Citizen Participation

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

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

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

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

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

READ MORE »

Citizen Loop: Voter Engagement Through Mobile Feedback Loops

Voter Engagement Through Mobile Feedback Loops

We recently put forward a proposal with the folks from The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and CiviCRM to the Knight Foundation News Challenge on Elections. The competition looks for creative ways to help engage citizens, strengthen participation and educate voters.

Our proposal is entitled “Citizen Loop - Enhancing Voter Engagement Through Mobile Feedback Loops”. The concept is relatively simple: an interactive voter engagement tool that increases participation through an automated, dynamic, text message feedback system providing information and helping citizens make a plan to vote.
READ MORE »

Zambia Elections: Scaling Local Tech Rapidly

Installing a fiber internet cable just days before the Election.

Presidential elections in Zambia were called after the death of President Michael Sata last October, and were won in January by Defense and Justice Minister Edgar Lungu of the Patriotic Front. While the second-place candidate called the election “stolen”, based on the findings of the Christian Churches Monitoring Group (CCMG), the official results as announced by the ECZ reflected the ballot casts at polling stations. Lungu was inaugurated shortly after, and the opposition are already looking toward the next round of elections in 2016.

Systematic citizen observation can be an important stabilizer in tightly contested elections. To collect the necessary evidence to be that stabilizing agent, NDI’s partner, CCMG, needed to scale it’s local technology and data systems rapidly, and also needed for them to work flawlessly.

In a data collection and internal communication exercise sufficiently large and complex, NDItech helps our partners to integrate globally state-of-the-art tools within local communications and technology infrastructure. The intermediate goals being analysis of over 20,000 messages from 800+ people, the ability to shift data collection priorities immediately, and consistent communication between decision-makers and implementers.

READ MORE »

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 »

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 »

DemTools Launch - Our Storify

Meet DemTools: Closing the Geek Gap

DemTools: Open Source for Opening Politics

In the last few years, powerful, cloud-based web apps have revolutionized the way business, civic groups and governments engage with citizens. Online campaign management systems helped empower Barack Obama’s supporters to organize their communities on the way to victory; sophisticated customer relationship management (CRM) systems help businesses effectively push their wares; online communication platforms connect marketers with the populace.

Human rights and democracy advocates in the developing world have been left stranded in this leap to more effective tools. There’s a new form of digital divide that’s emerged: call it the geek gap. There are a lot of sophisticated open source software systems out there, but free software is a bit like a free puppy: the problem ain't the initial price, it’s the care and feeding over years. In low-infrastructure societies, there just aren’t a lot of people with the sophisticated systems administration skills to set up a Linux server, configure Apache, set up MySQL, and install a web application like Drupal. While there are great commercial options, struggling human rights organizations often can’t write the checks to keep those services running.

NDItech has been working on technology for development for over fifteen years, and we’ve seen the same problems manifest repeatedly. Sustainability in development is hard, and when it comes to tech it’s harder. Keeping the lights on - and web sites running - years after a project ends just doesn’t happen very often.

We're attempting to cut that Gordian knot with DemTools: the Democracy Toolkit. We’re launching with a set of four web apps that solve some of the most common problems our global network of partners have experienced. DemTools development was funded by a grant from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). READ MORE »

Technology Strengthens Citizens Watchdog Role in Indonesian Elections

A citizen observer photographs the C1 form in a polling station in Jakarta

Editor’s Note: This is a guest blog post by David Caragliano, Program Manager on NDI's Asia team.

In any democracy, a close election tests the durability of the country’s political institutions and rule of law – witness the U.S. presidential election of 2000 and Bush v. Gore. By many accounts, after Indonesia’s contentious July 9 presidential election, the institutions of the world’s third largest democracy appear to be holding up well. Joko Widodo (familiarly referred to as “Jokowi”), a candidate of relatively humble origins, defeated former special forces general Prabowo Subianto by a six percentage point-margin of victory. Prabowo has alleged “massive and systematic fraud” and has filed a lawsuit disputing the results in the country’s Constitutional Court.

Prabowo will likely argue for a recount in certain electoral districts (we will wait to see whether his lawyers invoke “hanging chads”). But, through an amalgam of established practices and improvizations, Indonesia’s electoral agencies and civil society have relied upon a number of tactics – leveraging social media, online crowd-sourcing and data aggregation – to help ensure an inclusive, accountable, and transparent process. READ MORE »

Citizen Participation and Technology: A Look at the Social Media Landscape in Nigeria

The Social Media Landscape in Nigeria, AfricaPractice (2014)

Since Nigeria's transition from military to civilian rule, NDI has worked closely with civic and political organizations to support the development of the country's newly formed democratic institutions. Although the quality of elections in Nigeria progressively declined post-1999, the 2011 elections marked a turning point, as they were seen to be the most credible elections the country had ever held. Now, with the 2015 elections fast approaching, identifying how to build on this momentum is on the minds of many.

