By Michael Baldassaro, Innovation Director at Democracy International

On Sunday October 26, 2014, more than three million Tunisian voters cast ballots in parliamentary elections, marking an historic milestone in the country’s remarkable transition from authoritarian rule to democracy. To support the election process, international and Tunisian civil society organizations deployed thousands of observers on Election Day.

One of the Tunisian observation groups, I Watch, recruited, trained, and deployed hundreds of observers nationwide on Election Day. While recruiting, training and deploying observers is a necessary – and human and financial resource intensive – practice in an election observation exercise, I Watch decided to take a bit of a different approach. In their own words:

“Election observation has become a costly, top-down and exclusive exercise that largely ignores citizen input and participation for legitimising the process. I Watch aims to counter this through an inclusive and technologically innovative approach which could revolutionise election observation worldwide.”

I Watch e-Observation Promo

I Watch promotion for e-observation

With support from Democracy International and Ona, I Watch conducted a “hybrid pilot [that] combines domestic observation with crowdsourcing tools to provide a new way of engaging citizens in the electoral process.” As a youth-led organization with a mission to increase citizen participation in public life, I Watch set out to provide all Tunisian citizens interested in safeguarding their own elections with the opportunity and the skills to do so.

Six weeks prior to Election Day, I Watch held a press conference to launch its e-observation platform where citizens could create profiles and register to be observers. Within a week of the launch, more than 600 citizens signed up to be eligible as I Watch observers. By Election Day, 1,318 citizens from all 24 Tunisian governorates registered through the E-Observation platform, of which 1,215 were ultimately accredited as I Watch observers.

Unlike a typical election observation project, in which observers are trained face-to-face through a national day of training or series of training workshops throughout the country, I Watch produced a series of videos to educate citizen observers on the goals of election observation, the roles and responsibilities of an election observer, the opening, voting, closing and counting processes on Election Day, and instructions for transmitting observer findings.

E-Observation Training Video: What is Election Observation?

Applying an e-learning model greatly reduced the amount of human and financial resources typically associated with training observers: depending upon the size of an election observation mission, or the size of the country in which it takes place, costs for training observers can be prohibitively expensive – sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars. It also enabled observers to learn at their convenience while preserving a measure of quality control that can be lost when a training-of-trainers or step-down training approach is used.

After observers watched all the videos, they were required to take a quiz to test their
aptitude and ensure that they had understood all the necessary steps to be effective observers. If an observer passed the quiz, s/he was then accredited as an I Watch observer. If an observer didn’t failed the quiz, s/he could re-watch the videos and take
the quiz again.

To collect and analyze observer findings, I Watch used two completely free and open-source information and communications technology (ICT) applications: Ona and SMSsync. Observers submitted their findings directly from polling stations via SMS to a customized I Watch Ona platform. I Watch established a “central data center” to analyze findings collected in real-time and proactively contact observers to collect additional information
as necessary.

Democracy International used a similar data collection toolkit called Formhub to collect and analyze data during its January 2014 election observation mission in Egypt. Through the application of key elements of election observation methodology, crowdsourcing techniques, and the use of free and open source ICTs, I Watch was able to increase citizen participation, reduce costs, and make a positive contribution to the electoral process. Given its success during the parliamentary elections, I Watch is planning to move forward with an even better exercise for the presidential elections due to take place in November 2014.

About Michael Baldassaro

Michael Baldasarro

Michael Baldassaro is the Innovation Director at Democracy International. Mr. Baldassaro has a decade of experience designing, managing, and implementing democracy and governance projects in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. He previously served as DI’s Tunis-based Project Director for the Middle East and North Africa, where he designed projects that use open data, new media, smartphone applications, and crowdsourcing techniques to improve the quality of elections. Before joining DI in 2012, Mr. Baldassaro worked with the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the Carter Center (TCC) to assist civil society groups in applying statistical principles to election observation using state-of-the-art information and communications technologies, such as mobile data collection technologies, data visualization tools, and social media platforms. Mr. Baldassaro holds an M.A. in International Conflict Analysis from the University of Kent at Canterbury and the Brussels School of International Studies. He is proficient in conversational French.

