Low Tech

Viral Messaging in Nigeria

Supporter holding a #VoteNotFight sign

Nigerian non-profit Vote Not Fight has a compelling mission and a persuasive message. Their work: to empower youth to participate in Nigeria's elections and eschew election violence. Nigeria has a huge youth bulge who are disproportionately unemployed, and they are often the focus of groups looking to stir election violence for partisan political gains. 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?


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 »

The Communications World has Changed. Have your Programs?

Use current methods of communication.

The cell phone represents the most radical transformation in communication technology for the masses since... well, who knows when. Mobiles are a BFD, and they’re everywhere. However, I’m sometimes surprised that international development professionals designing program plans don’t always recognize this new world. Based on the lived realities of citizens in their target countries, proposals for future work should always use current communication tools in their plans of reaching and working with their intended audiences.


Innovation in Context

Innovation comes in many forms. And you sure hear it a lot.

Given my instinctive cringe whenever I hear the term "innovation" these days, the word may a wee bit overused. However, it the concept remains as important as ever - if organizations aren't trying new things, they're stagnating.

As a global organization working with partners in a lot of different country contexts, though, I sometimes have to check myself and remember that innovation lives in local contexts. NDI's supported scores of sophisticated election monitoring missions across the world using the Partial Vote Tabulation system, including most recently in Kenya. The methodology's a tried and true one - I'll write it up soon - and has been used for over a decade. From a global perspective, it ain't new.

In Tunisia, however, it's a massive step. (No, not this kind of step.)

Given their shiny new democracy and the fact they've only had one real fair election in generations, any form of election monitoring is new. Moving to one that requires thousands of citizens across the country to work in concert with an extraordinary degree of accuracy is a big deal. 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 »

New on iTunes: NDI's Survey of Parliamentary Monitoring Organizations

Cover art from our newest ePublication

Check out the new publication NDI has on iTunes. "Strengthening Parliamentary Accountability, Citizen Engagement and Access to Information," the guide is now available to anyone with a iPad/iPhone/iTouch, a Nook, and available for download from the Lulu store

Strengthening Parliamentary Accountability surveys the amazing work of parliamentary monitoring organizations around the world that are working with parliaments to hold them more accountable, make them more responsive, and ultimately better serve citizen needs. The guide is part of the work of NDI's Opening Parliaments initiative.  

What is Lulu? Glad you asked. It is the service we used to publish and distribute the books. Following a formatting guide for how to upload, we were able to create a template through Google Drive, making it easy to upload the content into proper formatting and then used Lulu to convert into an epub. After some tinkering, guide was submitted and approved. After a bit more waiting, the ePub was placed on the iBookstore and Nook bookstore for free distribution, and free downloading.

Keep an eye out for more NDI publications on iTunes, and look for us to pop up in the Kindle bookstore soon.




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 »

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 »

Lessons from #PDF12: leaving the republic of Nerdistan

What my after-school coordinator tweets might have looked like.

I spent more time tweeting during my 48 hours at PDF12 than I had in the past six months. This is not an exaggeration; I ran the numbers. (And you can too, if you follow me, @hillaryeason. Ahem.) Part of this, of course, was due to the fact that I was at a conference that was About Technology; not only was this kind of tech widely used, it also acted as a signaling mechanism, establishing the Tweeter as someone who was engaged and tech-savvy. In that respect, at least, the demands of this job differ substantially from my last gig.

But as I was thinking about the ways in which I, as an NDI employee, actually use Twitter, I realized that I certainly could have used this kind of technology the last time I worked in this city. I ran an after-school program in a high-crime, low-income neighborhood that served 200 kids and employed 20 staff. I had next to no resources, was constantly trying to communicate information to overworked teachers who were never in the same place at the same time, and had to somehow funnel info on all of these challenges to my bosses at the public school district in order to make any kind of change. Isn't that what Twitter is for? READ MORE »

Yesterday game boring and hate. New game!

The author's old classroom in Korea, where her students had no qualms indicating if her lessons worked or not.


My name is Hillary, and I'm so excited - no, really, you have no idea - to announce that I've arrived @NDITech. I'm a former journalist, teacher, and toy store employee who grew up in a house of tinkerers and tech enthusiasts, and I recently graduated from the Fletcher School in Boston. More importantly, my background has made me passionate about tech and media use across disciplines, and coming to NDI allows me to put those interests to good use.

My main interests on the tech team include nonformal education, public diplomacy and outreach, and social marketing, as well as the larger (and related) issues of user interaction and the effects of tech projects from a systemic perspective. I believe strongly that technology needs to be engaging and desirable as well as accessible - not just from an infrastructural perspective, but in terms of the ways in which people go through their daily existence. Which brings me to the title of this post.

As anyone who's ever taught can attest, children can be a very, very tough crowd. A few years ago, I was teaching English in Korea, and one of my fellow teachers put on her Facebook an exchange she'd had with a student. It's now been added to the (long) list of internal memes I maintain.

STUDENT Teacher! Today play game?

TEACHER No, we played a game yesterday.

STUDENT Yesterday game boring and hate. New game! READ MORE »

Free and Easy Election Data Entry the Google Way

Teaching about Election Monitoring Forms

On Tuesday, August 23, 2011 Liberians headed to the polls for the first national referendum in 25 years.

The referendum asked citizens to cast their votes on four constitutional amendments.  As Liberians voted on these propositions under the watchful eye of the ECC, NDI’s partner observer group, the NDItech team rolled out a free, easy new way of gathering monitor reports: Google Forms.

One of our goals is always to find technology that’s sustainable. While that word is an overused bit of development jargon, the concept is key - the people with whom you’re working should be able to manage the systems you create in case your whole organization gets eaten by sharktopi or, more likely, your program comes to an end. The big components of this are cost (can the users afford to keep it running?) and capability (do they understand how to fix, tweak, and administer it?) Google is great on both counts. READ MORE »

High Tech Voting in a Low-Tech Country

INEC Chairman Jega

Professor Attahiru Jega, chairman of the Independent Nigerian Election Commission, spoke at SAIS on Nigeria's largely successful elections last month. It was a great conversation and well-deserved victory lap in which a number of NDI staff participated. (The elections were covered ad nauseum previously by your faithful NDItechies.)

There were some great lines in there - "What we had was not a credible election - it was an *in*credible election!" - but the most fascinating parts to me were the ways in which INEC used both high tech sophisticated systems and some of the most basic concepts possible to get the least corrupt election in Nigerian history. READ MORE »

Tech Leapfrogs Citizen Engagement - but Weakens Democracy?


A couple weeks ago I accompanied our Governance Director, Scott Hubli, to the International Council for Information Technology in Government Administration (ICA) conference. Scott was facilitating a conversation with government IT leaders from around the world on the role of citizens in governance in a rapidly changing technology environment where social media, mobile and similar technologies play an increasing role. There were six or eight of us hashing out some of this stuff and an interesting framework emerged that I found worth sharing – and that provides an opportunity to pitch some of our thinking about the potential of technology in emerging democracies going forward.

The broad theory that emerged could be summarized as follows: the rise of social media and citizen tools are creating new ways for citizens to engage with policy makers and leaders that bypass and therefore weaken traditional structures of representative government. However, the policymakers have not effectively learned how to deal with the public input coming in these new channels and transform these interests into effective policy – making policy less representative while potentially frustrating citizens who don't see an impact of their engagement leading to disillusionment with the process and possibly with democracy itself. READ MORE »

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