Does "Smart" Make Sense?

Source : Cisco Smart Cities

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

Zambia Elections: Using Facebook for Targeted Messages

A special guest post by Phil Brondyke (@brondyke) from NDI’s Elections team.

Presenting the analysis of election day observation to the right audience is a critical component of citizen monitoring organizations’ outreach strategies, and one of which NDI has provided technical assistance to partners on for decades. In some countries where NDI works, Facebook has become synonymous with the Internet, and the use of Facebook for election day outreach has become an increasingly useful tool for communicating with certain audiences.

During January’s snap presidential election in Zambia, the Christian Churches Monitoring Group (CCMG) was able to combine Facebook-optimized infographics that showed the findings of their PVT with targeted advertising campaigns to broaden their organization’s digital footprint in a very narrow timeframe.

Facebook estimates that there are roughly 900 thousand users in Zambia (for reference, there are about 4.2 million in Kenya and around 900 thousand in Zimbabwe) so the potential audience was limited, but is disproportionately under thirty five years old (76%). This is a critical demographic for communicating competitive election information. By contrast, two of the three largest newspapers have print circulations of 29,000 and 25,000, while the largest is estimated at 40,000, according to EISA.


Discussing Data: Visualizing Nigerian Pre-Election Trends

Part of NDI partner TMG's Nigerian pre-election reports, visualizations like this help highlight key trends in the data.

In the lead up to the March 2015 Nigerian elections, NDI partner, the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), deployed a team of over 750 pre-election observers across each of the country’s local government areas (LGAs). These observers have spent the past few months collecting and submitting short message service (SMS) reports on various indicators of interest. This incoming data can be a lot to digest, so to help make some initial sense of it all, the team has turned to data visualization as a component of their analysis. Here to help explain the pre-election observation (PREO) process and its data visualization component is Ryan Dalton, Senior Program Assistant on NDI’s Nigeria team in D.C.

Q: Could you briefly explain the pre-election observation efforts in Nigeria? 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 »

Tunisia Presidential Election Observation WordChart

The above wordchart is taken from the comments and responses of International Election Observers during Tunisia's recent presidential election. The content is directly culled from the mobile forms that the observers filled out on tablets using Formhub and ODK collect.

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.


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 »

Opening Parliaments In Beautiful Visualizations

Social network analysis by

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,, 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).

READ MORE » Promoting Transparency in Government Spending


In an effort to increase transparency and citizen oversight of government spending, a new online project was developed to track government as well as corporate financial transactions throughout the world. Operated by the Open Knowledge Foundation (OKFN) and funded by organizations such as the Knight Foundation, Omidyar Network, Open Society Foundation and 4IP, “maps money” by collecting information about government spending across the globe, and presents results in an accessible and engaging manner. 

A community-driven organization, OKFN uses technology to promote open knowledge and data, making it easier for citizens to observe how their taxes are being spent by government. Members of the OKFN’s community work together to build tools and online communities that encourage collaboration in the use and production of digital information. As mentioned on the site, the team is comprised of staff and volunteers who constantly discuss and develop new and innovative ways “to monitor and explain budgets and government spending through the use of technology.”

According to the OKFN team, Openspending came about because, as they note "there is no 'global atlas' of spending, no integrated, searchable database which would be a valuable resource for policy-makers and civil society alike. We want anyone to be able to go to their local council or national government, request the data, upload, understand and visualise it and contribute to this 'spending commons', which anyone can benefit from.” READ MORE »

Show Me Your Data: The Visual Web in the Kenyan Elections

A special guest post by Phil Brondyke from NDI’s Elections team.

In the past 18 months, images have re-become the hottest thing online. Pinterest has nearly 10 million unique visitors per month, becoming one of the top ten most trafficked social outlets at the end of 2011. In 2012, Facebook saw some serious value in the mobile photo filtering app Instagram, picking the company up for a cool $1 billion. And everyone has pretty maps. In short, beautiful pictures, infographics, and visual data on the web are hotter than ever. 

Enter the Kenyan 2013 presidential elections. The Elections Observation Group (ELOG), NDI's partner, increased its impact by plotting out a way to share the valuable and complex data collected from its massive election observers in a simple way online. 

ELOG used an advanced Election Day monitoring methodology, also called a parallel vote tabulation, and explained what that is with a GIF and videos.

In 2010 ELOG systematically monitored the Kenyan Constitutional Referendum by deploying observers to a random sample of polling stations across the country. The observers rapidly reported their data via SMS back to a central data center so ELOG could evaluate how the election was going in near real-time.

