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 »
It is fascinating to see how the role of social media in political dissent is changing in front of our very eyes, this time in China. Sina Weibo, the wildly popular microblogging platform used by dissidents and activists, might be supplanted by other platforms like Weixin, a more private chat application that now has 270 million active users and is growing rapidly. Weibo, used by influential activists who have large reach to millions of others is also heavily censored and has been reported to have lost users.
Weibo has more than 600 million users, amounting to an astonishing 30% utilization by Internet users in China. There are more than 100 million messages posted on Weibo every day, making the platform a fertile ground for commentary on all matters. As a colleague on our Asia team recently said: "Online social media has given us the largest depository of unsolicited public opinion in human history. Now a report from the China Internet Network Information Center (not an unbiased outfit as it's backed by the Chinese government) reports that Weibo's user base is decreasing.
The report suggests that users are migrating to Weixin instead. Weixin is owned by Tencent Holdings, which, similar to Sino Weibo, also has close ties to the government. According to CNNIC, Weibo users dropped by 9% from a year ago. Meanwhile, Weixin or WeChat as it is known outside of China, added 64.4 million new users last year, especially among the younger demographics.
One reason for the shift may be the changing Chinese consumer behavior that is increasingly migrating from PCs to social networks optimized for smartphones, particularly among young people. Weixin saw a 1,201% increase in usage among youth in the first three quarters of 2013 alone. Under the brand WeChat, the app is also far more global with a userbase of 100 million outside of China.
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 »
There is an election in a week, you want to poll the citizenry before the election, and your financial resources are limited. What should you do? Should you (A.) Give up because it is simply not possible to get a full-fledged poll out in the field. (B.) Beg your donor to give you a last minute cash infusion to bring on more staff and a polling company. (C.) Join the 21st Century and leverage technology to generate a fully randomized national telephone poll using a platform like Voto Mobile. Voto Mobile's goal is to make interacting with an audience via mobile phones - either one-way via broadcast or two-way in an interactive fashion -- easy and inexpensive.
Over the last few weeks I have had the opportunity to sit down twice with developers and staff from the socially conscious start-up Voto Mobile. Based out of Kumasi, Ghana, Voto Mobile has the straight-forward goal of “Mobile Engagement, Simplified.” The company is leveraging the ubiquity of mobile phones around the world to enable both research and social engagement that offers CSOs, NGOs, Political Parties and other organizations new capabilities. 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.
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.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. ~ Margaret Mead
For the last week I have been holed up with approximately 60 computer scientists, activists, and social scientists from around the world at the Connaught Summer Institute hosted by CitizenLab at the University of Toronto. The individuals gathered here are some of the top minds in monitoring internet openness and rights. For the last 5 days, each of us has either presented a paper, case studies, or posters on issues most people never think about, but should.
We have engaged one another in a cross-disciplinary give and take. The problem this institute seeks to address, as identified by the CitizenLab, is a lack of dialogue occurring between academic disciplines and with academia and activists on the ground. The entire goal, as it has become apparent, is to begin the process of blurring the boundaries between the disciplines and with activists. 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 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 »
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.
NDI is pleased to welcome Philip Howard and Muzammil Hussain for a conversation on the role of digital media in the recent MENA revolutions. Here is their talk today at NDI.
Howard and Hussain ask: Did digital media really "cause" the Arab Spring? Is digital media becoming fast "Democracy's Fourth Wave"? In their research, Howard and Hussain found that an unlikely network of citizens used digital media to start a cascade of social protest that ultimately toppled four of the world's most entrenched dictators. Drawing from an extensive data set, the two found that the complex causal recipe includes economic, political and cultural factors, but that digital media is consistently one of the most important sufficient and necessary conditions for explaining both the fragility of regimes and the success of social movements. The new book by Howard and Hussein looks at not only the unexpected evolution of events during the Arab Spring, but the deeper history of creative digital activism throughout the region.
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.
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. 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 »
One of the best tutorials on 'browsing like James Bond without leaving a trace" using a tool called TAILS that NDI has worked on, take a look at this LifeHacker article. We work with a lot of people who prefer not to leave a bunch of files, cookies, or an IP address out there for someone to find when they browse online.
Enter TAILS - a USB stick or DVD that anonymizes, encrypts, and, according to LifeHacker, "hides everything you do on a computer no matter where you are."
More from the article that describes TAILS way better than the project itself does: "When we say "browse without leaving a trace", we truly mean it. Using the Linux-based, live-boot operating system Tails (The Amnesiac Incognito Live System), you can use any computer anywhere without anyone knowing you were ever on it. Tails is a portable operating system with all the security bells and whistles you'll ever need already installed on it."
TAILS has a lot of tools baked in for easy use (thank you, Lifehacker, for the great descriptions): 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 »
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."