This is for responses to other writings.

Strengthening Political Participation and Constituent Relations in Colombia

Ciudadanía y Congresistas Platform

Since 2000, NDI has worked with a broad range of political parties in Colombia to develop effective communication strategies that leverage new technologies to improve congressional-constituent relations. The recent launch of the Ciudadanía y Congresistas (aka Citizen and Legislators) platform is the latest example of such a project, which leveraged our Issues DemTool to strengthen the relationship between citizens and their members of congress.

As a refresher, the Issues DemTool is one of four, open source, online platforms that makes up the Democracy Toolkit, a suite of tools launched by our team last August to address the most common challenges faced by NDI partners: organizing contacts, connecting government with constituents, managing election data, and fostering civic debate. Each DemTool was designed to be easy-to-use and inexpensively deployed to support civic activists, political party officials, election observers, candidates for elected office, and members of parliament worldwide. READ MORE »

How the Tech World is Responding to the Earthquake in Nepal

A devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal last week

In the wake of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last week, many individuals, groups, organizations, and companies have stepped up to provide assistance. Below are a few highlights of tech-related strategies and efforts to improve and expedite the response and ease the suffering of those affected by this natural disaster and others in the future.

  • Apple restarts iTunes Red Cross donations to benefit Nepal earthquake recovery

  • Microsoft responds to Nepal earthquake with free Skype calls

  • Another way to help humanitarian efforts in Nepal: Start Mapping

  • OpenStreetMap allows contributors from around the world to support humanitarian orgs by digitizing data from satellite imagery

  • Google opens its Person Finder tool to aid earthquake relief efforts in Nepal

  • How Facebook and other social media are/can be effective tools for life and death emergencies like the earthquake in Nepal

  • Timeline infographic on how the world is searching about the ‘Helping Nepal

The Floor is Yours: A Q&A about Bosnia's New Issues Platform

We sat down (via Google Hangouts) with NDI’s Asja Kratovic, Resident Program Officer in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH), to discuss the recently released Imate Rijec website. Based on the Issues DemTool, the site brings together the voices of politicians and citizens on some of Bosnia’s most pressing social and political issues. Check out our Q&A with Asja below:

Q: What is Imate Rijec and how was the idea for the site first born?

A: Our inspiration for the site came from a desire to create an open space for two-way, direct communications between citizens and politicians in real time. That type of space is what Imate Rijec (which means “The Floor is Yours”) provides. Featuring video responses from more than 20 different politicians from nine political parties, as well as videos from citizens in three of the largest cities in Bosnia, the platform highlights the stances and positions of a wide variety of people on a series of relevant and popular political issues.

Other teams around NDI have pursued sites like this before, including the team in Belarus with their project. After speaking to the Belarusian team about their platform, we decided to move forward with a regional nonprofit called Dokukino to customize and develop NDItech’s The Issues DemTool to fit our needs.


Nigeria’s Innovations

Tablets for Nigerian International Observation

Nigerians went to the polls last month to determine their next president in a tightly contested election between sitting president Goodluck Jonathan and retired Major General Muhammadu Buhari. In support of democratic processes for these elections, NDI conducted an International Election Observation Mission and supported the work of a citizen observation mission with Nigerian partner organization the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG). On election day, NDI and TMG observed Nigerian citizens’ patience and strong commitment to the democratic process, and pursued strategic initiatives to share that story through innovations in digital information collection, data visualizations, and database development.


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.

A Renewed Vision: DemTools 2.0

A Renewed Vision: DemTools 2.0

DemTools are a set of open-source solutions developed by NDI’s Technology for Democracy team (NDItech) to address some of democracy’s most common problems. The tools, which were released in August to NDI partners, the development community and general public, focus on scalability – providing advanced technologies to make their work more effective, while reducing maintenance and sustainability burdens. NDI recently received a renewed National Endowment for Democracy (NED) grant for the continued development and expansion of DemTools. In deciding where and how to allocate these funds, we reviewed current features and updated our roadmap for product development and version release timelines. We determined that better support, enhanced multilingual capacity and increased usability were priorities across all of the tools.

Product roadmaps exist at the nexus of supply and demand. DemTools are developed on limited resources, but meet myriad needs. For these tools to remain sustainable yet relevant, we need to navigate carefully a winding road, ignoring diversions and prioritizing needs that provide the most value to our users.

