Civil Society

Zambia Elections: Using Facebook for Targeted Messages

A special guest post by Phil Brondyke (@brondyke) from NDI’s Elections team.

Presenting the analysis of election day observation to the right audience is a critical component of citizen monitoring organizations’ outreach strategies, and one of which NDI has provided technical assistance to partners on for decades. In some countries where NDI works, Facebook has become synonymous with the Internet, and the use of Facebook for election day outreach has become an increasingly useful tool for communicating with certain audiences.

During January’s snap presidential election in Zambia, the Christian Churches Monitoring Group (CCMG) was able to combine Facebook-optimized infographics that showed the findings of their PVT with targeted advertising campaigns to broaden their organization’s digital footprint in a very narrow timeframe.

Facebook estimates that there are roughly 900 thousand users in Zambia (for reference, there are about 4.2 million in Kenya and around 900 thousand in Zimbabwe) so the potential audience was limited, but is disproportionately under thirty five years old (76%). This is a critical demographic for communicating competitive election information. By contrast, two of the three largest newspapers have print circulations of 29,000 and 25,000, while the largest is estimated at 40,000, according to EISA.

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Zambia Elections: Scaling Local Tech Rapidly

Installing a fiber internet cable just days before the Election.

Presidential elections in Zambia were called after the death of President Michael Sata last October, and were won in January by Defense and Justice Minister Edgar Lungu of the Patriotic Front. While the second-place candidate called the election “stolen”, based on the findings of the Christian Churches Monitoring Group (CCMG), the official results as announced by the ECZ reflected the ballot casts at polling stations. Lungu was inaugurated shortly after, and the opposition are already looking toward the next round of elections in 2016.

Systematic citizen observation can be an important stabilizer in tightly contested elections. To collect the necessary evidence to be that stabilizing agent, NDI’s partner, CCMG, needed to scale it’s local technology and data systems rapidly, and also needed for them to work flawlessly.

In a data collection and internal communication exercise sufficiently large and complex, NDItech helps our partners to integrate globally state-of-the-art tools within local communications and technology infrastructure. The intermediate goals being analysis of over 20,000 messages from 800+ people, the ability to shift data collection priorities immediately, and consistent communication between decision-makers and implementers.

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NDItech - Product Development Process

© Dilbert Project Management

This is the first in a series of posts on the NDItech team’s product development process. NDI’s tech products attempt to solve specific problems for people and organizations in emerging democracies. In this post, will look at the example of DemTools development to get an insight into our development process. More about DemTools can be found here.

For the last six months, our team has been following follow the scrum methodology, which is an agile software development framework, for the development and evolution of DemTools. Agile methodology allows us to be flexible, prioritize tasks, and respond to the evolving requirements of our customers.

We wanted to share a bit about how we’re using this agile methodology for developing tech-powered political change programs here at NDI. In this post we’ll tell you how we relate to people and programs, how we think about requirements, and the timelines for our sprints, and the tools we use to glue it all together.

Customers

For the purpose of development of DemTools, the primary customers are the country teams at NDI. The country teams in turn help political parties and civil society organizations in their respective countries use and benefit from NDI’s technology efforts, such as DemTools. READ MORE »

Under the Guidance of Apollo

Apollo

Readers here will be intimately familiar with the Elections Data Management tool, otherwise called Apollo, a name that I have realized will come to stay, despite the better messaging strategy pursued by the ICT team. Apollo will keep this name because of its almost mythical appearance in the midst of elections.  The Greek god Apollo was known as the god of light and truth, of prophecy, and healing. Much like the actual Apollo, the elections Apollo is made manifest from the ether to give meaning and direction to an otherwise amorphous and senseless deluge of information during a PVT. Information that is critical to the validation of an election, information with the ability, to stretch a metaphor, to heal, move, and transform societies. Apollo is pulled from the abyss of Github, thrown up on an Amazon server, deployed in the course of an hour, and reconstructed and refit for the needs of a unique observation mission within several days by the near herculean efforts of  NDI’s beloved Python developer, Tim Akinbo of TimbaObjects. However, the product life cycle of this tool may well need heavenly intervention to continue its current course of development. READ MORE »

PeaceTech Summit at USIP

Sheldon Himelfarb introduces the new PeaceTech Lab at USIP.

