Citizen Loop: Voter Engagement Through Mobile Feedback Loops

Voter Engagement Through Mobile Feedback Loops

We recently put forward a proposal with the folks from The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and CiviCRM to the Knight Foundation News Challenge on Elections. The competition looks for creative ways to help engage citizens, strengthen participation and educate voters.

Our proposal is entitled “Citizen Loop - Enhancing Voter Engagement Through Mobile Feedback Loops”. The concept is relatively simple: an interactive voter engagement tool that increases participation through an automated, dynamic, text message feedback system providing information and helping citizens make a plan to vote.

Hello Everybody!

Nelson Mandela on democracy

How’s it going, everybody! My name is Peter and I am a VMWARE fellow for NDItech. I have been working here part time for over a month now as well as attending classes at the George Washington University. I am a sophomore in the Elliott School of International Affairs studying international affairs and conflict resolution. It’s my passion for world affairs, technology and social media that makes my position on NDI's tech programs team ideal for me. This “fellowship” (we can call it an internship), is a way for me to observe and gain experience in the ICT4D field and contribute to the great work that our team is doing.

Since I’ve been working at NDI, I have been researching articles for the weekly news and notes roundup, so make sure to check those tech articles out. Aside from that and assisting my fellow teammates with their day-to-day tasks, I have been busy working on updating the ICT country profiles and participating in team discussions and meetings. My time here at NDI thus far has been an incredible experience, and it has only expanded my passion to work on the issues involving democracy and technology that NDI works to solve.

Does "Smart" Make Sense?

Source : Cisco Smart Cities

If you are reading this blog, I bet you have attended an event in the recent past where the new buzzy topic “Smart Cities” was discussed. I have been to several such events lately. Interestingly, each mention of ‘smart city’ I heard carried a slightly different meaning. Further, there is seldom an answer to the question, “To what end are the cities smart?”. So I decided to to clarify “smart cities” for myself. Here are some of my thoughts. READ MORE »

Open Source is Easy. Community is Hard.

Get on the Bandwagon with Open Source Communities

Open source is awesome. I’m a card-carrying zealot; a vast digital public commons has been created that seems to fly in the face of basic economics. It’s one of the great achievements of the technology era.


We’re in the sustainability business here in the international development sector. Despite what I thought coming into this gig, open source is not synonymous with sustainability. If you think about it, any computer software is the antithesis of sustainability. Hardware changes. Bugs are found. Hackers figure out ways to break it, totally ruining your weekend.

Commercial providers solve that problem by paying developers to work on these problems day in, day out. It’s part of the revenue model, of course - pay for subscriptions or buy the new version when it comes out. How does open source do it? A community. (No, not that one.) Anyone has the ability to download and improve the code. “With enough eyes, all bugs are shallow” is hory wisdom from the open source world. Great; totally makes sense. But how many eyes actually do you have? How big is your community? “Putting the code on GitHub” is not a sustainability strategy.

Open source seems like the right approach for international development. Code developed belongs to the world; taxpayers fund it, and it doesn’t create a profit for anyone. Great. But who’s going to sustain it after the initial funding grant ends?

If we’re being honest with ourselves, the field of international development is littered with the wreckage of well-intentioned – and often well-executed – open source projects that have not been maintained after the initial funding ran out. READ MORE »

Giving Thanks

We all have a lot to be thankful for.

We’ve got it pretty good, overall, and last week's gluttonous binge/contemplative holiday was an opportunity to think a bit about all the things for which we’re thankful. Here are a few thoughts from our team on what we are grateful for these days.

First and foremost, of course, is you our dear readers. (Hi mom!)

Chris Doten

African tech hubs. I just got back from ccHub and the Idea Hub in Lagos, and they’re fantastic exemplars of this great phenomenon. Pulling smart young techies together where they can learn and grow - and in an environment that is often focused on social good. They’re pragmatic, too - the same sort of reduction of cost barriers to entry you get with coworking spaces here in the US. Made even more valuable by supply of fast internet and generator power.

A declining Ebola transmission rate. I have a lot of love for Liberia and have been heartbroken by the outbreak. The fact that things have been slowing - while far from over - is better than the nightmare exponential growth scenarios we were facing. Might have had something to do with the tech response coordinated by USAID. READ MORE »

Discussing The Issues: ePramova in Belarus

ePramova Candidate Videos


Based on the Issues DemTool developed by NDI, ePramova is an online video platform launched earlier this year in Belarus aimed at fostering questions, answers, and public discussion on important political issues.  We chatted with Michael Murphy, Belarus Director, and Juri Jurkevits, Program Officer responsible for working with ePramova, about their observations of the platform so far. We’ve synthesized their thoughts into a short Q&A writeup below. If you have further questions about ePramova itself or the Issues DemTool platform more generally, contact us at


Q: How was the platform introduced, and how was it accepted?