Given the rapid rise in the use of digital technology and the way that it’s changing the relationship between governments and those being governed, part of the answer may lie in expanding political participation using social media. Our team here at NDI just published an important new study this May on Citizen Participation and Technology, which showed that while more people are using technology around the world, the quality of their political participation and the overall impact on democratization varies from country to country.

An interesting publication released this April by AfricaPractice takes a look at the case of Nigeria and how the country’s evolving digital media landscape is having an impact on citizen participation in politics. READ MORE »

NDI Study: Participation & Technology

Mobile Phones Users in Senegal.

We’ve recently released a study that examines the role digital technologies play in increasing citizen participation and fostering accountability in government through our programs. Along with many in the #tech4dem community, we’ve known that better insights are needed into the relationship between new technologies, citizen participation programs and the outcomes they aim to achieve.

The study provides an overview of NDI’s approach to citizen participation, and examines how the integration of technologies affects programs. To further publicize these findings we’re convening a panel of experts to discuss key findings from the study on how technology is affecting citizen participation in emerging democracies.

The study uses case studies from countries such as Burma, Mexico and Uganda to explore how the use of technology in citizen participation programs amplifies citizen voices and increases government responsiveness and accountability, and whether the use of digital technology increases the political clout of citizens.

As we’re all very busy people, and may not get the time to pour through a 65 page tome (or flick through an ePUB), we’d like to highlight some of the key findings on this blog. We welcome thoughts and comments on Facebook and Twitter.

READ MORE »

New NDITech Friends in the Northern Virginia Tech Community

NVTC

NDI has been reaching out to the tech community over the last few years to explore mutually beneficial ways to work together. You may recall our conference in Silicon Valley last year, billed Governing Democratically in a Tech-Empowered World. Next week we're venturing south to engage the tech community in northern Virginia with our new friends from the NVTC - the Northern Virginia Technology Council. 
 
NDI and the International Committee of the NVTC are co-hosting a lunch discussion that hits on a couple of the key themes we're working on surrounding technology and democracy these days - digital security and civic innovation. The first panel, Digital Security to Protect Human Rights and Democracy Activists, will feature former NDItech star Ian Schuler and Amie Stepanovich - Senior Policy Counsel from Access. The panel will be moderated by Mohamed Reda, Chair of the International Committee of NVTC. Following a nice lunch the second panel - Technology, Civic Innovation and Democracy Support - will be moderated by Alex Howard and feature Megan Ryskamp Partnerships from Google; Amy Ngai Director of Partnerships and Training from the Sunlight Foundation; and our own Scott Hubli - Director of Governance from NDI.
 

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.

READ MORE »

The Changing Game of Falcon and Mouse

Weixin's logo
It is fascinating to see how the role of social media in political dissent is changing in front of our very eyes, this time in China. Sina Weibo, the wildly popular microblogging platform used by dissidents and activists, might be supplanted by other platforms like Weixin, a more private chat application that now has 270 million active users and is growing rapidly.  Weibo, used by influential activists who have large reach to millions of others is also heavily censored and has been reported to have lost users.
 
Weibo has more than 600 million users, amounting to an astonishing 30% utilization by Internet users in China. There are more than 100 million messages posted on Weibo every day, making the platform a fertile ground for commentary on all matters. As a colleague on our Asia team recently said: "Online social media has given us the largest depository of unsolicited public opinion in human history. Now a report from the China Internet Network Information Center (not an unbiased outfit as it's backed by the Chinese government) reports that Weibo's user base is decreasing.
 
The report suggests that users are migrating to Weixin instead. Weixin is owned by Tencent Holdings, which, similar to Sino Weibo, also has close ties to the government.  According to CNNIC, Weibo users dropped by 9% from a year ago. Meanwhile, Weixin or WeChat as it is known outside of China, added 64.4 million new users last year, especially among the younger demographics.
 
One reason for the shift may be the changing Chinese consumer behavior that is increasingly migrating from PCs to social networks optimized for smartphones, particularly among young people.  Weixin saw a 1,201% increase in usage among youth in the first three quarters of 2013 alone. Under the brand WeChat, the app is also far more global with a userbase of 100 million outside of China.