That effort was the trial run for what ELOG would do and collect on election day 2013 - a day much anticipated and worried about after the very violent election debacle in 2008. ELOG analyzed the data following the 2010 poll and created simple sharable infographics that could be uploaded to Facebook and Twitter. The goal of these graphics was to demonstrate that ELOG had--and would be collecting--valuable data and key analysis about the quality of the process.  The infographics were mainly targeting political parties and the election commission, but ended up also appealing to a keenly involved Kenyan political digerati. 


Mobile Voter Education and Radio in the Election in Ghana

The friendly dog of Freedom Fone

IIn Ghana's recent election NDItech partnered with the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO), an independent Ghanaian NGO focused on election accountability. Our goal was to increase information to citizens about the election. CODEO ran a large monitoring program where 3999 citizen observers transmitted incidence and election results data via SMS to a central data center - a standard systematic election observation.  

CODEO also used social media as part of a citizen communication campaign to voters via a Facebook page where political issues facung the country were actively debated, and a call-in service for radio stations to broadast voter information (listen to the audio below this post). 

We spoke with NDItech's Program Officer Chris Doten about this innovative mobile audio-to-radio project. 

Why Ghana? 

Ghana has a robust technology infrastructure and a great NDI partner that was willing to try some new campaigns for this election and invited us to work with them.  There also was a little bit of funding in place to do new media voter outreach, and we were able to run with it on a short time frame.  Additionally, CODEO has a very good reputation in the country and we worked with them before in several previous election. The staff there is exceptional and was a pleasure to work with.  


Liveblogging #GhanaDecides Day 2: The Revenge

CODEO Dataclerks, Ghana 2012

Goooood morning #Ghana

In a bit of a personal tradition, I'm liveblogging elements from today's Groundhog Day-style election Part the Second.

Updates are added in reverse cronological order.

Epilogue READ MORE »

Tech for Elections: Telling a Compelling Story About an Election

"Great stories happen to those who can tell them." - Ira Glass

Beyond developing an effective organization and improving the quality of incoming information, technology is being used in systematic election monitoring to strengthen story-telling and outreach. 

Why Does Storytelling Matter?

People experience political change and electoral competition not as a series of numbers and results but as an experiences and narrative in building a democracy.  When collecting massive amounts of data as part of a systematic observation process, it’s important for election monitoring organizations to be able to tell a good story, often simplifying the conclusions to a few takeaways. These conclusions still need to be evidence-based and representative requiring an honest accounting and analysis.  But in our experience, a systematic analysis told in a compelling way is something few election monitoring organizations are able to do effectively.  Often, the story of an election is outsourced to journalists or political actors.  Simple data-visualization can help - together with a smart and sound strategy on how to deply them. 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. 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.


Ceci N'est Pas Une Site

It's one aspect of a communications plan.

Repeat after me: A web site is not a communications strategy.

Almost any program the NDItech team gets called in to help with calls for a web site. Whether it's a simple "brochureware" site with basic info on an organization or a highly sophisticated data analysis system, for some audiences an organization without a web presence simply doesn't exist.

The web site can be the beginning of a project, but is definitely not the end. In many situations, the web site becomes the central focus of all efforts; this is particularly true with slick modern data visualization or citizen reporting systems. As so much time and effort is poured into one central platform, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the site is not the program. I'm sometimes in meetings where people have clearly conflated the good of the web site with the goals of the project. It's one of the problems with monitoring and evaluation for such projects; the metrics you can watch easily, such as web hits, are useless for measuring impact.

In my recent work in Georgia, we are working on what is shaping up to be a fairly slick data aggregation and analysis system on the pre-election environment, Because everyone's focus has been on this platform, the tendency has been to lose perspective on the goals of the project, the related target audiences, and the best ways to reach them.  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 »

Seeing the Ripples

Facebook Connections in North America

Earlier this year, my fellow intern wrote about Social Network Analysis and how it can be used to study the connections that make up the social fabric of networks. Understanding these connections can help strengthen information flows, improve communication and build partnerships. Visualizing such connections can create interesting and beautiful images that are powerful illustrations of the reach of social networks. Moreover, these images can provide a better understanding of how we can leverage social networks to improve civic engagement.

