As TechChange and our alumni community continue to grow, we’re sharing the stories of some of our rockstar alumni who have taken the tools they’ve learned and resources from their TechChange courses to make an impact. This week, we traveled to the OpenGov Hub to talk to FrontlineSMS Project Director Trevor Knoblich, who participated in our TC105: Mobiles for International Development course in March-April of 2012. Pursuing his interest in mobile technology in humanitarian response and journalism, Trevor combined his past background with his new connections and knowledge from TC105 to successfully land a job at FrontlineSMS.

Here is Trevor’s story, in his own words.

Why did you decide to take Mobiles for International Development?

Technology in humanitarian assistance was rare in back 2009. Back then, I remember how there was not yet much data sharing and effective data management between aid agencies. As a journalist working in humanitarian response, I became interested in how mobile technology could address various challenges throughout the world. Through my own research, I heard about different projects that involved data mapping and reporting of challenges with service delivery, such as infoasaid, but it was difficult to find a one-stop resource that gave me a good sense of emerging technology in humanitarian work. I wanted to know, what’s happening around the world? What tools are available for me to find out? And what tools are appropriate for my organization?

What was useful to you from TC105?

After doing a search on Google, I found TC105 and immediately enrolled in the course to get an overview of how mobile technology is being applied across international development. I found three key features of TC105 very valuable to me: the relevant information, the interactive experience, and the access to a network of experts in mobile tech.

  1. A central hub for the latest information for mobiles in development. TechChange’s TC105 became a central hub for emerging info and latest applications of mobile technology in the developing world. The TechChange team did a great job at selecting the most relevant and useful information for participants in the course by pulling all types of resources into one space. They included industry reports, real-world and current examples of tools like Magpi and FrontlineSMS, and practical case studies that inspired participants to try the tools out.
  2. Interaction, participation, and global dialogue. The unique interaction built into this TechChange course platform encouraged participation among my classmates. TechChange did a good job of getting participants to talk to each other with game mechanics. I liked the small size of the class that had ongoing global discussion forums (sometimes at 03:00 AM in certain places in the world) and incentives for me to stay actively engaged throughout the entire course. Live demonstrations of the mobile tools discussed in TC105 changed my perception and understanding of how some of those tools were actually used in real life.
  3. Access to a network of industry experts. TechChange invited and vetted an impressive lineup of global experts that presented for TC105. The “Live Event” discussion sessions were especially useful because real practitioners shared their anecdotes of the daily realities they face, and often shared industry resources such as website links and reports that sometimes are not yet on the course syllabus. For example, one of the speakers I remember most was Amy O’Donnell. She was representing FrontlineSMS and was extremely knowledgeable about community radio. In her discussion, she shared research papers and industry knowledge on best practices in the mobile tech space. Beyond these live video conference discussions, TechChange is always pushing for face to face connections when they can through alumni happy hours and a general open door policy.

How did TC105 ultimately impact you and your career?

Taking TC105 ended up being a smart career move. By keeping in touch with Amy O’Donnell, with whom I shared a common communications-oriented background, I eventually landed a job at FrontlineSMS as Project Director for the Knight Media Project. In this role, I manage grants and program design by connecting journalists with FrontlineSMS mobile technology for data management. It’s inspiring work, as I help journalists coordinate their staff, freelancers and citizen journalists, as well as reach out to a broader audience.

Advice from Trevor for taking TC105:

  1. Leverage TC105 within your own organization. If you’re advocating for your organization to adopt these new mobile tools and applications, you will have a variety of useful materials from TC105 to help make your case.
  2. Take TC105 first. Before taking any of the 200 or 300 level courses, TC105 gives you a good overview of emerging mobile technology and will help guide your selection for a deeper dive specific applications of mobile phones..
  3. Participate as much as you can. You’ll ultimately get more out of the course the more engaged you are with your classmates, the professionals who are presenting, and the TechChange staff.

