difficult in China. For one thing, China prohibits foreign polling organizations from directly surveying Chinese people. Alternatively, case studies can offer a valuable approach for gauging public preferences. But with a case studies approach, the sample size is necessarily small, and selecting truly representative cases can be challenging.
Big data analysis can offer another way to understand the public mood. Online social media has given us the largest repository of unsolicited public opinion in history. And Chinese citizens are a big piece of that equation. On Chinese social media, tens of millions of people will write a unique post in a given week.
Last year, a debate about enforcing China’s constitution (read: requiring that Communist Party elites are held accountable to the same legal standards as regular citizens) captured public attention. Using Crimson Hexagon’s ForSight platform, a big data analytics platform developed by the Institute for Quantitative Social Sciences at Harvard University, we mapped the online discussion of constitutionalism for the duration of 2013.
ForSight has access to the full content stream of an enormous quantity of public internet data – including China’s most popular microblogging platform, Sina Weibo. Essentially, ForSight almost instantaneously downloads this data as soon as it is created and stores it. Because the great majority of censorship on Chinese social media is done manually (which takes a few minutes), this store of data also includes censored posts. 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 »
Please join NDI and the OpenGov Hub for a conversation with recipients of NDI's 2013 Democracy Award this Wednesday, December 11 at 12-2 pm in NDI's office in Washington. NDI is honoring this year a stellar group of Civic Innovators from around the world. We wanted to recognize an emerging class of creative and entrepreneurial individuals who are using technology to help advance and improve democracy in the digital age.
We're pleased to feature a number of the award winners in a conversation about the nature of civic innovation and its implications for democracy around the world and hope you can join us! Please register hereREAD MORE »
Enter the Open Government Guide. It is meant to support the development and then adherence to specific goals in 19 areas currently. These include, for instance, budgets, public contracting, right to information and cross-cutting issues such as parliaments and elections (Disclosure: both of those chapters were contributed by NDI staff.). Each category is divided into initial, intermediate and advanced actions that are also supported by specific recommendations, standards, and case studies. All is presented in a highly accessible visual format. READ MORE »
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to participate in an event to determine how human rights defenders might approach an emergency alert mobile app given their diverse risks, and to ensure that activists first consider their risks before adopting such a tool.
The following is a summary of this event, written by Alix Dunn of the Engine Room and Libby Powell of Radar.
How can an app developer make sure that an app doesn’t do more harm than good? For Amnesty International, that question could be one of life or death for human rights defenders using their new Panic Button app. 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.
We work with civil society organizations around the world that are facing increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks against them from relenteless, well-resourced, and tecnically extremely savvy adversaries that attempt to curtail, surveil, and otherwise hinder their work. We are routinely called to assist our partners in preventing and mitigating denial-of-service attacks against and hacking of websites and online services, expecially during political events such as elections. Our partners are under threat in myriad ways, ranging from account compromises, social media takedowns to regime trolls and spammers, and malware.
ACCESS Now, a US-based advocacy organization focused on internet governance and digital security has just compiled the first in a series of reports focused on these threats to civil society organizations. The first assessment focused on fake domains when an adversary creates a similar-looking website or social media profile to one of a civil society organizations. These fake domains are used to dilute or confuse the message of the organization and subvert their effectiveness by drawing readers from the original site, or in order to serve malware to specifically target the audience of the original website. READ MORE »
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.
What would the world look like if every citizen had access to affordable internet? That’s a question attempting to be solved by internet.org, a joint effort by Facebook, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung, that aims to “make internet access available to the two-thirds of the world who are not yet connected, and to bring the same opportunities to everyone that the connected third of the world has today.” READ MORE »
We know that corruption grows and spreads in areas where public accountability is low. The question is how can technology facilitate public accountability and better governance? Over the last few weeks I started collecting data on corruption and comparing it to various attributes of countries within a single year, 2012.
For a very preliminary look at the role of technology in influencing democracy I have examined how social networks, principally Facebook, influence the perception of corruption within countries. What I have found hints at something important in the Tech4Dem space. I developed a basic model based on the premise that societies with higher usage of social networks are inherently more engaged and therefore are more likely to have lower perceptions of corruption. READ MORE »
NDI's Governance and NDItech teams are co-convening, with illustrious partners (Omidyar, International IDEA, CDDRL at Stanford University, Google.org, and other) a conference in the next few days on how democratic institutions respond to and more effectively to a global citizenry that is empowered with technology in unprecedented ways. Democratic institutions -- parliaments, parties, and governments - are under pressure to perform more efficiently and effectively, to open their often opaque ways, to be more accountable to their citizens - in short, to govern better. Around the world, established and emerging democracies are struggling to adapt to citizens who are mobilized with phones, tweets and Facebook pages. They are often slow to change and reluctant to give up old paradigms of power and access to (or withholding of) information.