Online Organizing Platforms

@SenWarren opens #RootsCamp13

Our last RootsCamp ‘13 round-up identified free tools to maximize voice, and to collect and analyze social and mobile data. Each tool was quite specific in its purpose and execution. Beyond these, the attendees (vendors and activists alike) discussed a broader set of platforms (suites) that attempt to manage people and data in a way that allow for a variety of campaign and advocacy activities including petitions, member engagement, mobilization, etc.  As before, find a round-up of the best-of-breed at the conference below. Send any of your own suggestions, and we'll update the list.

Campaign Management

NGP VAN is the largest provider of political data management tools for progressives in the US. With it’s recent purchase of NationalField, which builds tools for managing field staff and volunteers, they provide an integrated platform of fundraising, organizing, new media, and social networking products.

NationBuilder is billed as “Political campaign software starting at $19/mo”, NationBuilder has developed an impressive set of online tools for campaigns including websites, voter databases, fundraising tools, and communications tools. Nationbuilder is looking to internationalize its platform. READ MORE »

RootsCamp '13: Free Tools

Roots Camp Logo

Roots Camp 13 is over. This buzzy unconference of field organizers, digital directors, data geeks, and political wonks continues to be an intriguing amalgam of progressive activists growing skills, sharing knowledge, and building networks.

Many fascinating conversations tackled proactive and reactive messaging, mobile advocacy, testing and analytics, data-driven politicking, among others. The tweet stream and archive can be found at #roots13, and here's an initial review by David Weigel on Slate.

Striking the fancy of our @nditech team were the plethora of free online organizing tools that were highlighted throughout the sessions. I’ve posted a round-up of the best-of-breed below. Send any of your own suggestions, and we'll update the list.

Maximizing Your Voice (Message Distribution) READ MORE »

Voto Mobile - Engaging and Polling Citizens with the Power of Voice

Voto - Mobile Engagement, Simplified

There is an election in a week,  you want to poll the citizenry before the election, and your financial resources are limited. What should you do? Should you (A.) Give up because it is simply not possible to get a full-fledged poll out in the field. (B.) Beg your donor to give you a last minute cash infusion to bring on more staff and a polling company. (C.) Join the 21st Century and leverage technology to generate a fully randomized national telephone poll using a platform like Voto Mobile. Voto Mobile's goal is to make interacting with an audience via mobile phones - either one-way via broadcast or two-way in an interactive fashion -- easy and inexpensive.

Over the last few weeks I have had the opportunity to sit down twice with developers and staff from the socially conscious start-up Voto Mobile. Based out of Kumasi, Ghana, Voto Mobile has the straight-forward goal of “Mobile Engagement, Simplified.” The company is leveraging the ubiquity of mobile phones around the world to enable both research and social engagement that offers CSOs, NGOs, Political Parties and other organizations new capabilities. READ MORE »

Counting All Voices - New Fund Deadline November 8

Making All Voices Count website screenshot.

We talk repeatedly about transparency and civic engagement in our work, and often emphasize that it’s only when governments have the will and capacity to respond to citizen' demands that signficant social change takes place. Improving citizen action and government responsiveness always lies at the nexus of political institutions, local incentives, and power dynamics. Add to this the use of digital technoloy - ubiquitously by citizens, less so by institutions, and you see the need for very smart project design that takes all these factors into consideration. However, projects are often influenced by donors who not always understand how these systems work together. In a positive sign, a new funding mechanism requires strategic design and evidence of government and civil society collaboration up front.

The new 45-million Making All Voices Count fund is supported by USAID, DFID, SIDA, OSF and Omidyar and is implemented by Hivos, IDS and Ushahidi. The first round of proposals are due by November 8, 2013. READ MORE »

Crowdsourcing Political Incidents Online

Candidate posters, Kenya Presidential Elections, March 2013.

Kenya's iHub recently released its research on crowdsourced information in the highly contested 2013 Kenya Presidential elections. The study sought to clarify the value of information collected from citizens about political incidents from online media, and to answer whether 1) “passive crowdsourcing” is viable in the Kenyan context  - passive crowdsourcing being defined as monitoring social media such as Twitter 2) determine what unique information Twitter posts provided about the election, and 3) determine the conditions in which crowdsourced information is a viable news source. As part of the report, iHub provided a useful set of recommendations and a decision-making framework for practitioners who are considering similar methodologies. 

