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.

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 »

Crowdsourcing & Community Mapping for Better Governance

Mapping FTW

Over the past few years, numerous examples in our everyday life have surfaced on how crowdsourcing & mapping data have helped improve delivery of public services. From, Bostwana Speaks to OpenIDEO, we have all grown to love data on maps and the power of aggregating data from citizens. In fact, we at @NDITech are big fans of mapping and data analysis, which we have leveraged to build a couple of Incredibly Cool Tools (yes, that’s a play on ICT) that we like to brag about...once in a while. READ MORE »

Mobile Data on the Go: How to Use FormHub and ODK in 5 Easy Steps

Data Collection Gone Mobile - Image Courtesy FormHub

One of the key components to any well run organization is an efficient process for information gathering. This can seem a daunting task for professionals working from differing locations or even transnationally. Traditionally, organizations have relied on paper forms for collecting data only to later gather the forms and enter them manually into a database for analysis. Using web-based forms allows for real-time monitoring and analysis of data. Mobile collection of data also offers the ability to collect advanced data such as GPS coordinates, images, videos, and time stamp data - all on the go and in the field.  

The best part of using mobile-forms is that you don’t have to be a programmer or statistician to utilize them. Building web-forms is a fast, uncomplicated task that can be executed by even the least tech-savvy individuals.  In order to prove this, over the last week I have been working with two tools that are increasingly popular for mobile data collection: Formhub and Open Data Kit (ODK). Below is an easy 5-step breakdown for using Formhub and ODK Collect to enhance your data collection process.


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 »

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 »

The Social Factor in Iran's Presidential Elections - Small Media's Election Monitoring Report

Photo credit: The Guardian

On June 14, Iranians will head to the polls to cast their vote for the country’s next president.  With a slew of candidates and a volatile political climate, social media is abuzz in the country. To track the trends of online conversation surrounding the elections, analysts at Small Media – a UK-based organization focused on technology research – have developed an Election Monitoring Series to explore social media for Iranian perspectives. 

The second report in the series draws on data from Twitter, Facebook, and other sources collected between May 22 and May 27, following the candidates’ announcement on May 21 and leading up to the debate on May 31.  In total, researchers found 14,464 tweets including the names of the eight Iranian presidential candidates.  The most tweeted candidate, garnering 5,897 (40%) of the mentions, was Saeed Jalili, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator who is said to be very close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomenei.  Following Jalili with 2,117 mentions was Mohsen Rezaei, secretary of Iran’s Expediency Discernment Council who is closely affiliated with the news website Tabnak and focuses on economic issues.  Hassan Rowhani, a Muslim cleric with centrist views and close ties to Iran’s ruling clerics, received 1,638 mentions, followed closely by Mohammad Gharazi and Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf. READ MORE »

Taksim Square - A Social Media Battleground

Photo credit: The Telegraph, EPA

The protests that began last week in Istanbul’s Taksim Square have spread throughout Turkey, gripping the country’s politics and garnering international attention. With the excessive force used by the Turkish police against protestors, what began as a small sit-in against the government’s plan to demolish Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park has become a large-scale anti-government protest movement spanning over 60 cities.  Amid this widespread unrest, social media has become a battleground.

Since the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street demonstrated to the world that a new generation of popular movements had emerged, social media has become a focal point for organizing, supporting, and responding to popular movements.  In Turkey, the role of social media has become paramount, particularly in the absence of traditional media coverage of the movement. READ MORE »

Crowdmap: The New New Crowdsourced Map

Exciting news from the Ushahidi team - the new version of Crowdmap, a hosted crowdsourcing platform that allows users to share thoughts, photos, and videos with the world, was released this week in a public beta. Crowdmap 2.0 is a newer, more social version of the platform originally designed to provide a simple, hosted collaborative mapping system

At NDITech, we are always looking for new ways technology can be used as a medium for purposes of communication, participation, crisis management, and civic engagement so as soon as our beta access arrived we dove in to take a look.  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 »

Maps, Texts, and Video, Oh My! Following the road to crisis response and good governance through technology


As technology closes the time between when events happen and when they are shared with the world, understanding what approaches and tools are the best solutions to implement in crisis response and good governance programs is increasingly important. During the “Technology for Crisis Response and Good Governance” course, which I took earlier this month offered by TechChange at GW, our class was able to simulate different scenarios of how such tools can be used effectively.