About Trevor

Trevor joined FrontlineSMS in June 2012, and leads FrontlineSMS’ Knight Media Project. Prior to joining FrontlineSMS, Trevor worked as a humanitarian response coordinator with Lutheran World Relief, developing practices and protocols for emergency response in developing countries. His experience includes developing mapping and tracking systems for deployment of humanitarian aid.  Before that, Trevor worked as a federal policy reporter in Washington, DC. His role allows him to combine his skills and experience in both international development and journalism. You can find him on Twitter @mobiletrevor.

To enroll in the next TC105 session, please click here.

As you can probably tell, we’re all very excited here at TechChange. Former TechChanger, long-time Ushahidi guru, and eternal Zen Archer Rob Baker has been selected as part of the second round of the Presidential Innovation Fellows program. Yes, Rob will be contributing to Open Data Initiatives at USAID  where he will develop innovative solutions in areas of national significance.

For those who are unfamiliar with the program, the White House website has details:

“The Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) program pairs top innovators from the private sector, non-profits, and academia with top innovators in government to collaborate during focused 6-13 month “tours of duty” to develop solutions that can save lives, save taxpayer money, and fuel job creation. Each team of innovators is supported by a broader community of interested citizens throughout the country.”

But don’t just take it from the White House. Have a listen to last year’s fellows about what their experience meant:

While we’re pretty stoked about open data in general (and even teach it as part of our course on Open Government) and this development in particular, the timing couldn’t be more perfect for our first-ever upcoming course on intrapreneurship. Intrapreneurship is defined as entrepreneurial behavior from within a large, established institution. But the truly interesting part of this program is that it shows an angle that institutions should consider: institutionalizing a process for insourcing innovative talent and new ideas. While most of our posts have thus far focused on the role of individuals in pushing their organizations forward, the truth is that forward-thinking organizations are looking just as hard for entrepreneurs to help rethink their business. After all, if ideas like this can deliver solid results for an institution as large as the federal government, then your organization is hard-pressed to find an excuse.

And so from the bottom of our hearts and the top our nerd attic, we’re sending our best to Rob and all of the incoming fellows! We know you’ll crush it.

Rob Baker Speaking at DUPictured: Rob Baker speaking at DU


If you’re interested in contributing to PIF projects, you can learn about current and future rounds of the PIF program at, contribute code on GitHub, or visit to help turn openly available government data into new products, services, and jobs. 

The following is a guest post by Christian Douglass, a TechChange alumni from TC104: Digital Organizing and Open Government

What makes the Open Government Partnership – seemingly another multilateral good governance initiative — worth watching?

It’s not because it’s grown from eight to fifty-eight countries in under two years. That’s fast, and fifty-eight is a respectable number – it demonstrates momentum – but plenty of multilaterals, like the Community of Democracies, reach that number early on.

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is President Obama’s international expression of his pledge to make his administration the most transparent in U.S. History: In November 2012, after a trip to all-the-reform-rage country of Burma, President Obama secured a commitment from the once international pariah to work towards OGP eligibility by 2016. Time will tell if the cadre of former generals will meet that tall order, but they have showed a willingness to try. The international community, including the U.S., is bending over backwards to help.

President Obama also made the OGP a top-line message in a recent Oval office visit by four African heads of state. As a carrot for being democratically elected governments, Cape Verde, Malawi, Sierra Leone, and Senegal were invited to the U.S. in March. Those that were OGP eligible, such as Cape Verde and Malawi, committed to join. Sierra Leone pledged to work towards eligibility. A rule of thumb: If the President mentions anything twice, the bureaucracy takes notice. As a result of the visit, don’t expect OGP to be taken out of talking points until the next election cycle.

But there are two really good reasons to watch the OGP:

First, the role of civil society. One of three co-chairs is a CSO, as well has half of the 18-member steering committee. Additionally, countries are required to form, track, and review commitments in conjunction with civil society during the action plan lifecycle. Governments have to develop commitments in conjunction with local civil society stakeholders, as well consult with the OGP steering committee before finalizing their commitments. This is no panacea, but it represents a very significant opportunity for civil society.

Secondly, the OGP is action –not talk – driven: the first eight country self-assessment reports on action plans are being publically published in the next several months. An independent third-party will review the progress of the action plans and publish their findings by October. Thus, 2013 is a big year for the OGP. If it is too maintain momentum and solidify legitimacy, the independent assessment process has to produce credible reports of each country’s accomplishments for public review.

