The past several months have seen protest movements take place in Ukraine and Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as in many other places around the world. As these movements have arisen it has been an ongoing question as to whether it was possible to utlize the Internet to determine the scale and scope of these movements. Both countries experienced some form of protest movement that resulted in on the ground action in their respective capitals. Is it possible to identify how successful a protest movement is just by looking at the publicly available online flow of information? When trying to assess the importance of technology in a democracy there are dozens of questions that need answering. This hints at the broader processes of understanding how technology and society interact. Furthermore, it allows us to grasp in real terms how citizens of a country are using technology to discuss, mobilize and engage around political issues in a way other than formal polling.
Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Ukraine are very different in many respects. Although both have ethnic divisions the depth of these ethnic divisions, at least on the surface, appears to be significantly different. BiH has approximately 65% Internet penetration while Ukraine has just under 40% penetration. Ukraine has 3.2 million active users of Facebook while BiH has 1.54 million. Ukraine has approximately 10 times as many people as BiH and covers a significantly larger geographic area. Both sets of protests achieved international media attention, but if we look behind the sheen of the international media and we examine what people in the country were talking about can derive we a non-scientific assessment of the scale of these two different movements? 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 »
I thought it was a brand of athletic shoes, but apparently I was wrong.
I was recently at a training-of-trainers with some of the best digital security experts in the business. We’re working with a crop of young trainers from around the world eager to improve their skills in teaching others the critical - and timely - topics of safety and privacy online.
We’re not children anymore. (I, at least, am nowhere close.) That means, in part, that we don’t learn in the same way that children do - and a lot of the teaching methodologies we’re brought up on don’t work well for adults. We are building out a set of digital security training materials and in the process I’ve been learning about a pedagogical approach called ADIDS. I’ve also been learning how to pronounce “pedagogical.”
ADIDS stands for Activity, Discussion, Inputs, Deepening, Synthesis. It’s a proven approach based on experimental results and sound learning principles - and entirely new to me. This may explain much of my academic career. In any case, by taking a topic and approaching it through these five lenses, one gives a broad audience of adult learners the best chance possible to absorb new, complex information.
People don’t learn everything all at once. It’s a frequent sin in digital security trainings to blast through a complicated topic, say “any questions?,” nod in satisfaction, and move on confident that the information has been absorbed and will be faithfully lived from that day forward.
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.
NDItech was recently at an event on Our Digital Future: Ideas for Internet Research hosted by The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. A diverse panel of experts in the field were invited to the discussion: Matthew Reisman, a Senior Manager at Microsoft, Milton Mueller, Professor at the Syracuse University of Information Studies, Brian Bieron, Senior director with eBay, and Carolina Rossini who serves as Project Director for the Latin American Resource Center.
Panelists made a number of interesting observations about the status and power of the internet in today’s global society. Matthew Reisman pointed out that Microsoft, in particular, is interested in studies of how government regulatory policies are affecting the ability of entrepreneurs to conduct business online - which would be most easily measured by conducting econometric research on internet policies enacted around the world. As trade and services burgeon online, governments are creating barriers that complicate the ease of doing international business. It is important for those researching the modern impact of the internet to consider just how these barriers are affecting businesses, economies, and people, especially in a world where eCommerce has grown to encompass over 6 percent of the global retail sector over a period of ten years. Milton Mueller further asserted that developing an understanding of intimate relations between technology and social relations is essential, including how [we] are going to govern newly implemented technologies, and what the global impact of this governance will be.
The internet is global and as such has particular impact on the economic possibilities for developing countries. We hope to see tangible data from conversations such as this that makes the point wht the internet - in economic and political terms - is a vital resource for countries worldwide.
Over the last 20 years the Internet and globalization have had an impact on the way we as democracy activists think about our work. It has not superseded our fundamental person to person interactions, yet it has provided us and those with whom we work a new toolbox with which to push for improvements in approaches to civic engagement and activism. Yet, even as more than 2.4 billion people around the world push forward into the digital frontier what can we say about the nearly 4.5 billion who are not on the Internet? How do we reach those individuals and get them pulled into an online digital discourse and civil society so their voices can be heard? This post examines the digital divide globally and presents some of the technologies available to bridge the digital divide to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard.