The report provides great detail about the research methodology and data sources (Twitter, online traditional media, targeted crowdsourcing platforms like Uchaguzi, and fieldwork). Particularly impressive are the mechanisms described for capture, storage and classification of tweets and the detailed approaches to filtering for newsworthy tweets. The glossary is helpful in clarifying terminology such as that of "passive", "active" and "targeted" crowdsourcing of information from citizens. (NDI prefers the term "citizen reporting" over crowdsourcing for citizen-generated incidents data.) READ MORE »

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 »

Blurring the Boundaries for the Common Good

CitizenLab Sponsored the 2013 Connaught Summer Institute at the University of Toronto

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. ~ Margaret Mead

For the last week I have been holed up with approximately 60 computer scientists, activists, and social scientists from around the world at the Connaught Summer Institute hosted by CitizenLab at the University of Toronto. The individuals gathered here are some of the top minds in monitoring internet openness and rights. For the last 5 days, each of us has either presented a paper, case studies, or posters on issues most people never think about, but should.

We have engaged one another in a cross-disciplinary give and take. The problem this institute seeks to address, as identified by the CitizenLab, is a lack of dialogue occurring between academic disciplines and with academia and activists on the ground. The entire goal, as it has become apparent, is to begin the process of blurring the boundaries between the disciplines and with activists. READ MORE »

Tech4Dem Talk, July 23! Nicco Mele on how today's tech means "The End of Big" (which also happens to be his book)

The End of Big
UPDATE:  The Livestream for the event is here (www.ndi.org/live)

Please join us on Tuesday, July 23  from 5-7 for talk and conversation with Nicco Mele book talk, he will discuss The End of Big: How The Internet Makes David The New Goliath, published recently. In it, he explores the consequences of living in a socially-connected society, drawing upon his years of experience as an innovator in politics and technology.  He argues that "Radical connectivity—our breathtaking ability to send vast amounts of data instantly, constantly, and globally —is in the process of re-shaping our biggest institutions." Please RSVP here

Where? National Democratic Institute (NDI) , 455 Masachusetts Avenue, NW, 8th floor, Washington, DC 20001

When? Tuesday, July 23; 5 - 7 pm. Refreshments provided. 

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 »

Tips and Tools - NOI's Organizer’s Toolbox

Photo credit: New Organizing Institute

The New Organizing Institute (NOI) is a community of organizers dedicated to supporting the organizing efforts of citizens by training organizers to build and manage effective movements. The NOI’s online Organizer’s Toolbox provides the basic tools, technologies, and strategies to help community organizers to build movements and achieve real change. According to the NOI's mission statement:

If people have the tools to engage others, the tools to build powerful campaigns, and a community of practice to help them learn and grow, they can win real change, make measurable improvements in people’s lives, and restore faith in our government and our democracy.

This is true not only for community organizing efforts in the U.S., where the NOI is focused, but also international efforts such as those supported by NDI and its partners. The toolbox hosts ten Resource Centers that support various aspects of campaign organization, including online organizing, organization and leadership, data management, voter registration and Get Out the Vote (GOTV) initiatives. From tips on public speaking to registering voters to engaging online, the toolbox covers a variety of the elements essential to community organizing.  It also contains a module designed specifically for campaign trainers, which can support programs that include a training-of-trainers component.

  

Photo credit: New Organizing Institute

Here at NDItech, we are always on the lookout for relevant resources that can support the efforts of NDI and its partners in the field. This online Toolbox is an excellent public resource for organizations that support movements worldwide to develop their message, engage effectively, and affect real change in their societies. By sharing past experiences, best practices, and key tactics and tools, resources such as this online toolbox can support effective community organizing and democracy-building efforts around the world.  

READ MORE »

Democracy's Fourth Wave: Digital Media and the Arab Spring. A Conversation with Phil Howard and Muzammil Hussain

Democracy's Fourth Wave Cover

NDI is pleased to welcome Philip Howard and Muzammil Hussain for a conversation on the role of digital media in the recent MENA revolutions.  Here is their talk today at NDI.

Howard and Hussain ask: Did digital media really "cause" the Arab Spring? Is digital media becoming fast "Democracy's Fourth Wave"?  In their research, Howard and Hussain found that an unlikely network of citizens used digital media to start a cascade of social protest that ultimately toppled four of the world's most entrenched dictators.  Drawing from an extensive data set, the two found that the complex causal recipe includes economic, political and cultural factors, but that digital media is consistently one of the most important sufficient and necessary conditions for explaining both the fragility of regimes and the success of social movements.  The new book by Howard and Hussein looks at not only the unexpected evolution of events during the Arab Spring, but the deeper history of creative digital activism throughout the region.

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 »

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