I had the opportunity to attended the United States Institute of Peace’s Engineering Durable Peace Summit last week (#peacetech), an event hosted at USIP as part of their launch of the new PeaceTech Lab. Attended by individuals ranging from mechanical and software engineers to young entrepreneurs, journalists, and tech4dem folk like us, the summit hosted several dynamic panel discussions and a morning filled with quick-hitting “lightning” presentations on some of the most exciting innovations in the PeaceTech space. READ MORE »

DemTools Launch - Our Storify

NDI Study: Participation & Technology

Mobile Phones Users in Senegal.

We’ve recently released a study that examines the role digital technologies play in increasing citizen participation and fostering accountability in government through our programs. Along with many in the #tech4dem community, we’ve known that better insights are needed into the relationship between new technologies, citizen participation programs and the outcomes they aim to achieve.

The study provides an overview of NDI’s approach to citizen participation, and examines how the integration of technologies affects programs. To further publicize these findings we’re convening a panel of experts to discuss key findings from the study on how technology is affecting citizen participation in emerging democracies.

The study uses case studies from countries such as Burma, Mexico and Uganda to explore how the use of technology in citizen participation programs amplifies citizen voices and increases government responsiveness and accountability, and whether the use of digital technology increases the political clout of citizens.

As we’re all very busy people, and may not get the time to pour through a 65 page tome (or flick through an ePUB), we’d like to highlight some of the key findings on this blog. We welcome thoughts and comments on Facebook and Twitter.

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New NDITech Friends in the Northern Virginia Tech Community

NVTC

NDI has been reaching out to the tech community over the last few years to explore mutually beneficial ways to work together. You may recall our conference in Silicon Valley last year, billed Governing Democratically in a Tech-Empowered World. Next week we're venturing south to engage the tech community in northern Virginia with our new friends from the NVTC - the Northern Virginia Technology Council. 
 
NDI and the International Committee of the NVTC are co-hosting a lunch discussion that hits on a couple of the key themes we're working on surrounding technology and democracy these days - digital security and civic innovation. The first panel, Digital Security to Protect Human Rights and Democracy Activists, will feature former NDItech star Ian Schuler and Amie Stepanovich - Senior Policy Counsel from Access. The panel will be moderated by Mohamed Reda, Chair of the International Committee of NVTC. Following a nice lunch the second panel - Technology, Civic Innovation and Democracy Support - will be moderated by Alex Howard and feature Megan Ryskamp Partnerships from Google; Amy Ngai Director of Partnerships and Training from the Sunlight Foundation; and our own Scott Hubli - Director of Governance from NDI.
 

Where Privacy Meets Big Data?

Can you see me and my data?

The White House has released the findings of the Big Data and Privacy Working Group Review, a 90-day study commissioned in January from the Obama Administration to examine how big data will transform the way we live and work and alter the relationships between government, citizens, businesses, and consumers.

Big data analysis has tremendous potential for those wanting to understand large trends in public sentiment and behavior. At NDI, we make use of Crimson Hexagon, a tool which analyzes vast amounts of social media data to understand sentiment and prevalence of particular topics. Through our work with the Open Government Partnership, we also encourage governments to make data more open and available for public use.

Yet, as the report notes, “Big data technologies, together with the sensors that ride on the “Internet of Things,” pierce many spaces that were previously private.” This desire to protect privacy rights address a range of concerns reflecting different types of intrusion into a person’s sense of self, each requiring different protections. READ MORE »

The Cyber Losers: The Weaponization of Cyberspace and Its Affect on Human and Democracy Rights

Cyber Capabilities Over Time

I just returned from the International Studies Association conference in Toronto, Canada where thousands of scholars from around the world gathered to discuss virtually every topic imaginable related to international affairs. I presented two papers on two separate panels. Below is a topline summary of one paper and its substantive findings and relevant criticism from a panel of experts. This paper will be published in the academic journal “Democracy and Security” in a forthcoming edition. 

Are national security issues in cyberspace were spurring states to “arm” themselves with cyber tools, capabilities, and laws to combat one another? And if states are arming themselves what does this mean for human and democracy rights activists with substantially fewer resources than nation states? 

With a limited sample I built a case for the existence of a security dilemma in cyberspace and then attempted to establish a correlation between increases in cyber capabilities, tools and legal and regulatory developments to the oppression of state actors. What might you ask is the security dilemma? The definition of the security dilemma comes from Robert Jervis who states: “many of the means by which a state tries to increase its security decrease the security of others.” The security dilemma is the central thesis of realist international politics as outlined by Hans Morgenthau, Kenneth Waltz, John Mearsheimer, and others. To survive, states must establish and maintain their relative power positions in the context of other states. Figure 1 & 2 below illustrate the security dilemma as it is developed in cyberspace.  READ MORE »

A Bill of Rights for the Internet: Brazil Leads the Way

Brazil's House of Representatives commemorating the adoption of the Marco Civil

Late yesterday, Brazil’s House of Representatives passed the Marco Civil, a bill aimed at guaranteeing civil rights in the use of the Internet in Brazil. Specifically, it aims to protect privacy rights, net neutrality, safeharbors for internet service providers and online service providers, open government, and setting forth that access to the internet is a requisite to the exercise for civic rights.