And here is why the OGP might be different: Countries develop their open governance projects, as long as they fall within the parameters of the OGP five “grand challenges” that focus on the four OGP principles: Transparency, Citizen Participation, Accountability, and Technological Innovation.

For example, as a part of their OGP commitment, Mongolia recently announced they have instituted electronic balloting, removing another opportunity for voting officials to influence the outcome – which can slowly build trust in governing institutions. Brazil recently instituted “clean slate” laws: No official may have a criminal record. This may sound baseline and intuitive, but after the law was passed it was revealed that many officials had records.

Each country designs and owns which handful of projects they launch. In this way, the good governance accomplishments of OGP partner countries might be like the tenure of former Secretary of State Clinton.

Secretary Clinton did not choose one big “legacy” accomplishment, like advancing Middle East peace. Instead, like a good venture capitalist, the State Department, under her guidance, seeded projects around the globe as diverse as promoting better cook stoves in Asia to battling human trafficking in India. She had her theme of “economic statecraft,” but what that meant in each country was context specific.

The Open Government Partnership, if it is to be deemed successful, may be measured in that same way: A thousand local good governance developments all adding up to something big and continuous. In that way, it is very much an initiative for the Internet Age, where a thousand voices in Egypt can start something that can’t be bottled up.

Our OpenGov 101 Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) is a Semifinalist in the Knight News Challenge! Submitted in partnership with Global Integrity, we’re hoping to develop a global curricula to connect the open government community with the tools, experts, best practices, and organizations driving the field forward. While we still have some skepticism of MOOCs as a cure-all for online education and believe there are many ways to improve how MOOCs are executed, in this case we believe a MOOC format makes sense.

We believe the challenge for OpenGov isn’t just making new tools to open up governments, but empowering citizens to use those tools to pursue accountability and transparency. After all, open data has little value if people can’t use it (according to the Harvard Business Review), or as we put in our introduction to our Digital Organizing and Open Government course:

But don’t take our word for it. There are a number of very cool finalists in the remaining 40 in the refinement phase, so head on over and check them out if you like. We’ve left applause and feedback for a few already!

If you’re interested in contributing to our submission, here are three easy ways to get involved:

1) Celebrating #OpenGovDay on April 8.


April 8 marks three years since key provisions of President Obama’s Open Government Directive were due. We think this is a big deal worth celebrating – but we want to hear what you think.

This week, tweet @techchange or use the hashtag #OpenGovIs to tell us what open government means to you.

Then – on April 8 – join our Tweet Storm by following and using hashtag #OpenGovDay throughout the day. We’ll be retweeting the best #OpenGovIs submissions to amplify your voice – and we’ll be offering special deals on our new class – Digital Organizing and Open Government.

2) Feedback or Applause on our Submission

While “applause” won’t affect our entry’s chances of winning, it will give us a chance to see who finds our project interesting and give us a chance to reach out. If you have a comment or feedback, we’d love your ideas to refine and clarify our submission for the next phase.

 3) Talk with Your Organization about Partnership for the Day.

Watch this space, but we’re looking for institutional partners for the day. Let us know if you’re interested! Just tweet at us or leave a comment on this post. So far we’re proud to have organizations joining us such as Open Forum Foundation (@open4m), CrowdHall (@crowdhall), OpenGov Hub (@opengovhub), Global Integrity (@globalintegrity) and more!

Are you interested in learning with TechChange? Check out our next class: Digital Organizing and Open Government. Class starts April 8, 2013. Apply Now.

How can USAID use mobile technologies to more effectively collect, analyze and share data?  These are the central questions we will be addressing as part of a new course TechChange has developed in partnership with the Mobile Solutions team at USAID and QED.

USAID, together with its partners, has the opportunity to increase efficiency, improve the quality of the information its uses, and better meet USAID goals related to its Forward Reforms, Evaluation Policy, and Open Data Initiative by utilizing mobile technologies to collect and disseminate data about people, projects, and programs. This course will help USAID Missions and implementing partners understand how to do just that.