To keep our tools nimble and ensure cost effectiveness, NDItech worked to fine tune our product vision: Who are we developing for? What needs are the tools addressing? What value do they bring to our programs and partners? For weeks, our team had poster boards with sticky notes floating around, stuck to walls and taped to the side of cabinets. 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 »

6 Steps For Designing A Product With The User

Feature Overload - Source: Dilbert

As you all know by now, we're big proponents of the Principles of Digital Development. One of them is "Designing with the User" which suggests the following six steps:

  1. Developing context-appropriate solutions informed by user needs.

  2. Including all user groups in planning, development, implementation and assessment.

  3. Developing projects in an incremental and iterative manner.

  4. Designing solutions that learn from and enhance existing workflows and plans for organizational adaptation.

  5. Ensuring that solutions are sensitive to, and useful for, the most marginalized poulations: women, children, those with disabilities, and those affected by conflict and disaster.

Hurry and RSVP for the Digital Development Principle 6 Meeting on Open ICT4D

ICT4D Principle 6: Open Standards, Open Data, Open Source, and Open Innovation

Our team is pleased to be co-hosting the sixth Principles for Digital Development Working Group meeting with Futures Group on open standards, open data, open source, and open innovation. For those that are not familiar, the Principles Working Group is translating the Greentree Consensus for Digital Development into practical action to amplify the good work of USAID and other donors in advancing the reach of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in international development. USAID Administrator, Dr. Rajiv Shah, emphasized the importance of this work in the USAID Impact blog on Oct 20, 2014

“We call these principles the Greentree Consensus, and they are built on earlier sets of principles that draw on the insight of more than 300 NGOs with expertise in the field. …We must do more to take these insights into action. Over the next year, we want to hear from the development community about your experiences in bringing technology to tackle development challenges — from promoting media freedom to solving water shortages.” READ MORE »

Introducing Our DemTools Newsletter!

Read all about our DemTools-related updates!

Since the launch of DemTools: the Democracy Toolkit in August, the NDItech team has been hard at work. We've developed several new features and integrated our suite of tools into a range of programs that support groups working for democracy, open government, and citizen rights around the globe. To better and share these new developments with interested parties, we'll be sending out a quarterly DemTools Newsletter.

The NDItech team welcomes your feedback and encourages you to stay involved in the toolkit's development process. We want to know how you're using DemTools, what challenges you're experiencing, and what improvements you'd like to see in the future. Share your comments, suggestions, and ideas with us at


Tunisia Elections Observation

Tunisian election monitoring observation group and NDI partner Mourakiboun pursued three parallel vote tabulations, or PVTs, this year to assess the quality of Tunisia's Parliamentary and Presidential elections and verify the national results. Mourakiboun faced a tight timeline for the execution of a software system to manage their data collection efforts. Creating a new database from scratch is a painstaking and long process. 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 »

A Day for Digital Security

Encryption dominated much of the discussion at the conference


Last week I took a Friday trip to the Knight Conference Center at the Newseum for a day focused on the present state of digital security as it relates to surveillance and the news media. The Freedom of the Press Foundation, Open Technology Institute, and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press co-hosted the “News Organizations and Digital Security: Solutions to Surveillance Post-Snowden” event, which drew a capacity crowd of technologists, journalists, media development professionals, and a few folks like me who work in the #Tech4dem space.

The star of the event turned out to be none other than Mr. Edward Snowden himself. After the conclusion of the day’s final panel - fittingly a discussion on “Security Lessons from the Snowden Files” - Snowden appeared for a brief Google Hangout with the audience. Like many of the panelists before him, Snowden called for a “change in attitudes towards digital security.” The (in)famous whistleblower stressed the importance, as he did during the initial release of the NSA documents, for a wider social and policy discussion on issues of digital security, surveillance, and potential regulation. After he wrapped up, the crowd took a trip to E Street Cinema for a screening of CitizenFour, a recently released documentary film tracking Snowden during the days leading up to and the months following the NSA leaks.


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?


It’s Complicated: New Users' Challenging Relationship with CiviCRM

CiviCRM Summit

In case you missed it, our team recently presented at the CiviCRM User Summit, a one-day conference that brings together users, consultants, and developers to share ideas and skills, and discuss features of the popular, open source CiviCRM constituent relationship management (CRM) tool. I had the opportunity to moderate the NDI session at the summit, which our friends at AGH Strategies recorded and will be making available in a few days. Until then, I thought I would recap our presentation and share some highlights from the event. 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 »

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 »

Towards a Standard Open Decisions API

Mapping of APIs and data formats and tools are currently being used

Editor’s Note: Cross-posted from NDI's OpeningParliament blog.

At this year’s Open Knowledge Festival -- a biennial gathering of open government advocates -- there was considerable interest in moving toward greater standardization of APIs (application programming interface) relating to government decision-making processes. Web APIs help promote an open architecture for sharing content and data between communities and applications. Standardization of APIs for government decision-making data would allow tools built by civic innovators or governments to analyze or visualize data about government decision-making to be used across multiple jurisdictions, without needing to re-program the tool to accommodate differing data formats or ways of accessing the data.

