Open Data

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 »

NDItech - Product Development Process

© Dilbert Project Management

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

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

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

Customers

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

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 »

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 »

Where Privacy Meets Big Data?

Can you see me and my data?

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

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

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

Afghanistan Elections 2014: Where will observers be?

Open polling centers in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The upcoming Afghanistan election (5 April) is the third presidential poll since the fall of the Taliban, and should pave the way for the country's first-ever peaceful democratic transfer of power.

Given the public’s lack of confidence in the government’s ability to run a credible election, NDITech has worked with local partners to use digital technologies to enhance transparency and participation in the election process.

In the 2014 edition, the site highlights observer deployment shared by Afghan groups with the public. This enables stakeholders to understand which regions of the country will be covered by trained citizen monitors. In addition, polling center location and district aggregation data highlights the relationships between polling center locations and observer group coverage. As before, all data is available for download.

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Tracking the Money with OpenSpending.org

OpenSpending.org

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

A Global First: A permanent hacker space in the Brazilian Congress

Hacking Congress. Photo credit: Brazilian Chamber of Deputies.

On December 17, the presidency of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies passed a resolution that creates a permanent Laboratório Ráquer or “Hacker Lab” inside the Chamber — a global first. The full text of the resolution in Portuguese is here. The resolution mandates the creation of a physical space at the Chamber that is “open for access and use by any citizen, especially programmers and software developers, members of parliament and other public workers, where they can utilize public data in a collaborative fashion for actions that enhance citizenship.”

The idea was born out of a week-long, hackathon (or “hacker marathon”) event hosted by the Chamber of Deputies in November, with the goal of using technology to enhance the transparency of legislative work and increase citizen understanding of the legislative process. More than 40 software developers and designers worked to create 22 applications for computers and mobile devices. The applications were voted on and the top three awarded prizes.

The winner was Meu Congress, a website that allows citizens to track the activities of their elected representatives, and monitor their expenses. Runner-ups included Monitora, Brasil!, an Android application that allows users to track proposed bills, attendance and the Twitter feeds of members; and Deliberatório, an online card game that simulates the deliberation of bills in the Chamber of Deputies.

The hackathon engaged the software developers directly with members and staff of the Chamber of Deputies, including the Chamber’s President, Henrique Eduardo Alves. Hackathon organizer Pedro Markun of Transparencia Hacker made a formal proposal to the President of the Chamber for a permanent outpost, where, as Markun said in an email, “we could hack from inside the leviathan’s belly.” The Chamber’s Director-General has established nine staff positions for the Hacker Lab under the leadership of the Cristiano Ferri Faria, who spoke with me about the new project.

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

NDI honors Civic Innovators

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

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

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

Open Government Guide

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

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

Opening Parliaments In Beautiful Visualizations

Social network analysis by KohoVolit.eu

Our friends in the Opening Parliament community have been busy this Fall, and are anticipating the Open Government Partnership (OGP) annual conference  at the end of the month. We’ve been impressed by several projects that mashup accountability mechanisms with strong data visualizations, and are highlighting them below. For a full review of parliamentary monitoring accomplishments, find more news crossposted on the Opening Parliament blog.   

In the Czech Republic, a Czech and Slovak parliamentary monitoring organization, KohoVolit.eu, has worked to visualize complex parliamentary information through social network analysis. Their visualizations demonstrate how often individual MPs sponsor bills and the collaboration relationship with other MPs (image at right).

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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.

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Foreign Assistance Dashboard: Aid Transparency About Where US Aid Is Going

ForeignAssistance.gov

Every year the United States gives out around $50 billion in aid to developing countries around the world.  This means the United States gives out twice as much in foreign aid as the next four counties on the list of major international donors (UK, Japan, France, and Germany).

So, where is this money going?  The U.S. Department of State and USAID have developed a new tool to help in answering that question. In late 2011 the U.S. signed the International Aid Transparency Initiative, a voluntary multi-national strategy to make information about foreign aid more transparent, accessible, and understandable. Launched in 2013, the U.S. Foreign Assistance Dashboard provides a way to view U.S. foreign assistance funds in a standard, easy to understand, format.  

