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.
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 »
There are two projects in Mali that caught our eyes - or should we say, our ears? Al Jazeera, in partnership with mobile vendor Souktel, conducted a mobile survey in Mali, asking citizens' opinions via SMS about whether France's military intervention in the country was legitimate. Al Jazeera then translated, tagged, and displayed responses on a color-coded map as part of its Mali Speaks project. It is not entirely clear how many responses were recorded but the map is illuminating and well designed, illustrating how some sgment of the population feels about France's military intervention (Hint: Overwhelmingly positive). Of course, such citizen polls are not representative and tend to skew towards more literate, more urban, male, and wealthier resondents. Nonetheless, if combined with more systematic and stringent polling methodologies, they can provide a sense of the sentiment of citizens and can be conducted inexpensively in close-to real time. Combined with compelling visualizations, they can also be used by citizen groups as a tool for advocacy and by policy makers as a barometer of public opinion.
Al Jazeera has conducted other Speaks projects in Somalia, Uganda, and Libya. Souktel, earlier this year, also worked in Kenya where local youth leaders used the service to conduct and participate in live polls and votes via SMS to elect a board of directors, choose a name for their network, and determine an organizing structure for their regional youth movement. 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.
Radio often seems like a lost art. Enthusiasm for mobile technologies and online resources overshadows more traditional, low-tech broadcasting methods. But by no means has radio been left behind. Community radio stations around the world are using new technologies to enhance their broadcasts so listeners can have more control over the programs, engage more fully with the content, and work towards fulfilling community information needs. Listener outreach and participation help radio broadcasting stay relevant, connect listeners to a broader information network, and provide a platform for community discourse.
After radio, mobile phones are one of the most prevalent technologies in the developing world. SMS provides radio stations a direct link with listeners, allowing for feedback and discussion. Frontline SMS has developed a tool to help community stations better facilitate dynamic interactions using text messaging. Kibera-based Pamoja FM is one example of the Frontline SMS tool in action. Pamoja FM promotes a peaceful society and empowers the youth of Nairobi’s slums by providing an outlet for discussion among a disenfranchised group. READ MORE »
She takes a look at the role of radio (one of our favorite low-tech techs!) in the ongoing electoral crisis in Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), where presidential incumbent Laurent Gbagbo has refused to concede to Alassane Ouattara (declared victor by the electoral commission).
Gbagbo has successfully maintained authority over the state broadcaster, Radiodiffusion Television Ivoirienne (RTI); RTI has broadcast reports recognizing Gbagbo as the winner of the election. This week, Ouattara's supporters announced their intent to take control of RTI.
When we talk about technology for development, older technologies tend to get lost in the shuffle. Radio and television just aren’t sexy the way that mobile and mapping are – we know them too well to get exercised about the possibilities. Too blunt, too broad, too familiar.
And too bad – because radio and television have lost none of their potency in many parts of the world. In fact, in some places audiences for both mediums are growing as a result of rising household income, falling consumer goods prices, and improved access to the electrical grid that powers our digital lives.
Charles Kenny, an economist with the World Bank, calls television the ‘kudzu of consumer durables’, and notes that ‘By 2007, there was more than one television set for every four people on the planet, and 1.1 billion households had one. Another 150 million-plus households will be tuned in by 2013.’ READ MORE »
What does radio sound like in Sudan? A cacophony, in the best possible way. The many competing stations on the Juba FM dial are a sort of cacophony of democracy, where everyone has a voice and an opinion and wants to share it with the world.
It seems promising that my first trip with NDI would be to Sudan, one of the Institute’s larger country programs and one of the world’s more opaque nations. I went to Sudan to understand the opportunities for radio in Africa’s largest country, characterized by vast distances and miles of impassable terrain.
Conversation about Sudan generally starts with a direction – the South or the North? While the two parts of the country have their commonalities (a discussion best left to far more fluent commentators) they are often known through their differences, made manifest in the semi-autonomous region known simply as Southern Sudan.
Southern Sudan has its own capital, Juba, government (the Government of Southern Sudan, or GOSS) and militia-cum-military, the SPLM. Southern Sudan speaks English as an official language, in addition to the Arabic used by the North. A person can even travel in and out of Southern Sudan without a Sudanese visa on an invitation issued by the GOSS. READ MORE »