Building off of the success of our 8-week online certificate course this fall on Accelerating Mobile Money, TC311 Mobile Data Solutions will be a four week online course (February 1-March 1, 2013) designed to build the necessary technical capacity to deploy mobile data collection strategies by bringing together Mission staff and implementing partners. The four weeks are structured as follows to provide a comprehensive overview of mobile devices in data collection.

Week 1: Introduction to mobile data solutions

  • What is mobile data? What are the benefits and challenges associated with collecting data wirelessly?

Week 2: Project design

  • Designing projects and preparing concept notes, scopes of work, other documents to include mobile technologies.

Week 3: Implementation

  • Study design and programming, training, field operations, data management

Week 4: Analysis, visualization and sharing

  • Utilizing data for decision-making, sharing with partners

The course will go beyond explaining the benefits of this approach. Participants will learn the questions to ask in order to assess projects (Are mobile technologies appropriate?); design them to achieve the maximum benefits possible (How should interventions be designed to take advantage of these technologies?), implement them (What device should we use? How do we train staff? What resources do we need in the field? At the Mission?), and report and share the data (How do we create visuals that can inform decision making? How do we share the results with beneficiaries and partners in-country?).

Featured tools, organizations and projects include: Episurveyor/Magpi, FormhubSouktel, EMIT, uReport, TexttoChange, RapidSMS, GeoPoll, iFormbuilder, PoiMapper, Catholic Relief Services, DAI, NASA, OpenDataKit at UW, SweetLab, JSI, ICF International, Tangerine at RTI, Futures Group. The course will be delivered on TechChange‘s custom learning platform and will include a mixture of presentations by experts, tool demonstrations, selected readings, and activities including designing and analysing a survey using mobile software.

This closed course is intended specifically for USAID and its implementing partners. But if are you interested in learning with TechChange and the topic of mobile data, Check out our upcoming course on Mobile Phones for International Development. Class starts on March 4, 2013. Apply now!

[UPDATE: Course rescheduled for April 8th, 2013]

We’re very sorry to inform you that we are rescheduling the Digital Organizing and Open Government course that was originally scheduled to begin on this Monday, January 7. If you have already paid for a seat in the course, we will (of course) refund your tuition in full if you so desire, or we will hold your spot in the rescheduled course as well as offering you a complimentary seat in our upcoming course: Tech Tools and Skills for Emergency ManagementThe reason for this unexpected schedule change at such a late date is that the Lead Facilitator, Christopher Neu, dislocated his shoulder and will be unable to type for several weeks. Rather than find a last-minute replacement, we opted instead to offer the course at a later date with the original experience intact. We apologize for any inconvenience and still hope to see you in class!



We’re excited about starting class on January 7th! We’ve already received applications from Senegal, Italy, Egypt, Spain, Cameroon, Kenya, Sweden, Haiti, India, UK, and more. However, we’ve had a number of questions about the course format, content, experts, and exercises that we wanted to address in more detail. Please let us know if this helps!


We’ve designed our courses specifically to combine self-paced multimedia content with real-time video engagement with experts. We have also included hands-on exercises to get you familiar with the tools under discussion under guidance from our staff. Courses are expected to take 5-9 hours per week of effort with a minimum of one real-time interaction, but can also be completed up to three months after the end of live courses. Broadly speaking, these are the themes that will be discussed during the four weeks of the course:

  • Week 1: Introduction to Core Themes (Jan. 7)
  • Week 2: Tech Tools for Digital Organizing (Jan. 14)
  • Week 3: Tech Tools for Open Gov and Open Data (US) (Jan. 21)
  • Week 4: Final Project–Toward Global Open Government (Jan. 28)


Part of the course revolves around reading the latest research and discussing as a class. To that effect, we’ll be exploring the latest research from leading experts on “liberation technologies” such as Patrick Meier; crowd-sourced manuals (including one of our favorite: The Outsider’s Guide to Supporting Nonviolent Resistance to Dictatorship); and other videos, blog posts, and academic research. We try to balance the readings to contribute to expert discussions so that participants can dive deeper into core content in their field.