The dashoard enables a wide spectrum of stakeholders in the U.S. aid process to examine, research, and track U.S. funding. It presents data in two ways:  First, the website presents data in user friendly graphics in specific categories such as funding received by a particular country, sector, or agency. Information can also be accessed in machine-readable form, allowing users to execute manual queries and download data sets.

Critics of the program note that while the Dashboard is a step forward for transparency, agencies have been lagging in posting information to the Dashboard.  They have also noted that data on the Dashboard is not presented in a clear format, or that information is incomplete.

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Can Open Data Improve Democratic Governance?

Analyzing MP Voting Records by Kohovolit.eu

Earlier this month, I sat in an auditorium with political scientists, civic start-ups and data geeks that were prompted to answer the question: Can open data improve democratic governance?

NDI supports projects that deal with opening up government data, particularly in emerging democracies (such as these examples on our sister site Openingparliament.org). We, along with many of our partners engaged in this work, believe that open data can improve governance by facilitating better decision-making and potentially help build trust in and engagement with policy makers. With better information, citizens and governments are also able to ultimately make better decisions.

At the event “Can Open Data Improve Democratic Governance” hosted at U.C. Berkeley, presenters focused on how policymakers can better benefit from data use, i.e. how open data can improve democratic governance. Participants also discussed achievement gaps in order to understand how the open data community should evolve in order to improve governance outcomes.

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Is Tech a Scapegoat for Political FOIA Failures?

"Public access to information is democratic aspiration still to be fulfilled."  This insight comes from CIMA’s new report, Breathing Life into Freedom of Information Laws: The Challenges of Implementation in the Democratizing World. Evaluating case studies from Albania, Armenia, Indonesia, Jamaica, South Africa, and Ukraine, the report lists the following recommendations to improve upon existing Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation:

  • Officials of national and local governments who are responsible for responding to citizens’ requests for information must be properly organized, trained, funded, and protected.

  • Because government touches everything, a FOI law should touch everything.

  • It should be recognized that a FOI law is most important to average citizens at the local government level.

  • Many FOI laws are based on a presumption of access, stating that government records are accessible with certain exceptions; the exceptions should be based on the likelihood of harm that could arise as a result of disclosure.

  • The law should not require that government officers, employees, or agencies go to unreasonable lengths to accommodate applicants.

Election Passport - Election Data and the Challenge of Unreliable Narrators

Data from ElectionPassport.com

I’ve recently been digging into the useful resource Election Passport - it’s a compilation of constituency-level official election results for over 80 countries around the world.

Having this basic information can be a great asset, particularly as we try and find new ways to provide context for citizens by visualizing and mapping electoral environments. One of the best ways to understand a country can be via a classic political red/blue-state style map as has been routine for elections in the United States.  I prefer more shades than just red and blue, of course, to show party preference and intensity of that preference, and it’s certainly more complicated to visualize party preference or election results for multi-party democracies.  But such historical data can provide useful context for countries where election law violation incidents might be taking place. READ MORE »

#FutureNews - Techifying Parliamentary Communications

#FutureNews - The Communications of Parliamentary Democracy in a Digital World

A new report published in the UK examines the role that technology plays in providing citizens access to information and events related to Parliament. The report: “#FutureNews - The Communications of Parliamentary Democracy in a Digital World,” provides an interesting look at a strategic approach of the UK to increasing the openness of White Hall.  It's long been evident that technology is diversifying the media through which citizens consume news and entertainment. It's also clear that it is incumbent upon governments to keep up with citizens to maintain transparency and accountability in democratic processes.  Using new technologies and media strategies, the report argues, Parliament must insert itself in to the public debate and add substantive value to the the political conversation. 

Following are key findings from the report and a brief discussion on how these takeaways are applicable in the developing world from an NDI Tech4Dem perspective.  READ MORE »

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 »

The Cost of Openness

Myanmar used to have one of the highest costs for SIM cards in the world. However, after the 2011 election and subsequent efforts to open up Burma to the international community, prices for SIM cards have drastically dropped.

Quartz just published its findings on the decline of SIM cards prices, which have become vastly more affordable to average citizens in recent years:

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Checking the Online Pulse: Sentiment Analysis for Politics and Participation

Facebook Likes

Online sentiment analysis -- measuring the pulse of what is being said about a brand, an idea, a position, or a person online -- provides an interesting and quick (albeit non-scientific) pulse of the 'vox populis' in so far as that voice uses social media. Using adjectives used with a specific term (such as love, hate, like, loathe, etc.), sentiment analysis tools scan public tweets, blog posts, or other available online media to mine for these keywords and a sense of the how a public audience feels about it. We were curious about how this might apply to our work in politics and for democracy support. Here is what we found. 