Most government decision-making procedures involve similar processes (meetings, requests for public comment, etc.), decision-points (committee hearings, committee meetings, plenary sessions, etc.) and supporting documentation (agendas, draft legislation, information on voting records, etc.). Standardizing the ways that these types of information are structured allows tools for visualizing data about open government decision-making to be used across jurisdictions, as well as facilitating comparison of data and information.

To discuss the state of play with respect to open government decision-making APIs, Open Knowledge Finland, Open North, and the National Democratic Institute organized a session at the Open Knowledge Festival 2014 in Berlin to explore the possibilities for moving toward a global standard for APIs that deal with data on government decision-making.

Ongoing Efforts 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 »

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 »

Just Your Average Tech User

Lesley here- travel junkie, steak enthusiast, and hardline supporter of the oxford comma. What brings me to ICT, you ask? Good question.

For the last six years I have devoted myself to the study of international affairs and political science, not an uncommon background for our team here at ICT. I have traveled extensively and lived for prolonged periods of time in Turkey and recently returned to the U.S. from a short stint in Berlin. From these experiences, one thing has become increasingly clear to me: Technology matters. More than that, technology matters to everyone, not just tech devotees and computer scientists. Technology impacts every person, every day, around the world. This is what brings me, a normal everyday tech user, to ICT.

Technology is an ever expanding asset for civil society and democracy development. As I watched my beloved Turkey go through the Gezi Park protests at the end of May, I couldn’t help but wonder at how technology and media impacted what was going on. It wasn’t just the use of social media to coordinate and spread the word about the protests, but also the silencing of media that prevented the rest of the country from knowing what was happening in Gezi Park. READ MORE »

NDITech Adventures: Mining Big Data For Public Political Sentiment

Leveraging Multiple Public Content Sources on the Internet with Crimson Hexagon Allows Us to Gauge Public Opinion
The United Nations estimates that more than 2.7 billion people will be online this year. What if there was a way to leverage the power of 2.7 billion people to tell their stories about how they feel about political topics? NDI recently received a grant from Crimson Hexagon to use their ForSight platform to delve deep into the public Internet to get answers to complex political questions.  The platform is based on mathematical algorithms developed by a team of academics at Harvard.  As we are rolling out Crimson Hexagon's platform for specific programs we run, we wanted to test it on a topic we are keenly interested in.  So, we decided we wanted to know more about what the global discussions are relating to "Technology and Democracy." 
Forsight uses a powerful supervised machine learning algorithm developed by Harvard University’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science. It allows users to examine a huge volume of public information on the Internet such as tweets and Weibo posts, public Facebook posts, forums, Youtube, news, blogs, comments, and reviews -- all in nearly real time. Forsight identifies content by keyword associations and users "train" the algorithm by categorizing a small set of the found content into specific categories. Once trained, the platform scans the internet and its historical database for content that is matching the user-defined criteria and categorizes it according to the user’s specific schema.  Because Forsight allows users to go back in time it is very useful for learning more about the context of events, or other political and social phenomena, prior to their occurrence. 

Academic Perspectives on #Tech4Dem

International Studies Association Annual Convention 2013 Recap

Last week thousands of international studies scholars from around the world converged on San Francisco’s Hilton Union Square for the International Studies Association (ISA) annual convention to discuss issues ranging from national security and feminism to democracy and development. The week-long event featured dozens of panels on tech for democracy and development. Although I was only able to attend a few of the many panels on Tech and Democracy and Development, the ones I did attend were engaging.

One panel, “Theorizing Media Governance and Regulation in the Global Information Society,” highlighted trends in the development of legal and regulatory practices across countries and over time. This panel highlighed many of the issues currently being faced by democracy development organizations and activists on the ground. Three of the papers on the panel examined the spread of ICT rules and regulations across national borders. The process of legal and policy creep across borders can significantly affect Internet freedom and access in whole regions and impact the effectiveness of organizations to engage in development activities. READ MORE »

Mali Speaks...and Listens

Mali Speaks, Al Jazeera

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.

Al Jazeera has conducted other Speaks projects in Somalia, Uganda, and Libya. Souktel, earlier this year, also worked in Kenya where local youth leaders used the service to conduct and participate in live polls and votes via SMS to elect a board of directors, choose a name for their network, and determine an organizing structure for their regional youth movement. READ MORE »

Twitter: Expanding Voice and Space for Political Discourse In Highly Restricted Countries?

Twitter Revolt

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?"

Or is allowing citizen to express themselves publicly via social media  a clever tactic by rulers in  highly restricted to allow citizens to let off steam while violently quelling real reforms and street protests?  Is Twitter really expanding 'political voice' and 'space' - the ability of citizens to have the capacities and articulate their interests and needs and engage in democratic processes to claim their rights and  identify appropriate avenues to address their issue  concerns?   READ MORE »

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