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

Apps for America: Snapvote

I came across the Sunlight Foundation’s “Apps for America” contest last week, and it reminded me of a side-project that I started that never got off the ground a couple years back. Add in today’s US Presidential inauguration and it was just too much for me not to share this idea. I’m now too busy with Ushahidi to do this, but I think it could be a good candidate for this competition, and I hope someone builds it.


Just over two years ago I was thinking about the upcoming US national elections and of building a web application that would be useful to the general public and which also had some business potential. I sat down and drew out an idea I thought had a lot of merit, and I actually sat down with two really smart people (Meagan Fisher and Jason Hawkins) and we ended up concepting most of the app. However, there was no code laid down, just a lot of background work trying to understand the feasibility, market and data.

It was called SnapVote: A tool for keeping citizens informed about elections in their area

SnapVote: Homepage Mockup

What is SnapVote?

We wanted SnapVote to be the easiest way for Americans to figure out whom to vote for in any political race. The name came from the idea that voters could get a snapshot of politicians, races and platforms before they voted.

We were going to provide a party-agnostic snapshot of who was running for office in each person’s area, voters would be informed in less time and with less hassle than ever before. Every politician who was running for public office would have a default profile on SnapVote, which could be upgraded for a small fee and that would allow the politician to have their own space on the web.

What’s the problem?

  • There’s a lot of noise around election time
  • Most of us are “lazy voters” who don’t really know who to vote for
  • We’re getting told what the issues are
  • Politicians have horrible websites that are hard to find

What’s the solution?

  • Quickly get a snapshot of who is running for office and what they stand for
  • Weigh in on the issues that YOU think are important – users decide
  • Every politician has their own website and can upgrade it for more features
  • Politicians get a snapshot (weekly/monthly) of the issues that are important to their constituents

What does it do?

  • A database of candidates for office at the federal, state and local levels
  • Aggregate user voting determines what issues are important for each constituency
  • Politicians can use Snapvote as their primary communication, fundraising and volunteer platform

The Objective

SnapVote was going to be the primary source of consumer information about politicians. From the President to the local dogcatcher, anyone who ran for public office would be accounted for. It would also serve as the primary website for information on any specific politician and created a website for each one.

SnapVote: Politician's Page

The Opportunity

SnapVote is in a position to be a first-mover in a fairly competitive-free space. 122 million people voted in the 2004 national elections, this is SnapVote’s constituency. Providing an easy-to-use tool that makes even the laziest of voters appear ready for Election Day is the goal. Secondarily, the profile for each politician will cost a fee to be upgraded. That number becomes quite large once you move past US President and Congress and start accounting for governors, mayors, city councils and congressmen for each state’s legislature. Initial income would come from politicians taking charge of their profiles on SnapVote. Other revenue opportunities would include aggregate data reports that could be sold to study groups, businesses and politicians.

SnapVote: Politicians (full)

More ideas

There was a lot more behind SnapVote, including aggregating people’s views on different political issues and politicians themselves. This data could be used to help individuals find politicians they shared the most in common with – especially for local elections. It also would come in handy for politicians, knowing what was being hot (or not) at the grassroots level.

As you can see from the mockup design work, there were also some thoughts around creating ways for politicians to raise donations and money easier, to plug into other social networks, events and getting people involved in their campaigns.

The biggest challenge is gathering the data on politicians running for office in local elections. As I called the different departments and organizations that handle this information around the country, I found that almost every state had a different set of rules for getting that data, and it was in a multitude of formats.