The drafting of the Civil Marco Internet in Brazil began in 2009 through a collaborative effort between the Office of Legislative Affairs of the Ministry of Justice, in partnership with the School of Law of the Rio de Janeiro at the Getulio Vargas. Citizen feedback on this bill (between November 2009 and June 2010) was received through social media by more than 2000 contributions of internet users across the country. (More here about the process). READ MORE »

Data Centric for Low (No) Cost

Malawi - Roadside Shop - February 2014

Recent news out of Malawi has focused on the President dissolving her cabinet in the wake of arrests of several officials on suspicion of stealing state funds. The “cashgate” corruption scandal highlights the importance of accountability, and suggests an opportunity for citizens to play a key role. In this tense environment, the Malawi Electoral Support Network (MESN) plans to evaluate the conduct of the elections by the Malawi Election Commission (MEC). MESN is a network of civil society organizations working on democratic governance and elections.

An important component of that evaluation is the attention that MESN will pay to data collection and observer management. We’ve discussed many times the importance of high quality data in election monitoring, here.

Successful implementation of a common methodology includes preparing materials, staff, and tools. In order to keep costs low, and quality high, MESN has taken a simple and effective approach to communicating with their observers, and collecting and digitizing their data. Addressing key questions of cost (can users afford to keep the system running?) and capacity (does the organization understand how to administer and fix the system?) MESN is utilizing two tools in tandem: an SMS gateway called Telerivet, and Google Docs. READ MORE »

Tracking the Money with OpenSpending.org

OpenSpending.org

Last Tuesday, NDI was lucky enough to hope Anders Pederson to talk about Open Knowledge Foundation’s new project, OpenSpending.org. Understanding how governments spend money is important; It affects the lives of citizens. Governments often claim they spend money “on behalf” of their citizens without any real monitoring of exactly where the money goes once it leaves taxpayer pockets. Perhaps your government announced an increase in spending on education, a position you supported, as part of their election campaign. However, without open and easy access to government spending it is almost impossible to know if that promise was followed through on. READ MORE »

RootsCamp '13: Free Tools

Roots Camp Logo

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 »

Please Join Us! Civic Innovators in Conversation, Wednesday, Dec 11 at NDI

NDI honors Civic Innovators

Please join NDI and the OpenGov Hub for a conversation with recipients of NDI's 2013 Democracy Award this Wednesday, December 11 at 12-2 pm in NDI's office in Washington. NDI is honoring this year a stellar group of Civic Innovators from around the world. We wanted to recognize an emerging class of creative and entrepreneurial individuals who are using technology to help advance and improve democracy in the digital age.

We're pleased to feature a number of the award winners in a conversation about the nature of civic innovation and its implications for democracy around the world and hope you can join us!  Please register here  READ MORE »

The Amazing Open Government Guide: Action Steps to Accountable and Transparent Governments

Open Government Guide

One of the coolest things this week that we have seen is the newly released Open Government Guide. NDItech is this week at the Open Government Partnership Summit in London where NDI is launching the Legislative Opennes Working Group focused on parliamentary openness, among other things.  The OGP is a voluntary international effort focused on fostering more transrparent and accountable government. Member governments sign on to a very high-level declaration of principles on government openness, accountability, and transparency and then develop action plans that are developed, in the ideal case, with a legitimate civil society consultative process. The action plans are supposed to be actionable and measurable.

Enter the Open Government Guide. It is meant to support the development and then adherence to specific goals in 19 areas currently. These include, for instance, budgets, public contracting, right to information and cross-cutting issues such as parliaments and elections (Disclosure: both of those chapters were contributed by NDI staff.).  Each category is divided into initial, intermediate and advanced actions that are also supported by specific recommendations, standards, and case studies.  All is presented in a highly accessible visual format. READ MORE »

An App That Spotlights Your Risks

Panic Button Logo

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to participate in an event to determine how human rights defenders might approach an emergency alert mobile app given their diverse risks, and to ensure that activists first consider their risks before adopting such a tool.

The following is a summary of this event, written by Alix Dunn of the Engine Room and Libby Powell of Radar. 