Those with vested power are learning that the gatekeeping functions such as access and control of and to information is no longer possible in a socia media and tech-empowered world. At the same time, there is a contraction of civil liberties and freedom of expression online and tech is being used against democratization efforts. One participant describes this as a "cut and paste" movement of autocratic governments learning online from each other on how to surveil, restrict, and limit their citizenries with technology.
One #tech4dem participant put the challenge well: "The game has changed. You can not find the existing reality, you have to come up with a new one."
We have been reading a new report from Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy “Diplomacy, Security and Development in the Information Age”. Edited by Shanthi Kalathil, the collection of papers relates directly to organizations using tech in international development activities. We are particularly impressed with Joseph Siegle’s article: “Managing Volatility with the Expanded Access to Information in Fragile States.”
Siegle addresses a range of issues ranging from civic participation to the potential marginalization and radicalization of individuals in fragile states - all of interest to us. Siegle interestingly notes that information is a central aspect affecting the stability of fragile states. He finds explicitly that information and communications technologies can serve as both an opportunity and a threat to societies in such states. He notes that channels by which information is conveyed are essentially value neutral, and rightly illustrates that it information itself and the context are the critical factors to investigate.
Siegle’s insight is important for all implementers of tech in development as they initiate projects around the world. Information can increase transparency and oversight if it is accurate and unbiased and contextulalized by actors experienced in political organizing. Similarly, platforms for open democracy can shine light on corruption and political abuse if advanced by groups (such as media or citizen organizations) with credibility.
Among the tactics Siegle highlights is parallel vote counting. Siegle states: “Election monitoring groups are able to conduct parallel vote counts (Parallel Vote Tabulation, PVT) at each local polling station and report these results back to a central headquarters,enabling real-time projections that challenge dubious official results.” Much of the data collection and reporting of election data is done via SMS and sophisticated back-end parsing and analytical engines to ensure credible analysis by monitoring organizations. NDI recently assisted in a PVT with our local partner ELOG in Kenya. READ MORE »
UPDATE: According to Koryo Tours, the only group that is currently sanctioned to bring foreigners into North Korea, "3G access is no longer available for tourists to the DPRK. Sim cards can still be purchased to make international calls but no internet access is available." Now, the only foreigners with 3G access will be permanent residents of the DPRK, not tourists.
Originally published February 28, 2013
This week, foreigners living in North Korea were able to connect to 3G services on their mobile devices and tablets. Koryolink (a joint venture between state-owned KPTC and Egyptian provider Orascom) informed foreign residents in Pyongyang that it will launch 3G mobile Internet service no later than March 1.
This newly-available access follows the reversal of regulations requiring visitors to surrender their phones at customs, and has been replaced with allowing foreigners to bring in their own mobile phones to use with Koryolink SIM cards.
Some have speculated that 3G access follows the highly publicized visit from Google CEO Eric Schmidt; however, Koryolink has stated the new service had “nothing to do” with his trip, and the carrier had "tried hard to negotiate with the Korean security side, and got the approval recently." READ MORE »
So you want to increase citizen participation in government and civil society, but the tech infrastructure is poor and there are low literacy rates with many people living in rural areas who are hard to reach. What do you do to increase transparency and civic interaction between a government and citizens? Poor tech infrastructure, rural populations, and low literacy rates are commong barriers to using tech in many countries where we work. Integrated Voice Response (IVR) provides a mechanism for civic interaction that breaks down many of the barriers to interactive civic engagement listed above. READ MORE »
Myanmar used to have one of the highest costs for SIM cards in the world. However, after the 2011 election and subsequent efforts to open up Burma to the international community, prices for SIM cards have drastically dropped.
Quartz just published its findings on the decline of SIM cards prices, which have become vastly more affordable to average citizens in recent years:
NDI is presenting a number of papers at a Stanford University conference entitled: “Right to Information and Transparency in the Digital Age: Policy, Tools and Practices”. The conference “seeks to bring together people engaged in law, policy, social movements, administration, technology, design and the use of technology for accessing information.” Two papers by Chris Doten and Lauren Kunis from NDI looked at information access and political participation in West Africa.
Chris Doten’s paper, “Transparent Trees Falling in Empty Forests: Civil Society as Open Data Analysts and Communications Gateways,” specifically focuses on access to and analysis of election data. NDI worked with Coalition for Democracy and Development in Ghana (CDD) in the recent Ghana election. In the context of election data, in particular, Doten suggests there is a need for solid and publicly available analysis of available data and promotion of that analysis through various media, including publishing of raw data. Without analysis and public distribution through a variey of channels, election data is like the proverbial tree that falls in the woods with no one hearing it. By providing access and analysis Doten suggest that there is the potential for a better informed citizenry. READ MORE »
In Azerbaijan elections are looming and the country's citizens are engaged. Facebook is becoming fast one of the major vehicles through which political movements in the country are communicating and organizing. President Ilham Aliyev is expected to be nominated in the coming weeks as the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party’s candidate. Opposition Musavat Party leader Isa Gambar and the jailed Republican Alternative leader Ilgar Mammadov are among his potential challengers.