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 »

Join the Tech4Dem Happy Hour!

#Tech4Dem Happy Hour!

The #Tech4Dem Happy Hour is back, and the D.C. post-work drinking landscape is once again complete! It’s been a while since the last iteration of this DC social calendar staple, and the time has come to start it back up again.

We know you’ve missed brainstorming, socializing and imbibing with other Tech4dem enthusiasts, so if you are in the DC area, join us at 5:30pm on Tuesday, September 23rd at RFD, located in Chinatown at 810 7th Street NW. To RSVP for the event, follow this link to our EventBrite invitation. READ MORE »

Hey, I'm New Here


Hey everybody! My name’s Evan, and I’ve been a Project Assistant here on the NDItech team for just over a week now. It’s been a busy first few days, coinciding with our launch of DemTools, and an exciting time to be joining the team. As I settle in, I look forward to contributing to the great work that this team is doing, and to learning more about the fascinating connection between ICTs and support for democratic development.


I come to NDI with an academic background in international development and experience working in the fields of journalism and media development innovation, where I gained an understanding of the complexity and diversity of various information and communication ecosystems. I’m particularly interested in the powerful potential that the development of these information/communication systems can have on strengthening the relationships between citizens and leaders, which are essential for a functioning democracy. I’m excited to bring my passion for these issues to the team as it continues to envision and develop influential innovations in the ICT4D sphere.


NDI Launches Latest Version of the ICT Program Officer

This is my second week as a new Program Officer on the NDItech team.  I am excited to begin my time here and contribute to the team’s impressive array of work.

Looking ahead, I’m eager to work internally with NDI staff and externally with partner organizations to innovate new tools, strengthen mission-relevant activities in the field, and scale impacts already seen by technological programs that support democracy and the development of democratic institutions. To that end, I bring extensive knowledge of intergroup dynamics and dialogue facilitation, having a master’s degree in international negotiations, as well as a strong background in civic organizing and technology development. I’ve worked with two startups and enjoy a fast-paced, think-big approach to developing ideas: this is good as the NDItech team is thinking large and working rapidly on the execution of their DemTools initiative,  while incubating cutting-edge ideas around program execution and learning. READ MORE »

Circumventing Twitter Restrictions

Screen Shot 2014-03-24 at 10.09.24 AM.png

Turkey blocked Twitter. If you happen to have been on vacation over the weekend or haven’t had a chance to check out the newspaper in a few days, The Washington Post and Reuters both have good write ups on the potential political fallout of this Twitter block as well as some background information on the situation. The interesting thing, as noted in the Washington Post article, is that this “restriction” has had little effect on Twitter chatter within the country. In fact, in the aftermath of discovering that they were no longer able to access Twitter, tweets spiked to 138 percent of the normal posting rate, an ironic feat in light of the ban. This statistic begs the question, “How are Turks tweeting, and tweeting rapidly, and about a Twitter ban?”

Well, the answer is simple and not so simple. Turkey has faced routine website blocking for the better part of the last decade, most notably the 2008 restriction of access to Youtube (which was in effect for 2 years). By now, most Turks, especially the younger generation, are well acquainted with the various measures for circumventing such restrictions. In case you are not, here are a few of the ways to access Twitter in the event of a block.

  1. SMS

On March 20th, Twitter sent out a tweet instructing Turks how they could tweet via SMS on both Vodafone and Turkcell networks. SMS tweets are popular in areas with limited access to internet data, but in this case the service is proving to be multi-functional. Users can also receive tweets from friends that the user designates they would like to receive mobile tweets from. Obviously Twitter via SMS lacks much of the user experience of the broader Twitter app and website, but it still proves to be an effective work around.

Pitfalls in Tolerance: An Analysis of Twitter Data for Electoral Predictions


As we all know, Twitter is a platform for creating and sharing short bursts of information instantly and without borders. Scholars have taken note and analyze Twitter data to “take the pulse” of society. Since 2010 a number of studies have tried to assess the viability of Twitter as a substitute for traditional electoral prediction methods. They have ranged from theoretical works to data analysis. These studies have been inspired by the lure of access to real-time information and the ease of collecting this data.

In recent study, Daniel Gayo-Avello of the University of Oviedo in Spain examined a number of previous attempts at predicting elections using Twitter data. The author conducted a meta analysis of fifteen prior studies to analyse whether Twitter data can be used to predict election results. He found that the 'presumed predictive power regarding electoral prediction has been somewhat exaggerated: although social media may provide a glimpse on electoral outcomes current research does not provide strong evidence to support it can currently replace traditional polls." READ MORE »

Our Digital Future: What's Next for Internet Research

NDItech was recently at an event on Our Digital Future: Ideas for Internet Research hosted by The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. A diverse panel of experts in the field were invited to the discussion: Matthew Reisman, a Senior Manager at Microsoft, Milton Mueller, Professor at the Syracuse University of Information Studies, Brian Bieron, Senior director with eBay, and Carolina Rossini who serves as Project Director for the Latin American Resource Center.