How can an app developer make sure that an app doesn’t do more harm than good? For Amnesty International, that question could be one of life or death for human rights defenders using their new Panic Button app. READ MORE »

Counting All Voices - New Fund Deadline November 8

Making All Voices Count website screenshot.

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.

The new 45-million Making All Voices Count fund is supported by USAID, DFID, SIDA, OSF and Omidyar and is implemented by Hivos, IDS and Ushahidi. The first round of proposals are due by November 8, 2013. READ MORE »

Fake or Real? Fake Domain Attacks on Civil Society Web Sites

Fake Domains

We work with civil society organizations around the world that are facing increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks against them from relenteless, well-resourced, and tecnically extremely savvy adversaries that attempt to curtail, surveil, and otherwise hinder their work. We are routinely called to assist our partners in preventing and mitigating denial-of-service attacks against and hacking of websites and online services, expecially during political events such as elections.  Our partners are under threat  in myriad ways, ranging from account compromises, social media takedowns to regime trolls and spammers, and malware. 

ACCESS Now, a US-based advocacy organization focused on internet governance and digital security has just compiled the first in a series of reports focused on these threats to civil society organizations.  The first assessment focused on fake domains when an adversary creates a similar-looking website or social media profile to one of a civil society organizations. These fake domains are used to dilute or confuse the message of the organization and subvert their effectiveness by drawing readers from the original site, or in order to serve malware to specifically target the audience of the original website. READ MORE »

Crowdsourcing Political Incidents Online

Candidate posters, Kenya Presidential Elections, March 2013.

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 »

ElecTech Afghanistan: Increasing Transparency and Participation

MTN welcomes visitors to Kabul International Airport

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.

From Broadcast to Mobile and Social READ MORE »

Internet for All?

internet.org

What would the world look like if every citizen had access to affordable internet? That’s a question attempting to be solved by internet.org, a joint effort by Facebook, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung, that aims to “make internet access available to the two-thirds of the world who are not yet connected, and to bring the same opportunities to everyone that the connected third of the world has today.” READ MORE »

Facebooking To End Corruption?

3-D Scatterplot of CPI, Facebook Penetration %, and Polity IV Score

We know that corruption grows and spreads in areas where public accountability is low. The question is how can technology facilitate public accountability and better governance? Over the last few weeks I started collecting data on corruption and comparing it to various attributes of countries within a single year, 2012.

For a very preliminary look at the role of technology in influencing democracy I have examined how social networks, principally Facebook, influence the perception of corruption within countries. What I have found hints at something important in the Tech4Dem space. I developed a basic model based on the premise that societies with higher usage of social networks are inherently more engaged and therefore are more likely to have lower perceptions of corruption.   READ MORE »

Governing Democratically in a Tech-Empowered World

#tech4dem

NDI's Governance and NDItech teams are co-convening, with illustrious partners (Omidyar, International IDEA, CDDRL at Stanford University, Google.org, and other) a conference in the next few days on how democratic institutions respond to and more effectively to a global citizenry that is empowered with technology in unprecedented ways. Democratic institutions  -- parliaments, parties, and governments -  are under pressure to perform more efficiently and effectively, to open their often opaque ways, to be more accountable to their citizens - in short, to govern better.  Around the world, established and emerging democracies are struggling to adapt to citizens who are mobilized with phones, tweets and Facebook pages. They are often slow to change and reluctant to give up old paradigms of power and access to (or withholding of) information. 

The conference "Governing Democratically in a Tech-Empowered World" comes at a critical and historical juncture. The Arab spring is largely behind us and the messy, and hard work of governing has just begun there. Parliaments are trying to figure out how to open their processes and become more responsive to citizen input while citizens are organizing, monitoring, and building alternative parties and movements. Governments are under pressure to open up all kinds of data with citizen groups scraping, API-ing and using and re-using governmental data to make it more usable and applicable to everyday citizens.

Those with vested power are learning that the gatekeeping functions such as access and control of and to information is no longer possible in a socia media and tech-empowered world.  At the same time, there is a contraction of civil liberties and freedom of expression online and tech is being used against democratization efforts. One participant describes this as a "cut and paste" movement of autocratic governments learning online from each other on how to surveil, restrict, and limit their citizenries with technology. 

One #tech4dem participant put the challenge well: "The game has changed. You can not find the existing reality, you have to come up with a new one."   

READ MORE »

Tech-ifying Development: Perspectives on Opportunities and Problems

New Publication on Dev and Tech

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 »

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