This is a guest post by Dhairya Dalal. If you are interested in using crisis mapping and using technology for humanitarian relief, conflict prevention, and election monitoring, consider taking our course Technology for Conflict Management and Peacebuilding.

Overview

Recently, I had the opportunity to run an election monitoring simulation for TechChange’s TC109: Conflict Management and Peacebuilding course. Led by Charles Martin-Shields, TC109 taught over 40 international participants how mapping, social media, and mobile telephones could effectively support the work of conflict prevention and management.  Robert Baker taught participants how the Uchaguzi team leveraged crowd-sourcing and Ushahidi, a web based crisis mapping platform, to monitor the 2013 Kenyan elections.

For the simulation activity, my goal was to create a dynamic hands-on activity. I wanted to demonstrate how crisis mapping technologies are being used to promote free and fair elections, reduce electoral violence, and empower citizens. To provide students a realistic context, we leveraged live social media data from the Kenyan elections. Participants walked through the process of collecting data, verifying it, and critically analyzing it to provide a set of actionable information that could have been used by local Kenyan stakeholders to investigate reports of poll fraud, violence, and voter intimidation.

Below I’ll provide a brief history of election monitoring in the context of Kenyan elections and provide a more detailed look at the simulation activity.

Brief History of Election Monitoring and Uchaguzi

uchaguziIn 1969, the Republic of Kenya became a one-party state whose electoral system was based on districts that aligned with tribal areas. This fragile partitioning often generated internal friction during the electoral cycle. The post-election violence of 2007-2008 was characterized by crimes of murder, rape, forcible transfer of the population and other inhumane acts. During the 30 days of violence more than 1,220 people were killed, 3,500 injured and 350,000 displaced, as well as hundreds of rapes and the destruction of over 100,000 properties. 2

Ushahidi was developed in the wake of the 2008 post-election violence. Ushahidi, is a website that was designed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election fallout. However, Usahidi has since evolved into a platform used for crisis mapping, crowd-sourced data gathering, and many other things. Since then, the name Ushahidi has come to represent the people behind the Ushahidi platform. 2

Uchaguzi was an Ushahidi deployment, formed to monitor the 2013 Kenyan general elections held this past March. The Uchaguzi project aimed to contribute to stability efforts in Kenya, by increasing transparency and accountability through active civic participation in the electoral cycles. The project leveraged existing (traditional) activities around electoral observation, such as those carried out by the Elections Observer Group (ELOG) in Kenya.3

Election Monitoring with CrowdMaps

TC109 Simulation Figure 1: TC109 Simulation map (view official Uchaguzi map here: https://uchaguzi.co.ke/)

For the simulation activity, we used Ushahidi’s CrowdMap web application. CrowdMap is a cloud-based implementation of the Ushahidi platform that allows users to quickly generate a crisis map. Crowdmap has the ability to collect and aggregate data from various sources likes SMS text messages, Twitter, and online report submissions.

To provide the participants a more realistic context, our simulation collected real tweets from the Kenyan elections that had just occured the prior week. Our simulation aggregated tweets from Uchaguzi’s official hashtag, #Uchaguzi, as well several other hashtags like #KenyanElections and #KenyaDecides. In addition students were tasked with creating reports from Uchaguzi’s facebook page and local Kenyan news sites.

The aggregated information was then geo-tagged, classified and processed by the participants. The participants created reports, which described incidents licrowdmapke instances of voter intimidation, suspected poll fraud, and reports of violence. The CrowdMap platform plotted these reports on a map of Kenya based on coordinates the participants provided during the geo-tagging phase.  The resulting map showed aggregation patterns, which would have allowed local actors to see where certain types of incidents were taking place and respond accordingly.