The global communications infrastructure is truly in its infancy. The Internet has only been a major force globally for about 20 years. The Internet in its short relevant lifespan connects us in ways we never before thought possible. In the 1970s it was imagined that a computer would one day fit inside a large room, now we carry a computer vastly more powerful than the one that resulted in the successful lunar landings on the moon in our pocket every day. But, while we, in our every day society, carry more and more sophisticated computing devices, we often forget we are among the lucky 1/3 of the planet’s population with access to a treasure trove of information and communications capabilities. READ MORE »
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.
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.
As sentiment that internet freedom is increasingly being threatened worldwide is on the rise, details on the extent of how censorship is conducted at a technical level is often unavailable. At the USENIX Free and Open Communications on the Internet (FOCI) workshop today in Washington, D.C. two papers provided this information in two countries. The first by Zubair Nabi focused on increases in Internet Censorship efforts in Pakistan, and the second by Simurgh Aryan, Homa Aryan, and J. Alex Halderman examined in detail the rigorous censorship regimes present in Iran. Both papers can be found here and both illustrate a disturbing trend in state repression of information. READ MORE »
Please join us on Tuesday, July 23 from 5-7 for talk and conversation with Nicco Mele book talk, he will discuss The End of Big: How The Internet Makes David The New Goliath, published recently. In it, he explores the consequences of living in a socially-connected society, drawing upon his years of experience as an innovator in politics and technology. He argues that "Radical connectivity—our breathtaking ability to send vast amounts of data instantly, constantly, and globally —is in the process of re-shaping our biggest institutions." Please RSVP here.
Where? National Democratic Institute (NDI) , 455 Masachusetts Avenue, NW, 8th floor, Washington, DC 20001
When? Tuesday, July 23; 5 - 7 pm. Refreshments provided.
The cell phone represents the most radical transformation in communication technology for the masses since... well, who knows when. Mobiles are a BFD, and they’re everywhere. However, I’m sometimes surprised that international development professionals designing program plans don’t always recognize this new world. Based on the lived realities of citizens in their target countries, proposals for future work should always use current communication tools in their plans of reaching and working with their intended audiences.
On June 14, Iranians will head to the polls to cast their vote for the country’s next president. With a slew of candidates and a volatile political climate, social media is abuzz in the country. To track the trends of online conversation surrounding the elections, analysts at Small Media – a UK-based organization focused on technology research – have developed an Election Monitoring Series to explore social media for Iranian perspectives.
The second report in the series draws on data from Twitter, Facebook, and other sources collected between May 22 and May 27, following the candidates’ announcement on May 21 and leading up to the debate on May 31. In total, researchers found 14,464 tweets including the names of the eight Iranian presidential candidates. The most tweeted candidate, garnering 5,897 (40%) of the mentions, was Saeed Jalili, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator who is said to be very close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomenei. Following Jalili with 2,117 mentions was Mohsen Rezaei, secretary of Iran’s Expediency Discernment Council who is closely affiliated with the news website Tabnak and focuses on economic issues. Hassan Rowhani, a Muslim cleric with centrist views and close ties to Iran’s ruling clerics, received 1,638 mentions, followed closely by Mohammad Gharazi and Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf. READ MORE »
The protests that began last week in Istanbul’s Taksim Square have spread throughout Turkey, gripping the country’s politics and garnering international attention. With the excessive force used by the Turkish police against protestors, what began as a small sit-in against the government’s plan to demolish Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park has become a large-scale anti-government protest movement spanning over 60 cities. Amid this widespread unrest, social media has become a battleground.
Since the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street demonstrated to the world that a new generation of popular movements had emerged, social media has become a focal point for organizing, supporting, and responding to popular movements. In Turkey, the role of social media has become paramount, particularly in the absence of traditional media coverage of the movement. READ MORE »
Crossing borders with sensitive information can be difficult in areas where information is tightly controlled. We have been playing around with ways to encrypt information and hide it in other content - a form of encrypted steganography. So we tried to encrypt data with Truecrypt, an open source file encryption software, and hide it in a movie file.
Ordinarily, anyone trying to open an encrypted Truecrypt volume found on a computer or thumb drive would receive an error message, making the encrypted files obvious. It just screams that there is something out of the ordinary on a USB thumb drive, SD Card or computer.
We wanted to create a secure volume that fits inside of a video that actually plays -- such as a downloaded YouTube video of cats or family video in mp4 format. Within that video is a hidden TrueCrypt volume.