Panelists made a number of interesting observations about the status and power of the internet in today’s global society. Matthew Reisman pointed out that Microsoft, in particular, is interested in studies of how government regulatory policies are affecting the ability of entrepreneurs to conduct business online - which would be most easily measured by conducting econometric research on internet policies enacted around the world.  As trade and services burgeon online, governments are creating barriers that complicate the ease of doing international business. It is important for those researching the modern impact of the internet to consider just how these barriers are affecting businesses, economies, and people, especially in a world where eCommerce has grown to encompass over 6 percent of the global retail sector over a period of ten years. Milton Mueller further asserted that developing an understanding of intimate relations between technology and social relations is essential, including how [we] are going to govern newly implemented technologies, and what the global impact of this governance will be.

The internet is global and as such has particular impact on the economic possibilities for developing countries. We hope to see tangible data from conversations such as this that makes the point wht the internet - in economic and political terms - is a vital resource for countries worldwide.


EMOTIVE, "Mapping the Mood of a Nation"

EMOTIVE NLP Pipeline for Sparse Text Processing

It goes almost without saying that Twitter has changed the landscape of how people express and exchange their opinions online.  Currently Twitter is host to 554.75 million users with an average of 135,000 new users signing up for the service every day. It is estimated that there are 9,000 new tweets every second. What is more, Twitter users have broken the news on events before the mainstream media.  The Boston Marathon explosions, key events during the Arab Spring, and the London G20 riots as well as numerous earthquakes and other natural distasters were events where real-time updates were found on Twitter before anywhere else.  

Based on this, Researchers at Loughborough University in London have developed a new system for “Extracting the Meaning Of Tears Information in a Visualization of Emotion” aptly adapted into the acronym EMOTIVE. The academics working on this project say this new program can analyze up to 2,000 tweets a second to serve as a map of real-time public sentiment. READ MORE »

Calculators, Magicians, and Diamonds

It was more photogenic than a magician.

My eighth grade math teacher was a stale, unpleasant, rather portly old man who obviously hated teaching. He had the notion that the best way for his students to learn was to assign us scores of repetitious problems in the form of “find x” without explaining to us what we were actually doing. One night as I drearily plugged quadratic formula after quadratic formula into my graphing calculator it dawned on me that there had to be some shortcut for the work. I looked up “how to program a calculator” on Google and that evening I completely fell in love with programming. It wasn’t before long that I’d put my old TI-83 calculator behind me and was spending most of my free time building web pages and exploring the magical worlds of Java, C++, and Python.

I arrived at Stanford having every intention of majoring in computer science and eventually joining Google or a startup or fulfilling some other Silicon Valley cliche. READ MORE »

Tips and Tools - NOI's Organizer’s Toolbox

Photo credit: New Organizing Institute

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.  


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 »

The People Are Calling: Interactive Voice Services for Citizen Participation

ILA Dhageyso, a project out of Somaliland uses IVR to facilitate citizen-government interaction.

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 at Right to Information Conference at Stanford University

NDI Participates in Right to Information Conference at Stanford University

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 »

Calling All Tech4Dem Workers: We Want to Hear From You (for a Salary Survey)

Do you work in the Tech4Dem space? Ever wonder what our field is worth? We are conducting an informal salary survey of this field to better understand the going rates for people at varying levels of job levels, experience, and education. If you fit the (admittedly lose) criteria outlined below, please fill out the salary survey. Real-time results are updated here! 

#NDItech +1: @Social Media Week

Are you planning on attending Social Media Week? There are more than 100 events scheduled in town, focused on digital and mobile media, campaigns, politics, participation, as well as marketing and advertising. Take a look at the list of amazing speakers, and register today, as the spots fill up quickly. NDI is hosting three events that cannot be missed. They include:

Women, Tech, and Democracy: the Next Frontier (#smwwomentech4dem)

Tuesday, February 19, 4:00pm to 5:30pm

Tech plays a crucial role in this work but women are still behind in access, use, and ability to afford to communicate online and via mobiles. A panel of high-powered women will explore what we know about the effective us of tech in women’s political participation and where we are still falling very short. Takeaways for the audience: Getting the lay of the land of women, tech, and democracy, and concrete projects and ideas for how to increase women’s technology prowess for their full and powerful participation in governance and politics worldwide.