Conclusion: Going beyond the Technology and Cultivating Information Ecosystems

workflow   Figure 2: Uchaguzi Workflow

While technological innovations have made it easier to collect vast amounts of data in real-time during a crisis or an live event, a lot of process and human capital is still required to ensure that the data can processed and acted upon. Prior to the Kenyan elections, the Uchaguzi team established a well-planned information workflow and local relationships to ensure that information was ultimately delivered to the local police, elections monitors, and other stakeholders who could take action on the reports received. This workflow also delineated volunteer workgroups (based on Standby TaskForce’s information processing workflow) which were responsible for different parts of information collection process from Media Monitoring and Translation to Verification and Analysis.

To provide the participants an understanding of the full picture, we had them assume the role of various workgroups. They were challenged to identify how the information would be gathered, verified, classified, and distributed to local stakeholders. Participants followed the official Uchaguzi workflow and learned more about the challenges faced by the various workgroups. For example how would you translate a report submitted in Swahili? How would you determine if a report is true or falsely submitted to instigate provocation? How would you escalate reports of violence or imminent danger like a bomb threat?

Overall, the participants were able to learn about both the technology that enables the crowd-sourcing of election monitoring and the strategic and deliberate structures put in place to ensure an information feedback loop. Participants were able to gain an understanding of the complexity involved in monitoring an election using real data from the Kenyan elections. They were also given an opportunity to recommend creative suggestions and innovations that were sent to the Ushahidi team for future deployments.


About the Author:
Dhairya Dalal is a business systems analyst at Harvard University, where he is also pursuing his master’s degree in Software Engineering. Dhairya serves a curriculum consultant for TechChange and is responsible for teaching hands-on technical workshops centered around crisis mapping and open gov APIs, as well as strategic lessons on social media strategy and digital organizing.

Sources:
1:Background on the Kenyan Electoral Violence
http://www.haguejusticeportal.net/index.php?id=11604 
2: Uchaguzi Deployment
https://wiki.ushahidi.com/display/WIKI/Uchaguzi+-+Kenyan+Elections+2013
3: Uchaguzi Overview
http://reliefweb.int/report/kenya/uchaguzi-kenya-2013-launched

TechChange is excited to announce a new partnership with Transitions (TOL), a Prague-based journalism and media training organization with a focus on the post-communist countries of Europe and the former Soviet Union. Running a variety of programs – from the publication of one of the first online magazines to cover political, social, economic and cultural issues in the region since 1999, to providing young reporters with intensive training on best journalistic practices  – TOL has been a regional leader on media and democracy building efforts.

Bringing their expertise on media and journalism development to their target region through our eLearning environment, TOL will be running their course: “Reporting on Education,”  adapting a course that the Guardian Foundation originally created for TOL and the BBC’s iLearn platform. And though journalist training is a broad endeavor, even when focusing on a particular region, we’re hoping that this course will help to not only train journalists, but also to elevate national and regional policy dialogue on the issues of educational reform, open governance and democratic accountability.

Counting gets underway at a polling station in Moscow following Russia’s Presidential election, 4 March 2012.*

This new institutional relationship and course topic comes at a time when the role of the media in promoting such topics is an ever salient issue, particularly in Eastern Europe. Over the past few months, the Kremlin has tightened control over various aspects of civil society and acted to counter what it views as foreign interference in Russia’s sovereign affairs, moves that included booting USAID, a key funder of media training and other efforts, out of the country.

TechChange has helped organizations address these challenges and co-authored a piece in the Huffington Post (USAID’s Eviction From Russia: An Opportunity for Online Learning as E-Development) expressing that:

“there is reason to believe that using widely-available technology, democracy promotion organizations have the potential to greatly influence dialogue by amplifying local practitioner voices, and giving domestic organizations a channel for collaboration with international experts.”

This is where we are hoping that our partnership with TOL will further distribute valuable content – including across closed or semi-closed borders – and build up the capacity of a core group of journalists to report in an informative and engaging way on the sometimes complicated field of education. After all, the task of training journalists in this case isn’t geared just toward building a better media, but also a better, more equitable education system and more modern and democratic societies. We’re hoping that this first course will be yet another worthwhile addition to this process.

*Photo Credit: Credit: OSCE/Jens Eschenbaecher

Interested in digital activism and citizen journalism? Check out our 104 course on digital organizing, which will be run January 7 – February 1!

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