While demonstrations (like this video of how Google+ posts are shared) are simply cool, they also show how online social tools actively spread information. Similarly, this video shows an augmented reality simulation of Facebook friendships at work. These videos help show how connections develop and evolve over time. Such demonstrations can deepen our understanding of how we influence other people, and how that influence is spread throughout a network. READ MORE »

Seeing the Suppression: Mapping Local Internet Control

China Map of Internet Control

The Mapping Local Internet Control project launched last week by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society illustrates the ability of Internet users within a particular country to access the global Internet through their Internet Service Providers (ISPs) or other Autonomous Systems used to route web traffic. One of the key findings of this project is that approximately 96% of all web traffic in China is routed to websites hosted within China. So why is this significant?

This mapping is able to demonstrate one of several means that Chinese authorities use to restrict content online - through centralizing Chinese web traffic to 4 points of control (ways to access the Internet), Chinese authorities can more readily curtail access to any content deemed objectionable.

Visualization of how this control takes place in China is even more striking when compared to other countries guilty of censoring independent content online, such as Iran and Russia. This visualization on the nature of accessibility in China is especially valuable, given the more limited information available on mapping online discourse in Chinese when compared to research on the Arabic, Persian, and Russian blogospheres. READ MORE »

Telling the Story with Maps

Blog Land Map

We had an interesting team discussion last week about the "why" of putting data on maps, a subject Chris D touched on in this silo post after a World Bank discussion on the topic, and Ian Schuler blogged about in his Burma election post yesterday. The question on the table was a simple one: why are these maps important for NDI's partners and our democracy work in general?

One of the themes worth mentioning was a reminder of the importance of providing visualization tools, including but not limited to maps, that not only provide the data in a visually engaging way but also tell a story - a key to making the data speak to and persuade the audience. In many cases, it's not enough to simply put political information on maps without context - in fact this could have the opposite effect and lead to misleading inferences or undermine your goals in some situations.

This simple and seemingly obvious concept is one that our team needs to keep in mind, and reinforce to our partners and staff around the world as web-based mapping applications become more popular. READ MORE »

Blowing Up the Silos

Exploding Silo

I hit the World Bank today for "Mapping for Results." Putting results front and center is a great idea - as mapping has shot up the hype cycle, it's nice to focus on what it can do beyond putting up pretty pictures. However, I call False Advertising on the conference coordinators.

Maps are a particularly sexy current form of visualization, and there's a lot of great information that can be conveyed that way. (Shameless self-promotion: Like, oh,

The real star of the panels at the event today was not the maps: it was the data backing them. Like the puppeteer pulling the strings, the maps only do what the data tells them to. Panelists returned time and again to the importance of open data and easing access to it.

The World Bank's been a real leader in the Open Data movement; their site,, has thousands of data sets available for download. A lot of neat work has been build on top of their information already. But it's hard, cuz it's yet another data silo. All that info has to be pulled from their site and integrated into your own. READ MORE »

Afghanistan Election Results Site Raising Questions - As Designed

Afghanistan Election Data site

One of the key goals of our AfghanistanElectionData site is to make the election process more transparent. The site combines raw election results with data from several sources, then provides tools that make that data easy to use so that people could better understand and assess the quality of the election process.

The site uses data browsers, visualization tools like maps and graphs, and a clean design to make this information as easy to use as possible. It was created not to draw conclusions about the process and share them, but rather to provide tools that make the process more transparent by allowing anyone to slice and dice the data as they see fit for their own analysis and to draw their own conclusions.

For example, we're delighted to have seen the tool used as intended by Garrett Schure, blogging last weekend at Daily Kos. Garrett used the site to do an analysis of the 2009 results data, then looked at the available media coverage of last week's Wolesi Jirga elections (the results data from the 9/18 election won't be available for several weeks but will be added to the website along with data browsing tools and maps asap). READ MORE »

Opening Afghanistan's Elections


In the run-up to this weekend's parliamentary (Wolesi Jirga or WJ) vote in Afghanistan, NDI has just launched our latest election data site - We've added results data from the 2004 Presidential and 2005 Wolesi Jirga to the 2009 data set that we built last year in partnership with Development Seed.

We also greatly improved the maps, including adding Dari base layers, and introduced a new 'Open' section that provides all the election and map data in one place for easy download.

The data and visualization tools we've developed can be a huge asset to NDI staff in Kabul, Afghan civic groups, political parties, media, and international organizations working on the balloting. Using past election data enables groups to plan and target their monitoring, support and other activities - for the upcoming election and beyond. READ MORE »

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