The first simulation we did was on how to use FrontlineSMS and Crowdmap to track and respond to incidents in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Each team was responsible for managing FrontlineSMS, mapping incidents and other information on Crowdmap, and going into the field to get more information and verify reports. Management of the incoming data at this point becomes the highest priority. Designating specific responsibilities to different individuals, and determining how to categorize data (reports to be mapped, questions to be answered by other officials, overly panicked individuals, etc.) helps to more efficiently handle processing a large amount of information during a short timeframe. READ MORE »

It's Election Day in Georgia - Live Data Combined in New Ways

Georgia Election Portal

It's election day in a Georgia where a critical parliamentary election is under way.  Dubbed as "a litmus test of the way democracy works in Georgia" by NATO Secretary General Rasmussen, it is a also a test for election-related real-time data of incidents and results.  NDI has worked with three civil society partners in Georgia on an impressive election portal that records incidents at the polls, showcases historical data from prior elections dating back to 2008, and will be streaming live election data released by the Georgia election commission as soon as it is released.  

The Elections Portal is a joint initiative of non-governmental organizations and NDI, namely the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), Georgian Young Lawyers' Association (GYLA) and Transparency International - Georgia (TI-Georgia).   Citizens can submit electronic reports about any electoral incident they experience via text messages or on the web, while ISFED is also deploying 1271 accredited and trained observers at precinct, district and central election commission levels who are reporting back to a data headquarters sample-based systematic observations. READ MORE »

Digital Connections in the Favelas of Brazil

Participatory Budgeting Mobile Voting Station. Photo from Tiago Peixoto.

So you wanna reach hundreds of thousands of people in the favelas of Brazil to join in a public process. to determine budget priorities.  How to do it?

We’re talking about folks who may not have touched a data-connected mobile device nor a computer. You’d probably say that an internet-only strategy of capturing input would be doomed to failure and would disenfranchise the poor. Well, at least I would have.

The town of Belo Horizonte and the state of Rio Grande do Sul, both in Brazil, proved me wrong.

In NDI’s second Tech4Democracy brown-bag discussion, Tiago Peixoto of the ICT4Gov Program of the World Bank shared the tale of these communities and other participatory budgeting case studies. (For more information on the concept, check out an introductory blog post from Tiago.) During an engaging hour-long presentation, Tiago spun the story. READ MORE »

Tech for Elections: Grounded Processes and Smart Tools

Get 'em in a row.

Often discussions of technology for (fill in the blank here) get confused about tools, techniques and processes.  This is especially true when the discussion turns to crowdsourcing, a technique where a group of individuals voluntarily undertake a task. In an electoral context, crowdsourcing often emphasizes participation over systematic evaluation. The use of online maps (a tool) emphasizes analysis and story-telling based on geographically relevant conclusions, at the expense of other analytical frameworks. 

Instead of tools and techniques driving strategic decision-making, it’s important to identify intended outcomes and the processes supporting those outcomes. 

In a recent NDI "ElecTech" workshop in Nairobi, we posed that any use of tech in elections should have as the primary outcome the ability to assess and evaluate the electoral process. We think it is helpful to think about four specific processes, a series of actions taken to achieve an end, where technology can significant impact the achievement of these outcomes.

These include: Organizational Structures, Data Collection, Telling a Story and Outreach. Let's focus on organizational structures first. 

Organizational Structures: Having Your Ducks in a Row READ MORE »

From Bieber to Dylan: Mapping the (Crowd)Maps

Source: David Ramsey

Internews' Crowdglobe Project recently published a report on Ushahidi and Crowdmap. Crowdglobe surveyed the (at the time) 12,795 publicly hosted users of Crowdmap, the hosted Ushahidi platform, to get a better quantitiative picture of what is being mapped. The report found, noticeably, that the "long tail" distribution was indeed long indeed with "93% of the 12,000+ Crowdmaps analyzed...containing fewer than 10 reports." A few highlights from the report: 

  • 93% of Crowdmaps had fewer than 10 reports.
  • 61% of Crowdmaps had absolutely no customization at all, i.e., they still had the four default categories and the default report.
  • 89% of Crowdmaps had four categories, including those with the four default categories.
  • 13% of Crowdmaps had 5-10 categories.
  • 94% of Crowdmaps had only one user.

