Latin American and the Caribbean

Strengthening Political Participation and Constituent Relations in Colombia

Ciudadanía y Congresistas Platform

Since 2000, NDI has worked with a broad range of political parties in Colombia to develop effective communication strategies that leverage new technologies to improve congressional-constituent relations. The recent launch of the Ciudadanía y Congresistas (aka Citizen and Legislators) platform is the latest example of such a project, which leveraged our Issues DemTool to strengthen the relationship between citizens and their members of congress.

As a refresher, the Issues DemTool is one of four, open source, online platforms that makes up the Democracy Toolkit, a suite of tools launched by our team last August to address the most common challenges faced by NDI partners: organizing contacts, connecting government with constituents, managing election data, and fostering civic debate. Each DemTool was designed to be easy-to-use and inexpensively deployed to support civic activists, political party officials, election observers, candidates for elected office, and members of parliament worldwide. READ MORE »

Social Media Insights on Crime and Violence in Latin America & the Caribbean

Social media analytics on crime and violence in Honduras

Editor’s Note: This is a guest blog post by Victor Hugo Salcedo, Senior Program Assistant on NDI's Latin America and the Caribbean team.

The words “crime” and “violence” go seemingly together when talking about the Northern Triangle countries of Central America (El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala). The words “data” and “hackathon” go together when discussing technical innovation, intricate computer applications, and groups of hackers writing computer code to create the next billion-dollar application. Rarely these four words merge together on the same plane, but when they do, opportunities abound for conversations that have lots to do with innovation and more to do with citizen security and social development. I had the opportunity to take part in such conversations last week during the USAID-organized hackathon focusing on security levels in Central America and the Caribbean.

The event brought together data scientists, programmers, designers, and Latin America experts to find innovative ways to look at crime and homicide rates in the region, and try to find a solution to some of the causes of these maladies. But, what is a hackathon you ask? A hackathon is an event that brings together a group of people to find solutions to an specific problem. My group did just that with our main task: to analyze the extent to which social media analytics can be used as a public opinion tool by academics, civil society, and local governments to assess perception of violence in Honduras. READ MORE »

A Bill of Rights for the Internet: Brazil Leads the Way

Brazil's House of Representatives commemorating the adoption of the Marco Civil

Late yesterday, Brazil’s House of Representatives passed the Marco Civil, a bill aimed at guaranteeing civil rights in the use of the Internet in Brazil. Specifically, it aims to protect privacy rights, net neutrality, safeharbors for internet service providers and online service providers, open government, and setting forth that access to the internet is a requisite to the exercise for civic rights.

The drafting of the Civil Marco Internet in Brazil began in 2009 through a collaborative effort between the Office of Legislative Affairs of the Ministry of Justice, in partnership with the School of Law of the Rio de Janeiro at the Getulio Vargas. Citizen feedback on this bill (between November 2009 and June 2010) was received through social media by more than 2000 contributions of internet users across the country. (More here about the process). 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.


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 »

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 »

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).


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 »

Digital Connections in the Favelas of Brazil

Participatory Budgeting Mobile Voting Station. Photo from Tiago Peixoto.

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

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

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

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

Podcast: Using Technology to Empower Citizens

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

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

Enjoy the podcast! READ MORE »

En esta capacitación vamos ... I mean in this training we will

Capacity Building

Capacity Building - this term often appears in development project proposals and reports.  It encompasses how partners learn and develop abilities and how their capacities grow throughout the life of the projects.  This aspect of development projects is important because we want to ensure that the partners we work with are able to continue their efforts even after the project comes to an end on our side -- making this component of the project key. 

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to participate in a website management training for one of our partners.  Our team had built this website last year and our partner was now ready to take over its management.  This process encompasses a series of conversations to ensure the website was sustainable and built in a manner such that this hand off was possible.  This included ensuring that the web management platform used was easy for others to learn in the future, among other topics.  It also included in-country trainings to ensure that our partners had the necessary skills to manage the website.  READ MORE »

Latin America: Increase Citizen Participation & Government Accountability

Broadband LAC.jpg

This week I spent a couple of hours working with our Latin America team on a project that allows citizens to pose questions to politicians and share information about candidates' positions on pressing issues through a web platform. These types of projects have been popular throughout the region. Peru, for example, has launched the Promesómetro website, which allows citizens to measure their representatives' promises and engage in online conversations on their progress. Chile’s Ciudadano Inteligente portal provides citizens with a wealth of information, from tools that allow them to follow their Parliament's debates to report cards on how politicians are progressing on their promises. In Nicaragua, the website Viva el Voto allows citizens to report on election irregularities and allows them to get historical data on election processes.  These are just a couple of projects - many more can be found throughout the region. READ MORE »

Hacking Legislatures

A report on parliamentary monitoring organizations

If there's a statute of limitations on event-blogging, this update probably exceeds it - thankfully, innovations in government transparency and citizen monitoring are always timely. Three weeks ago, Facebook teamed up with the offices of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer to host a "Congressional Hackathon." While no actual hacking took place during the event, it was a great opportunity to collaborate and brainstorm new ideas as part of an ongoing conversation about demand for legislative data, standards for sharing, and how to modernize constituent relations. Congressman Darryl Issa even announced a new platform that allows individuals to collaborate and mark up legislation with their own proposals and suggestions. 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 »

Governments Should “Like” Social Media - But Stay Safe

Latin American Social Media

Last week the Senate Foreign Relations Committee published a report [PDF] on Latin American governments and their need to embrace social media and technology. As a avid follower of news from this region, I inhaled the 15-pager.