1. Sentiment analysis is far from perfect or often even accurate. Algorithms cannot distinguish between nuanced usages of words ("No way am I voting for Obama" vs. "No way! Obama has a new app! So cool!") nor can they detect sarcasm. Additionally, Pew Research, an American research institute focused on polling analysis, conducted research showing that for large public opinion polls, Twitter tends to skew either towards liberal or conservative ends, making the world look more polarized than it is.  Sentiment analysis and online digital media monitoring needs to take into consideration he unrepresentative nature of an online audience (wealthier, more male, younger) and account for that.  Pew researchers also point out in a recent study that out those "who comment on Twitter about news events the to share their opinions on subjects that interest them most;, whereas national surveys ask questions of a random sample [of Americans], regardless of their personal engagement on the issues."   For a great, critical and nuanced article on how news media is using sentiment analysis about poltics, read this Niemann Lab piece.

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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 »

Open Parliaments, the World Over

Opening Parliaments!

The Open Government movement that has been groundbreaking in getting governments to open up their vast data sets on the delivery of services, is seeing a new frontier: Parliaments.   Opening Parliament, a project led by NDI, the Sunlight Foundation, and the Latin American Network for Legislative Transparency released its groundbreaking Declaration on Parliamentary Openness, a set of principles that has been signed by more than 80 organizations that are monitoring parliaments.  Parliaments and their data on bills, amendments, and proceedings are on of the big frontiers for open government advocates that are now beginning to see traction of their work to open up legislative bodies the world over. 

We took a look at some of the exemplary parliamentary monitoring organizations and how they are presenting parliamentary information to get a sense of the state of affairs in parliamentary openness.  While we have a long way to go to present legislative data in compelling ways that tell effective stories about key issues, legislation, and legislative processes, there are some interesting examples of groups all over the world that are worth highlighting.

Newpublik.nl from the Netherlands features a great timeline of media coverage of specific bills, mixing different data sets to create context to legislative data that gives a viewer a sense of how a specific bill fits into the current social context. Adding additional, contextual data such as news coverage makes parliamentary data far more useful. See for instance this dossier.

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OGP: Progress and Challenges

"What you don't know, can't hurt you."

As a part of our series on  last month’s Personal Democracy Forum conference in New York, I’m reflecting on a discussion of the Open Government Partnership (OGP). Discussants included Caroline Mauldin, Juan Pardinas, John Wonderlich, and was moderated by David Eaves.
As we’ve covered before on this blog, OGP is an international mechanism which gets governments to make public commitments in national action plans to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. NDI’s Governance team participated in the Annual Meeting, NDI’s Elections team contributed to a publication on electoral transparency, the NDITech team has been advocating their work at a number of events, and NDI country teams have worked with member governments on their plans. Our team’s contributions to technology for openness and transparency in strengthening governance beyond country programs, also includes working on a CSO Declaration on Parliamentary Openness. READ MORE »

How XML Can Improve Transparency and Workflows for Legislatures

It's not as complicated as it looks, we promise

This is a guest post from Andrew Mandelbaum, NDI's Senior Program Officer on the Governance team in D.C. You can follow up with Andrew on Twitter.

Recently I attended the conference “Achieving Greater Transparency in Legislatures through the Use of Open Document Standards,” hosted by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), United Nations (UN), and U.S. House of Representatives. Organized by the Global Centre for ICT in Parliament (a joint IPU-UN initiative), participants mostly consisted of ICT staff from 12 parliaments, as well as academics and representatives of international organizations. Significantly, the PMO community also had a couple of representatives in Daniel Schuman of the Sunlight Foundation and Doru Frantescu of VoteWatch.eu. Following the conference, Knowledge As Power, a Seattle-based NGO that works with government officials and citizens to facilitate online and offline engagement, hosted a legislative XML training at NDI featuring some of the creators of Akoma Ntoso, an open legislative document schema that could serve as an international standard for legislative documentation. 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 »

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