Golos, Intrepid and Tech-Savvy Russian NDI Partner, Wins Sakharov Prize of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee

Golos' Interactive Map of Election Violations

Golos, a long-time partner of NDI in Russia, was awarded the prestigious Sakharov Prize of the Norwegian Helsinki Commission today. The Commission especially lauded Golos for its innovative work during the recent Russian legislative and presidential elections.  Golos, Russian for "The Voice", is the only independent election monitoring organization in Russia.  It has worked for over a decade on independent domestic election monitoring but became extremely popular during the recent Duma and then Presidential elections for its interactive map that allowed citizens to report violations during the election period and on election day.  These elections were marked by the savvy use of Russians of social media and camera phones to record and report election violations on YouTube and on Golos' map. 

The map became one of the 25 most-visited sites in Russa at the time, noted the Commission.  Shortly after launch, the site was removed from where it had been published, Golos director was detained, and the organization was fined multiple times.  Golos was accused of collaborating with Western agents and a slander campaign was launched against the organization on state media.   


Crowdsourcing is Hard Part III: Next Steps, or So Now What?

The Steps of Tai An Mountain, China. From Flickr courtesy of


Everything in your crowdsourcing project has worked beautifully. People had the right reasons to contribute, there was nothing holding them back, and now the citizen reports or contributions are pouring in.

Um, so now what?

Even initially successful crowdsourcing projects can fall down when the information comes in. There's two main areas to think about: what do you want to do with the reports, and what do you want to do with the reporters? Finally you're dealing with actual humans - what are the security implications of your project?

The Reports
Most people's response to your sincere citizen report is "who says?"

Did it happen as the person said? How do we know? "Veracity" is the relative truthiness of the information you have coming in. The good folks at Ushahidi have spent a lot of time thinking about this particular challenge, and their one-pager on the topic is excellent. READ MORE »

Podcast: Using Technology to Empower Citizens

The recent Nicaraguan election marked victory for incumbent President Daniel Ortega with 62% of the votes.  

In this inaugural podcast, the NDI ICT team explores how technology was used in this electoral process to empower citizens.   Through the Viva el Voto website, citizens were provided a space where they could denounce voting irregularities and learn about their rights as a voter.  The website worked to strengthen civil society, and provide citizens a space where they could voice their concerns.  Our podcast showcases the work of our Nicaraguan partner Etica y Transperancia who has worked in Nicaragua for decades to strengthen democratic institutions and increase transparency in Nicaraguan society.   

Enjoy the podcast! READ MORE »

ICT and the Russian Elections: Does the Internet Matter? Highlights from Internews Panel

Navalny - prominent Russian activist

This week I attended a panel discussion hosted by Internews on the role of the Internet in the Russian elections. The first part of the panel discussed the positive impact of the Internet, while the second offered a more sobering perspective and questioned its potential for effecting real change. Panelists included Maria Gaidar, Gregory Asmolov, Maria Snegovaya, and Matt Rojansky. Some of the highlights:

  • The Internet has been a useful tool for political organizing, crowdsourcing, and engagement, particularly during recent Russian crises. During the 2010 wildfires, Gregory Asmolov co-founded Help Map, an online crowdsourcing platform used to connect people in need of shelter, food, or clothing. Alexei Navalny mobilized Russian activists via Facebook to protest the government and eventually had 30,000 people on the streets. After the protest is over, however, there is a lack of organization and a strong sense of “what's next?” Institutions can maintain the momentum, providing the next steps to effect long-term social and political change. Golos is one of those institutions, having had an active role in election monitoring since 2002, and NDItech has developed more than a few crowdsourcing projects of our own.


Crowdsourcing is Hard Part 2: Barriers

Android Behind the Wire

Last time we considered how  incentives matter in crowdsourcing. This time we'll think about the barriers to participation.

So you've got people who have the incentive to assist in your big crowdsourcing project - great!

Unfortunately, there's a bunch of reasons why they might not do so, and if you don't think about things that stop your potential contributors, all the good will in the world won't get you the assistance you're looking for.

The most fundamental problem is simple knowledge. As the philosophers have put it, knowing is half the battle. If an individual doesn't have a clue that your system exists, they have absolutely no way to take part. This is one of the great challenges in places where vast swaths of the country are far from most advertising, much less a hashtag campaign on Twitter. A good example of effectively getting the word out was around Putin's romp to electoral victory. READ MORE »

Crowdsourcing is Hard Part 1: Incentives

Crowdsourcing Challenges Whiteboarding

The idea that everyone anywhere will contribute to your world-improving project is a powerful concept. The tantalizing vision of an army of unpaid enthusiasts doing all the work for you makes it sound like crowdsourcing will make your job easy, but successful execution of such a project has proven to be very hard.