When Good Projects Fail: The Tech4Democracy FailFaire (#smwfailfaire)

Wednesday, February 20, 5:00pm to 7:30pm

Tech4Democracy is the next big thing. NDI, as a leader in the field, has had a decade of experience in using tech for democracy support worldwide. As such, we have seen our share of tech4dem failures – projects that aimed to use tech to advance democracy but did not work as intended.  We have invited colleagues and friends form the field to present failures in tech4dem to present at the Tech4Dem Failfaire. FailFaires are entertaining, interactive events that feature #fails in using tech for social change. The Failfaire will feature a lightening round of talks on amazing failures and the learnings they generated.

The Tech4Democracy Science Fair (#smwtech4demfair)

Thursday, February 21, 11:00am to 1:00pm

Join us for a showcase of #tech4dem tools and projects the world over. Handling issues from data for elections in Ghana to open source tools in Cambodia, from reporting on abuses in Nicaragua to texting to MPs in Uganda, come to a Science Fair of amazing projects using tech in innovative ways to support democratic movements and activists worldwide

All events will be held at NDI's headquarters, at 455 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20001

iLove iLab

iLab Liberia

Liberia has one of the least-developed communication infrastructures in the world. Literacy is at roughly 60%.  The nation is still recovering from one of the most brutal civil wars in recent history. All in all, not perhaps where one would expect to find a burgeoning group of tech innovators and wanna-be geeks. However, walk in the door of iLab Liberia and you'll find just that.

Kate Cummings, iLab's executive director, came to NDI last week to share some of her experiences working in Liberia. iLab is one of the tech hubs that have sprung up across Africa following on the model from granddaddy iHub Nairobi, epicenter of Kenya's digital development. One of the most exciting concepts I've seen in the world of development in recent years, these tech hubs provide a supportive environment for the experienced to teach the novice, for ideas to percolate, for business ideas to bloom, and for new tools to be shared. iHub, however, has an unfair advantage - they have an in-space coffee shop with amazing Kenyan coffee. READ MORE »

Can I Ask You a Question? Tech for Engagement in Somalia

Gathering information, increasing knowledge

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."

Marietje Schaake on the new "Internet Public" - from the DNC International Leaders Forum

Marietje Schaake at ILF 2012

Cross-posted from the NDI ILF blog.

“How can we foster democracy in a hyper-connected world?” asked Dutch Member of the European Parliament, Marietje Schaake. During a TED-style talk she focused on the implications of the rise of the “Internet public,” global citizens connected by new communications technology. Schaake discussed new opportunities for empowering the "Internet public", while warning of weakening governments and strengthening corporations.  While the Internet has created openness, regimes and groups who fear giving up power are also using it to repress citizens.

Schaake was inspired by the example of Neda Agha-Soltan, killed in Iran during post-election protests in 2009. Because the world saw that Iranians could fight their fear, others came to believe anything was possible. Since then, Iran has decided the only way to control their citizens is to create a “halal” intranet, separate from the rest of the world. She listed Syria, China, Iran and Tunisia prior to the ouster of President Ben Ali as authoritarian regimes that also use online tools to repress and control, but noted that such problems are not exclusive to autocratic governments — democracies have also created their own repressive laws. READ MORE »

Hiring Friday! #tech4dem Jobs Galore!

There is no democracy unless we all sing

It's Hiring Friday in the #tech4dem field! Here is a line-up of jobs and internships of interest to those working on tech-for-democracy projects.

  • Making democracy work and working for democracy with tech - here at NDI. @NDITech has openings for software developers and interns. Intern position information is here - the deadline is approaching!  We also have several software engineering positions open.  All involve working with dynamic project teams to conceptualize, design and implement technology into NDI’s democracy assistance programs around the world. International travel may be required.  Go to --> Technology to see the current openings.
  • Human Rights First is looking for a full-time web developer to help maintain and extend Drupal website, maintain the existing Wordpress website and deploy digital advocacy products through Salsa. The salary and benefits for this position are competitive, the team is collaborative and creative, and the position is located in the NY office. Details here
  • New America Foundation - The Open Internet Tools Project (OpenITP) seeks a well-organized, persistent researcher with investigative skills for a part-time consulting contract lasting approximately 4 months, to research and report on the state of circumvention technology usage in Asia, concentrating on mainland China. Pay will be based on experience. The research will likely involve travel to Asia, with expenses reimbursed. More information here. 
  • The Citizen Lab in Toronto is seeking a Software Developer to engage in software development to support a range of research projects at the intersection of information communications technologies, global security, and human rights. You will work with the Citizen Lab team to develop existing and new projects, assisting with all phases of software development from requirements gathering and implementation to testing and deployment. Full details here. 
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