Citizen Participation

Data Envy

National Voters' Register Online

The Uganda Election Commission recently launched their National Voters' Register Online system - with the assistance of our friends over at IFES - that allows citizens to confirm that their name appears on the voters roll in their polling place . This is a great step and important service - and something we don't see often enough in many countries around the world. IFES and the other international organizations should continue to focus on these kind of technology initiatives around election administration - and then take the next step by helping civil society groups and political parties use the data to hold electoral officials and governments accountable for good elections.

The data available through the Uganda tool allows citizens to look themselves up if they know where they are registered to vote, and voter lists are provided for each of thousands of polling centers. There are limits to what can be done with data in this format - but the system knows who is registered to vote where, and thus where polling stations are and how they map to all the political districts in the country. The election officials may also have geocode information for polling centers and map data. READ MORE »

On the Front Lines with FrontlineSMS


NDItech has recently been doing a lot with a slick piece of software called FrontlineSMS. It's not new, but it's been a powerful solution for us of late, so I thought I'd share.

Frontline is a tool to allow people to do basic two-way SMS communications via standard laptops and cellphones (or, preferably, GSM modems). Frontline was designed by Ken Banks to facilitate interactions within conservation groups in parts of Africa without internet access.

Given its heritage it's not surprising that Frontline really nails our mantra of "appropriate technology" in a number of ways.

  • It doesn't have a steep learning curve. Our partners in Eastern Europe downloaded and got it working on their own before I even got to show it to them.
  • It runs on very common technology
  • It communicates with people where they are: text messaging. Across Africa, as we've mentioned, mobile phones are far and away the best way to reach people.

In the vast swaths of the world where only elites are on the internet, this is a great way to build connections between organizations and their members, whether civil society groups, political parties, or other groups. READ MORE »

Blowing Up the Silos

Exploding Silo

I hit the World Bank today for "Mapping for Results." Putting results front and center is a great idea - as mapping has shot up the hype cycle, it's nice to focus on what it can do beyond putting up pretty pictures. However, I call False Advertising on the conference coordinators.

Maps are a particularly sexy current form of visualization, and there's a lot of great information that can be conveyed that way. (Shameless self-promotion: Like, oh,

The real star of the panels at the event today was not the maps: it was the data backing them. Like the puppeteer pulling the strings, the maps only do what the data tells them to. Panelists returned time and again to the importance of open data and easing access to it.

The World Bank's been a real leader in the Open Data movement; their site,, has thousands of data sets available for download. A lot of neat work has been build on top of their information already. But it's hard, cuz it's yet another data silo. All that info has to be pulled from their site and integrated into your own. READ MORE »

A Missing Link in the Rights Struggle: Political Process Monitoring

Phillipines - First Time Voters (FTV) Youth Dialogue

There is a lot of talk about political activism in the tech for development and democracy space. We often discuss capturing evidence or documenting abuses using cameras and phones; citizen journalism and citizen reporting using blogs, SMS or other social media; crowdsourcing reports on to web-based maps; or circumventing repressive regimes to gain access to the Internet - often to share the evidence or access the social platforms we use to share our experiences.

Lots of great technologies, lots of courageous activists and citizens, and lots of international support for these efforts.

However, it seems to me that a big piece of the puzzle isn't very clear - how are these technologies and political activities supposed to bring about the desired poltiical change? What process do these actions support? What is the theory of change?

This post attempts to fill in some of that gap by explaining a common approach that NDI coaches groups to use in combination with all these great technologies: political process monitoring. READ MORE »

Protecting Citizens in Political Movements

Iran Protests

I've blogged quite a bit lately on security matters related to working with groups in closed societies because it's an important subject and from my standpoint there are a few more topics that need to be covered. This post is about protecting citizens, as opposed to trained activists, in countries where popular movements lead to marches, protests or other forms of public engagement.

Risks for activists who are working in tough environments and using communication, circumvention and other technologies can at best be minimized - and requires a complex set of technologies and procedures that must be artfully designed for the specific political environment then diligently adhered to. Many activists are fully aware of and willing to take the risks required.

However, there are significant risks for average, untrained citizens involved in political movements as well. Many often use technology tools much less sophisticated than those used by activists, such as mobile phones, digital cameras, social network platforms and even Internet cafes. READ MORE »

'Till November: Haiti, Mobile, and the Coming Elections

An Information Center in Carrefour

Mobile phones are everywhere in Port-au-Prince. Digicel, with one of the tallest buildings in town, also seems to be among the biggest employers - Digicel credit stations, with matching red kettle-drum desks and umbrellas, populate the side of every road, and red-capped attendants hawk pre-paid cards in 'Rechaj' vests. One of the NDI Haiti staff members credited the company with 'changing the face of the country', although not without cost.

Following the January earthquake, mobile phones were also everywhere: the media seemed to want to give them credit for saving, rescuing, and rebuilding Haiti: the 4636 Emergency Information Service shortcode, the US$22m in donations to the Red Cross, the use of apps as a first responder. These were all savvy, even unprecedented uses of mobile, but in some ways only drove home a point - mobile is ubiquitous now (and here), and when we think about how to communicate, we need to include mobile as an infrastructure, a device, a platform, and a behavior. READ MORE »

NDItech is Hiring: Election Monitoring in Closed Political Space

We're looking for an online messaging guru to travel to the Middle East for a 3-week field assignment to work with NDI partners (local NGOs) who are monitoring and highlighting government conduct during an electoral period. This position is similar to the previous Thailand gig mentioned by Katherine.

We're looking for someone to work with our local partners to tell their stories about the election, and to use data collection and compelling visualization to further citizen understanding of the process. See full skills description here.

Talking "Liberation Technology" With Friends at Stanford

High- and low-tech security approaches

Last Friday I had an opportunity to talk to the Liberation Technology Seminar at Stanford University - led by democracy scholar Larry Diamond.

The talk, titled "Seize the Day, Seize the Data: Tech-Enabled Moments of Opportunity in Closed Societies," provided a great opportunity for our team here to shore up our thinking about working in what we call challenging environments or closed societies. You may think of them as authoritarian regimes.

Working in closed societies is a small percentage of NDI's work; the majority of our programs take place in established democracies of varying levels - from the most fragile to well established democratic countries. However, in response to the State Department's Internet Freedom initiative and other factors, we have seen additional interest in this topic (as I have mentioned) and it's a good opportunity to share how NDI approaches ICT work in these countries.

The text of our talk is attached below, and the video will be available soon.

Here is a summary of the four main points and the QA. READ MORE »

NDItech is Hiring: Data, Democracy, Burma

Burma Map

We are hiring. Will you work with us for three months in Thailand?

In November, Burma is preparing to hold its first elections in 20 years. By all measures, this should be a remarkable event, and yet observers don't expect these historic elections to meet basic international standards. The Burmese pro-democracy movements report that the government has fallen short of the minimum requirements needed for free and fair elections, and analyst consensus suggests that the outcome is designed to enshrine and legitimize military rule.

In preparation for these events, NDItech team members recently visited Thailand to consult with Burmese rights groups and learn more about their election-related plans. From our partners we heard caution and concern; many described plans to collect and share information about rights violations both before and during the election. Many organizations also expressed a desire for assistance on issues such as data collection and transmission, aggregation and analysis, secure communications, and information publishing and advocacy.  READ MORE »

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