Ukraine is a beautiful and diverse country that straddles the border between Europe and Asia. From 2005 through 2007 I lived in Eastern Ukraine. During that time I became acutely aware of the importance of mobile technology in everyday life. Landline telephones in the places I lived were rare, and when I wanted to connect to the Internet, make calls, meet up with friends or any number of things I would rely on my mobile phone. Ukraine's mobile pentration is now near 90%, according to recent data, and mobile Internet access is rapidly increasing.
It is therefore not a great surprise that mobile phones have been an integral part of the organization and coordination of protests in Ukraine since the Orange revolution and now during the current Ukrainian Protests that started in late November 2013.
However, this week government manipulation of mobile tech has sent shockwaves across the Internet with a highly documented Orwellian form of tracking of protesters. A text that made its way around my friends and family living in Ukraine and that was widely reported on by international media ominously stated: "You were identified as a participant of in a mass disturbance". It demonstrates a use of technology to tag individuals easily possible but rarely so openly demonstrated.
It makes evident the escalation in the use of technology to curb protests, and marks a dangerous turning point for individuals using mobile phones as a tool for mobilization. Tracking people by location with their mobile phones is not difficult as outlined in this article on Mashable. In this case, there was either a request by the government ffrom the mobile providers for a tower dump (something the providers in Ukraine deny) for cell phone numbers in a certain location that connected to the towers in that area, or a rogue base station set up in the same vincity that essentially 'catches' the relevant information when a phone nearby tries to connect to that rogue tower (which, to a cell phone, looks like any other tower.)
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 »
Our friends in the Opening Parliament community have been busy this Fall, and are anticipating the Open Government Partnership (OGP) annual conference at the end of the month. We’ve been impressed by several projects that mashup accountability mechanisms with strong data visualizations, and are highlighting them below. For a full review of parliamentary monitoring accomplishments, find more news crossposted on the Opening Parliament blog.
In the Czech Republic, a Czech and Slovak parliamentary monitoring organization, KohoVolit.eu, has worked to visualize complex parliamentary information through social network analysis. Their visualizations demonstrate how often individual MPs sponsor bills and the collaboration relationship with other MPs (image at right).
The web site can be the beginning of a project, but is definitely not the end. In many situations, the web site becomes the central focus of all efforts; this is particularly true with slick modern data visualization or citizen reporting systems. As so much time and effort is poured into one central platform, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the site is not the program. I'm sometimes in meetings where people have clearly conflated the good of the web site with the goals of the project. It's one of the problems with monitoring and evaluation for such projects; the metrics you can watch easily, such as web hits, are useless for measuring impact.
In my recent work in Georgia, we are working on what is shaping up to be a fairly slick data aggregation and analysis system on the pre-election environment, http://electionportal.ge/en/. Because everyone's focus has been on this platform, the tendency has been to lose perspective on the goals of the project, the related target audiences, and the best ways to reach them. READ MORE »
The latter, policy development, is central to the conference series, and we discussed ways that smart applications of technology can improve the outcomes of policy development.
As we’ve witnessed in the last few years, the “internet public” reflects the changed nature of human beings as social and civic individuals. As part of this phenomenon, new connections are increasingly important, and pertinent information gets shared rapidly. One driver of these tools for political use has been the perception that political bodies are self-interested, dysfunctional, and don’t represent citizen interests. We’ve seen citizens rebelling against this order in ongoing Arab Spring uprisings, the Occupy Movement, and newly founded political parties and organizations. READ MORE »
If there's a statute of limitations on event-blogging, this update probably exceeds it - thankfully, innovations in government transparency and citizen monitoring are always timely. Three weeks ago, Facebook teamed up with the offices of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer to host a "Congressional Hackathon." While no actual hacking took place during the event, it was a great opportunity to collaborate and brainstorm new ideas as part of an ongoing conversation about demand for legislative data, standards for sharing, and how to modernize constituent relations. Congressman Darryl Issa even announced a new platform that allows individuals to collaborate and mark up legislation with their own proposals and suggestions. READ MORE »
I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Pristina at the end of June to assess the viability of a planned legislative document management system for the Kosovo Assembly. NDI plans to help, but we needed to be sure the project was on a successful track and see how we could best assist.
Why the cautious approach?
In 2004, five years after the conflict ended in Kosovo, one of the big international organizations correctly identified the need to modernize the legislature. Funds were allocated and plans were drawn up for a DMS (document management system), a bill tracking and legislative document tracking system - a necessity for modern legislatures. However, in spite of best intentions and significant financial investment, the system was deployed but never adopted by the Assembly and now lies dormant as the staff continue to manage legislative business manually - paper, copy machines, re-keying documents, etc. READ MORE »
My visit to Macedonia last week for the eDemocracy conference presented an opportunity to check in on a long term project that our NDItech team has been involved with since 2005 - a little Access database for tracking MP casework in more than 40 constituent offices across the country. I wanted to assess this project because the approach we used in providing ICT support wasn't in line with our general sustainability guidelines - we provided software built by our team in Washington instead of coaching a Macedonian consultant or tech firm to build the software - as our sustainability strategy would have preferred.
The thinking here is that locally grown solutions will be more appropriate to the conditions in that country, better supported, and that investments in local IT capacity and firms is good for economic and business development. READ MORE »
When introducing IT initiatives into legislatures or about any other organization, the importance of good leadership and "buy-in" from the top is widely recognized as a key to successful adoption. It certainly was a recurring theme by several of the presenters at last week's eDemocracy Conference in Ohrid, Macedonia - myself included.
The refreshing thing about this conference was that the leadership wasn't just rhetorical bullet points on a PowerPoint slide (but believe me there were plenty of those). There was fantastic leadership demonstrated in the conference itself from the two leading political parties in Macedonia – the VMRO-DPMNE and SDSM, and by Jani Makraduli – a member of the SDSM and Vice President of Parliament. READ MORE »