While Yeni and Aliyev have built a power base for years, the landscape is changing rapidly, thanks to social media. According to Eurasia Net reporting, the use by citizen gruops of Facebook in particular is growing.
The Internet’s influence was most recently illustrated by a Facebook campaign that led to an unsanctioned rally in Baku in January against police treatment of protesters in the regional town of Ismayilli, and by a similar initiative to pay the fines of those demonstrators arrested. The social network also has been used as an information distribution vehicle about other protests and about a high-profile bribery scandal involving incumbent President Ilham Aliyev’s Yeni Azerbaijan Party.
Times are changing in Burma. The by-elections in April resulted in the NLD winning 43 out of 44 contested seats, removal of the press restrictions that require journalists to submit articles to the Press Scrutiny and Registration Department prior to publication, and the historic visit of President Obama to Myanmar (the first time a sitting president has visited the country).
Access to ICTs in Burma has historically been challenging. Throughout the country, there is low internet and mobile penetration. There were significant cost barriers to gaining access to basic technologies like sim cards (which can cost up to $900), and constant efforts to censor content and strike fear in activists through draconian telecommunications regulations.
This time of change has also reached the technology sector in Burma. The price of sim cards has dropped, the censorship of popular online news outlets such as the Irrawaddy and Mizzima News has been lifted, and use of Facebook has grown incredibly throughout the country. READ MORE »
Last week was Internet Freedom Day - a year after a bill attempting to restrict content online, the so-called SOPA/PIPA bill, was defeated in the United States Congress. We here at NDItech are people of the Internet. We believe, as described in the Declaration on Internet Freedom, that
a free and open Internet can bring about a better world. To keep the Internet free and open, we call on communities, industries and countries to recognize these principles. We believe that they will help to bring about more creativity, more innovation and more open societies.
But, we are worried. As an organization that supports and works for democratic principles and practices, empowered communities, and responsive and accountable governments under the rule of law, and, as a unit within this organization that believes and works on the effective and innovative use of technology in this work, we see troubling trends. READ MORE »
IIn Ghana's recent election NDItech partnered with the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO), an independent Ghanaian NGO focused on election accountability. Our goal was to increase information to citizens about the election. CODEO ran a large monitoring program where 3999 citizen observers transmitted incidence and election results data via SMS to a central data center - a standard systematic election observation.
CODEO also used social media as part of a citizen communication campaign to voters via a Facebook page where political issues facung the country were actively debated, and a call-in service for radio stations to broadast voter information (listen to the audio below this post).
We spoke with NDItech's Program Officer Chris Doten about this innovative mobile audio-to-radio project.
Ghana has a robust technology infrastructure and a great NDI partner that was willing to try some new campaigns for this election and invited us to work with them. There also was a little bit of funding in place to do new media voter outreach, and we were able to run with it on a short time frame. Additionally, CODEO has a very good reputation in the country and we worked with them before in several previous election. The staff there is exceptional and was a pleasure to work with. READ MORE »
A recent article in the New York Times argues that Twitter is used by citizens in Saudi Arabia to increase the political space for public discourse that did not exist before: "Open criticism of this country’s royal family, once unheard-of, has become commonplace in recent months. Prominent judges and lawyers issue fierce public broadsides about large-scale government corruption and social neglect. Women deride the clerics who limit their freedoms. Even the king has come under attack. All this dissent is taking place on the same forum: Twitter."
The NY Times staff writer Robert Worth, an often-astute chronicler of the MIddle East, argues that "Unlike other media, Twitter has allowed Saudis to cross social boundaries and address delicate subjects collectively and in real time, via shared subject headings like “Saudi Corruption” and “Political Prisoners,” known in Twitter as hashtags."
Is Twitter becoming "like a parliament, but not the kind of parliament that exists in this region,” as Faisal Abdullah, a 31-year-old lawyer, is quoted in the story - even a "true parliament, where people from all political sides meet and speak freely?" READ MORE »
This is a guest post from David Caragliano, NDI's Senior Program Officer on the Asia team in D.C. You can follow up with David on Twitter.
Citizen participation in Hong Kong is on the rise, but the results of the September 9 legislative council (LegCo) election and the March 25 chief executive election do not fully capture the nature of citizen participation. Voter turnout on September 9 stood at 53 percent – just two percentage points under the historical record in 2004. Public outrage at the candidacy of Chief Executive C.Y. Leung and his push to require Moral and National Education (MNE) courses in Hong Kong schools has been difficult to ignore. However, under Hong Kong’s complex electoral system, political parties have tended to be unresponsive. Civil society has driven political messaging and mobilization, increasingly through online tools.
The candidacy of C.Y. Leung in chief executive election generated frustration among Hong Kong’s voters. His victory only reaffirmed the reality that fifteen years after the Handover a small circle of elites continue to monopolize the chief executive selection process. What if the Hong Kong people could directly elect their chief executive? READ MORE »