I told you a bit about the long-term election observation work we are doing with ISFED, GYLA and TI in Georgia, and the fact that even their extensive networks won't have eyes and ears everywhere. Enter crowdsourcing. We're going to try to take the strengths of trained observer election monitoring and meld with crowdsourced citizen reporting to combine the best of both worlds.

The focus of my trip was to get this project rolling. We assembled the leadership of all three organizations together at a gorgeous hotel at the foot of the Caucuses, about two miles from the border with Chechnya. There's plenty of posts to be written about the excercise in cat-herding that is pulling together a partner coalition, but today I'm going to focus just on our discussion of how to integrate crowdsourcing. It made for an intense couple hours.

Crowdsourcing is the inverse Field of Dreams problem: if you build it, they may not come. There's a host of elements that need to be in alignment to pull off a successful crowdsourcing project, and technology is the least of your problems. Thanks to the clever folks at Ushahidi's CrowdMap project anyone can set up their own basic dots-on-a-map site in about 5 minutes. READ MORE »

Only Amateurs Steal Elections at the Ballot Box

Planning Election-Monitoring Programms in the Caucasus

I'm off in Georgia (no, not this one) working with an assortment of partners on the nation's upcoming Parliamentary elections, with a very important presidential poll a few months behind. It's a beautiful country with well-educated people, solid tech infrastructure, and awful grappa-like alcohol called chacha. It's come a very long way since the Rose Revolution of 2003, and is a relative democratic success story, but we still need to make sure no one puts a thumb on the scales in these upcoming elections.

NDI is assisting three big partners - the International Society for Elections and Democracy (ISFED), the Georgian Young Lawyers' Association (GYLA), and Transparency International Georgia (TI-G). Collectively these trusted Georgian organizations have a tremendous experience in monitoring and are supported by nation-wide networks of committed volunteers and activists. They have successfully kept a wary eye on numerous big elections in the past, but NDI is finding that focusing on the vote itself isn't enough any more. READ MORE »

Adapt and Evolve

Promotional flyer for the citizen reporting campaign - "Viva El Voto"

How do civil society organizations, especially those used to years of relative political space, respond when a government restricts their activities? They get creative, using crowd-sourcing and data visualization to strengthen the impact of their activities.

The politicization of Nicaraguan institutions, controversial interpretations of the constitution, and the lack of impartiality of the election administration, have generated widespread public distrust.

Impartial observation of the electoral process had played an important role in ensuring that past elections were free and fair and building public confidence in the results of the process. Yet, beginning in 2008, independent domestic observers were not allowed to access polling stations, and individual polling station results were not made public. READ MORE »

iHeart iHub

Today I visited Nairobi's iHub. To my mind it's the poster-child for everything encouraging about tech for development in the global South.

You've got:

  • Savvy local developers, some novices and some with loads of experience.
  • International techies with a development background and comparative experience around the world.
  • A welcoming, open space that encourages collaboration.
  • Events that pull together the tech community with development groups and venture capitalists.
  • WiFi.
  • A coffee shop.
  • With delicious, delicious Kenyan coffee.

Seriously, what else do you need?

iHub is only about a year old; it's the brainchild of a group of local technologists including Erik Hersman. I was shown around by Tosh Juma, iHub's extremely welcoming community manager. The initial impetus for the creation of the space came from the Ushahidi and FrontlineSMS projects; both needed space to work and came up with this great way to do so with a funding lift from the forward-looking Omidyar Network. READ MORE »

Technology For Peace : Strengthening Democracy

Flickr user “baggis” / Magazine cover art from Science 1985

ICT in the service of “peace” often refers to a broad range of activities encompassing conflict prevention and management, peace operations, humanitarian relief and disaster assistance, and post-conflict peace building and reconstruction.

For example, the ICT4Peace Foundation is committed to effective communication in “crisis management, humanitarian aid and peace building”.  A recent USIP collaboration, Blogs & Bullets examines how new media can change the politics of unrest, revolution, violence, and civil war.  Their work emphasizes five levels of analysis: individual transformation, intergroup relations, collective action, regime policies, and external attention.

NDI’s approach to ICT & Peace has focused on how key tools can help communities and stakeholders improve communication, facilitate negotiations, increase transparency, and build trust.

Democracy assistance is often seen as falling in the range of activities associated with peace building and conflict resolution, as democratic institutions help maintain peace by providing mechanisms for managing or resolving conflicts without resort to violence.  READ MORE »

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