The report presents data on broadband, bandwidth, and mobile subscription in the region as well as information on how Latin American countries have used technology to engage with citizens - and what the United States' role should be in this process. While highlighting some examples, it finds that Latin American governments have been slow on the social media uptake.

In our own experience here at NDI, we've found real benefits to social media as a space for two-way communication to occur between citizens and governments in the region. Some of our blog readers might remember an earlier NDI's Mexico office uses Twitter to engage political party leaders engaged with their constituents.

Yet, the most interesting takeaway amid the wealth of data was the need for more digital literacy training to help ensure that citizens can use these social technologies and remain safe while doing so. The Foreign Relations report emphasized the "critical risks that come with connectivity and access to social media resources." READ MORE »

Tuit-Tuit: Mexican Party Holds Twitter Contest To Improve Governance

The #LogrosPAN hashtag

This is a guest post from Julian Quibell, NDI’s resident senior program manager in Mexico. You can meet Julian on Twitter or Facebook.

Mexican political parties have increasingly used communication and information technologies (ICTs) -- particularly social networks like Facebook and Twitter -- as a low cost means to broadcast information to their members and the broader public. Our team here at NDI in Mexico has been working with all major political parties, in government and the opposition, to adopt new practices that harness the power of these tools not only to inform, but also to consult and mobilize around their causes.

An excellent example of these innovative uses of ICTs can be found in a recent online competition put on by the Outreach Secretariat of the National Action Party (PAN). Born of an idea shared by our team at NDI, the PAN designed an online competition that increased the number of users (followers, fans) on the party's various social media accounts, transmitted thousands of positive messages about PAN achievements over the last decade, and provided the party a broad base of feedback on different issues of public concern (education, the economy, public security, etc.). READ MORE »

Technology and Economic Development: What's the Relationship?

Map: Latin America and the Caribbean

Earlier this week I escaped the office for a couple of hours to attend an event at the Council of the Americas, "Is Technology the Key to Development?" The event focused on a new study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) that explores whether investment in ICT in Latin America has an impact on economic development. The findings: ICT alone is not the answer to economic development.

Before focusing on the implication of the findings, let’s first look at some background on the landscape and methodology of the research. Latin American and the Caribbean have seen large investments in ICT in the past decade. This investment bought with it hopes of development and growth, yet until this study very little was known on the impact ICT was having on development in the region. In order to address this gap, the IDB team conducted a this survey. The study conducted randomized controlled trials across a number of sectors (labor, education, institutions, health, finance, environment) and studied nearly 50 projects. After studying this wide variety of programs they found that in 39% of the projects the impact in ICT was strong - but in 61% of projects it was much less so. From this data and their analysis, the researchers concluded that ICT alone doesn’t work, but rather it needs to be coupled with human capital, infrastructure, and regulations in order to have a positive impact. READ MORE »

You See Names, We See Data

The sign-in sheet at an IC. You see names, I see data.

A few months ago I visited Haiti to learn about opportunities for NDI partner organizations to use mobile phones in community organizing, and met with volunteers from groups around the country working for community empowerment.

Just before the election, I returned to Haiti to run trainings for Initiative Committee members on how to use mobile communications. This was more than just training them on FrontlineSMS, the application we had chosen for this instance, although that wasn’t clear to all parties when I arrived.

Often when an ICT team member arrives in a country, there’s an expectation that we’ll set up a computer, teach people what to click on, and head off our merry way. It’s a natural tendency the world over to think of technology as a silver bullet, and it's often a struggle to convey to people how much work needs to go into strategy, planning, training, and deployment from afar. READ MORE »

'Till November: Haiti, Mobile, and the Coming Elections

An Information Center in Carrefour

Mobile phones are everywhere in Port-au-Prince. Digicel, with one of the tallest buildings in town, also seems to be among the biggest employers - Digicel credit stations, with matching red kettle-drum desks and umbrellas, populate the side of every road, and red-capped attendants hawk pre-paid cards in 'Rechaj' vests. One of the NDI Haiti staff members credited the company with 'changing the face of the country', although not without cost.

Following the January earthquake, mobile phones were also everywhere: the media seemed to want to give them credit for saving, rescuing, and rebuilding Haiti: the 4636 Emergency Information Service shortcode, the US$22m in donations to the Red Cross, the use of apps as a first responder. These were all savvy, even unprecedented uses of mobile, but in some ways only drove home a point - mobile is ubiquitous now (and here), and when we think about how to communicate, we need to include mobile as an infrastructure, a device, a platform, and a behavior. READ MORE »

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