We’re excited about the broad panel of experts that we’ve lined up to hold live class discussions via video over the four weeks.

  • Kaushal Jhalla of the World Bank will be speaking about the challenges and potential of big data and development
  • Jordan Menzel of CrowdHall on the topic of using technology for public engagement and accountable government
  • Linda Raftree of Plan International, USA on open data and community engagement
  • Wayne Burke of the Open Forum Foundation on building sustainable communities around open government.


Moving beyond content and experts, we’ve designed hands-on exercises for each week of the course to familiarize students with the tools under discussion.

  • Week 1: Explore application of social media tools with guides from including Twitter and other social media.
  • Week 2: Public access tools such as CrowdHall to be used for engaging public figures in dialogue.
  • Week 3: Domestic/US-oriented open gov resources from Sunlight Labs including Open State Project, Stream Congress, and ClearSpending.
  • Week 4: International final project exploring open government in your home country: How can you get involved?


We hope this helps! Please let us know if you have any other questions by leaving a comment, tweeting @techchange, or sending an email to chris [at] Thanks!

Curious about learning with TechChange? Check out our upcoming class: Digital Organizing and Open Government. Class starts Jan 7! Apply Now.

Have you seen our latest video about TC104: Digital Organizing and Open Government?

This may just be a simple ad for our course, but it also showcases a lot of what we can do to create a learning experience through video. We thought we could use this video as a chance to show the process we go through any time we make a video.

Step 1: Conceptualize

The first step to producing any video is developing the content for it. Whether you’re dealing with a fictional narrative or factual documentation, whether your movie is thirty seconds or ninety minutes, the first and most important step will always be figuring out the story that you are telling.  We meet as a team – and with clients – to go over in detail exactly what information needs to be conveyed, and we develop a visual narrative around those ideas, drawing on the shared talents of our educators, tech experts, graphic designers, and video producer/editor (me!). From this collaborative process, we develop a script and produce a storyboard of what the final video will roughly look and flow like.

Step 2: Drawing/Filming

Once we have the concept fully fleshed out, we get to work on building the pieces we use for the final video. Our incredibly talented graphic designers draw the different pieces and make adjustments based on feedback; some of these pieces are fairly simple drawings, others are highly detailed and contain multiple frames of action that will ultimately get animated. Additionally, at this stage we produce a high quality audio track of the script, as well as potentially doing any live-action filming that is required (most commonly in front of a green-screen).

Step 3: Animating/Editing

Once we have the pieces made, we begin to assemble them together. Drawings are animated primarily using Adobe After Effects. First basic motions are mapped in time with the audio, and then more complex effects are added, such as sub-compositions/animations, lighting effects, motion effects, or anything else that’s needed. Generally, the animating phase begins while the drawing phase is still underway, so that if any problems arise with our original ideas for the video, we can easily and efficiently make adjustments. For example, in our TC104 video, we decided to flesh out the bike metaphor used near the beginning when the visual narrative around that section seemed weak, and it was a simple matter of drawing a few additional pieces and animating them into place.

Step 4: Revisions

The animation culminates in the production of a rough draft of the final video that is then reviewed first by the entire TechChange team. Here’s the rough draft we produced for TC104:

After any changes, we then go over a revised draft with the client. We carefully weigh their feedback to make a final round of adjustments to the video, and then we are done!

Key Takeaways

There are a few key lessons about this process that are worth highlighting and remembering:

  • The strength of the concept/story will carry over to the strength of the video. Having a strong script and audio track early in the process makes the whole process smoother.
  • Producing animations is a collaborative process. The input of experts and clients is extremely valuable, and our creative team is very talented and flexible in working to achieve the strongest possible video. Having multiple perspectives throughout the process is incredibly valuable, because viewers of the final product will have a wide range of perspective, too.
  • Producing animations is fun! It is an effective and easy way to uniquely convey any information to the entire world!

Hopefully this post has been an insightful look into our process. Please contact us with any questions about our process, or if you’d like us to help you produce videos!

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!