Where Africa and Technology Collide!

Tag: election

Ushahidi Comes Full Circle in Kenya

It’s been hectic lately… In the course of one week I’m going from the madness that is running any situation room for a major Ushahidi deployment (Uchaguzi), to what is looking to be one of Africa’s best tech conferences (Tech4Africa).

(video by Jon Shuler)

Uchaguzi: Monitoring Kenya’s Referendum Vote

Uchaguzi is a deployment of the Ushahidi platform that marries up traditional election monitoring groups and practices with voices from the crowd. It was an experiment in a more holistic approach to monitoring an election.

Our goal is to make this an election monitoring platform that can be used by anyone (at least in E. Africa), as a mixture of the core Ushahidi platform, with a package of customized plugins that do things such as:

  • Map known election monitor phone numbers to specific locations
  • Content-map the election monitoring number codes into an automated full report
  • Use shape files to get make reports not just point-based, but heatmapped
  • Ticketing system for escalated items
  • Ability to mark items as “actionable” and/or “action taken”

We started Ushahidi 2.5 years ago here in Kenya to crowdsource and visualize some of the stories coming from ordinary people in the midst of Kenya’s post election violence. Last Wednesday the whole country went to the polls again, this time to vote “yes” or “no” on a referendum for a new constitution for the country – arguably something even more important than a politician who will only be in office for 5 years.

Being Ushahidi, and this being Kenya, we were ready to do our part. This came in the form of Uchaguzi, a deployment where we partnered with local groups like SODNET, Twaweza, CRECO and HIVOS. Ordinary Kenyans and election monitors alike could send in text messages to a local shortcode, which was widely advertised before the date. (read more here)


Over 50% of all incoming reports were verified in real-time, and an overwhelming 60+% were reports that things were going well. A win for both the deployment and the country!

A Thank You

Through a combination of great partners and a huge volunteer outpouring of time at the iHub, we were able to manage the inflow of information, mapping and verification.

The Uchaguzi project brought more than 70 volunteers to the iHub August 3rd and 4th (with at least 12 others joining remotely). Volunteers helped map and process over 1400 messages as well as assisted our team of Ushahidi developers fix bugs that popped up during the Uchaguzi deployment. The volunteers met the challenge with incredible enthusiasm, focus, patience, and a spirit of fun! We couldn’t be prouder to have such a wonderful Ushahidi community!

“We” isn’t just the Ushahidi team. Yes, deployments like this do take some time to customize and we did build some new functionality in (than everyone now has access to use), but it’s largely not the technology, it’s the people. The 80+ volunteers, tech and non-tech alike, were amazing and came through in a big way. Not enough can be said about Jessica Heinzelman, Ushahidi intern for this summer, who wrangled all of the volunteers and operations for the situation room.

Media Hits

Fast Company
Christian Science Monitor
Business Daily Africa
UN Dispatch
CNN iReport
All Africa

Web and Mobile Tech Used in Election Monitoring

With the big US election cycle culminating in tomorrow’s election day there has been a lot of talk about monitoring of elections. Usually I see this type of debate taking place in other parts of the world – like Zimbabwe, Kenya and Nigeria. However, this time it’s at home, and while all the focus of the world is here, it makes an interesting time and case-study for the use of technology in monitoring of everything from election fraud, to fairness and accessibility.

This new generation of read/write technology using the web and mobile phones creates a situation where ordinary citizen have both awareness and opportunity to take part in an way that wasn’t possible in such great numbers only a few decades ago.

There are really two components; gathering information and then distributing that information in a way that is useful for two types of users. First, the general public. Second, the officials and/or media who can cause something to happen when a bad situation arises.

Our Vote Live

A list of web and mobile tools to monitor the US elections:

  • MyFairElection – Report your polling station’s
    condition on Election Day. (in partnership with ABC News)
  • TwitterVoteReport – Use twitter, SMS, audio call or an iPhone and Android applications to send in reports on Election Day. (in partnership with NPR)
  • Video Your Vote – Encourages people to video themselves voting and to upload those to YouTube. (in partnership with PBS)
  • VoterSuppression.net – A wiki where users can learn about and enter in reports of voter suppression.
  • Our Vote Live – A site documenting the voter assistance work of the Election Protection Coalition that uses a phone call-in system (866-OUR-VOTE).

(if you have more that I haven’t heard of, add the link to the comments below)

Twitter Vote Report

Cultural shifts and technology norms aren’t global

Ethan Zuckerman is wondering whether Twitter, or even mobile phones and the web, are the right tools for monitoring an election. He brings up the fact that using old-school technology like radio and TV can be even more useful in places like Ghana, and how that differs with the experience in the USA.

I think there are two things going on here.

First, the cultural use of technology is changing. We’re in that strange twilight zone between mediums where the population is split between overlapping islands of web usage, mobile phones, radio, TV and print.

Second, this cultural usage shift is compounded by having a two-tiered pattern of usage in different parts of the world. Ethan is absolutely right that one of the best tools in Africa is still the radio. However, that doesn’t translate to the US, where the country is too large for any one radio station to really hold sway. Many in the US tune into “national” radio personalities and shows, who have no “local” footprint. Calling in with your voting precinct’s flaws from Kooskia, Idaho wouldn’t make sense.

Thus the use of the internet, and mobile phone. We’re at a point where we’re trying to raise awareness, interactivity and reach. What happens when we get mass public awareness of a tool, married with an efficient and useful way to get aggregate data in local communities?

Final Thoughts

One item that isn’t up for debate is this. At this time you need to marry up the coverage and awareness power of traditional media (radio, TV and print) with the simple tools and platforms that use the web and mobile phones correctly to gather and disseminate information. What I find most encouraging is that most of the initiatives listed above are using the new tools and they are partnered with major media organizations that can muscle this out to a national audience.

(Side note: We were asked by a number of people if Ushahidi could be used for this. In short, yes – but the new alpha release of the software wasn’t ready until last week. Too late to play with here.)

Also read the PBS Mediashift article covering these services in greater depth.

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