Below is a step-by-step guide to hiding a TrueCrypt Volume inside of a video. Please be aware that there may be anti-encryption laws in your country, so please educate yourself on local law before proceeding.
The New Organizing Institute (NOI) is a community of organizers dedicated to supporting the organizing efforts of citizens by training organizers to build and manage effective movements. The NOI’s online Organizer’s Toolbox provides the basic tools, technologies, and strategies to help community organizers to build movements and achieve real change. According to the NOI's mission statement:
If people have the tools to engage others, the tools to build powerful campaigns, and a community of practice to help them learn and grow, they can win real change, make measurable improvements in people’s lives, and restore faith in our government and our democracy.
This is true not only for community organizing efforts in the U.S., where the NOI is focused, but also international efforts such as those supported by NDI and its partners. The toolbox hosts ten Resource Centers that support various aspects of campaign organization, including online organizing, organization and leadership, data management, voter registration and Get Out the Vote (GOTV) initiatives. From tips on public speaking to registering voters to engaging online, the toolbox covers a variety of the elements essential to community organizing. It also contains a module designed specifically for campaign trainers, which can support programs that include a training-of-trainers component.
Photo credit: New Organizing Institute
Here at NDItech, we are always on the lookout for relevant resources that can support the efforts of NDI and its partners in the field. This online Toolbox is an excellent public resource for organizations that support movements worldwide to develop their message, engage effectively, and affect real change in their societies. By sharing past experiences, best practices, and key tactics and tools, resources such as this online toolbox can support effective community organizing and democracy-building efforts around the world.
Over the past several years, a significant body of research has examined how communication technologies are transforming social, political, and economic dynamics in societies around the world. Much of this work has observed the positive effects of these technologies on improving civic engagement, increasing transparency, supporting free and fair elections, fostering economic development, and preventing violent conflict. We at NDI have developed numerous programs using communication technologies to improve democracy and good governance across borders and issue areas.
The authors Jan H. Pierskalla and Florian M. Hollenbach chart new territory for this research in exploring the relationship between the expansion of cell phone coverage in Africa and higher levels of political violence. They write,
We contend that, in contrast to mass media, access to individual communication technology like cell phones can undermine the effects of government propaganda and, more importantly, play an integral part in overcoming other specific collective action and coordination problems inherent in insurgent violence.
According to the authors’ analysis, when cell phone coverage is present, the probability of conflict occurrence rises significantly. As they argue, private communication technologies such as cell phones can play an integral role in overcoming collective action and coordination problems inherent in insurgent violence. In Africa, the benefits of improved communication technologies are particularly substantial for insurgent groups. The cheap availability of cell phones improves and increases communication among group members and allows for the tightening of networks. These improvements are crucial for insurgents who are often spread out across vast geographical distances and who need an efficient means to coordinate actions and gather material support. The authors hypothesize that enhanced communication facilitates in-group trust and information sharing, which are key to collective action.
Exciting news from the Ushahidi team - the new version of Crowdmap, a hosted crowdsourcing platform that allows users to share thoughts, photos, and videos with the world, was released this week in a public beta. Crowdmap 2.0 is a newer, more social version of the platform originally designed to provide a simple, hosted collaborative mapping system
At NDITech, we are always looking for new ways technology can be used as a medium for purposes of communication, participation, crisis management, and civic engagement so as soon as our beta access arrived we dove in to take a look. READ MORE »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
I recently wrapped up a whirlwind week in Tunis including initial planning for the upcoming election monitoring effort with our partner Mourakiboun and data managment meetings with the ruling and opposition parties. NDI's partnering with a savvy CSO named Munathara which is not just arranging one-off debates but building an entire debating culture in Tunisia.
It's pretty cool to be dealing with an organization that is doing its job so effectively you have a hard time suggesting areas for them to improve, though I'm not sure what it means for my employment prospects.
I love their approach. It's incredibly small-d democratic from beginning to end.
First, they start the process by soliciting ideas for what the next topic of debate should be. Vibrant conversations on their Facebook page are distilled into a handful of motions. These top topics are then posted as polls, and the community again weighs in to pick the debate subject for the next round.
Interested people then dive in to creating 33-second videos where they articulate the reasons they are for or against the motion. They've got a couple weeks to do so. Tunisian youth have created scores of videos for the site already. READ MORE »
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.
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.