how to:How to Crowdsource Election Observation Using Ushahidi
You can encourage citizens to share reports from their community about voting crimes, and map these crimes using Ushahidi. In order to be most successful, create a strategy to support your platform even before you set it up. Here are some pointers to help you do this. If you follow all these steps, you'll hopefully be able to not only document election crimes that can be tried in a court but also create a community of more activated, civically engaged citizens.
Make a timeline. How long do you have until the election in question? 2 years? 4 years? The longer the better, but no matter what your time frame, plan ahead. Include on your timeline:
-Goals you will want to have accomplished by different marker points leading up to the election (see step 2)
-Different audiences to reach out to and when this should have been done by (see step 3)
You want to drive as many information reports as possible to your platform, but for what purpose? Decide on your primary goal, and consider putting that aim front and center on your site, for example in an “about” box.
Identify the audience, or audiences, that you will be targeting. This is important in order to know the best mediums for reaching this audience and letting them know about the platform and how to use it.
Here are some different audiences you should be sure to identify and connect with:
1. Community Partners (see steps 4 and 5)
2. Crowd (see step 6)
3. Volunteers (see step 7)
Figure out who your allies are. Write out every other group you can think of that supports, and will want to devote resources to, more free and fair elections in your country. This will include established NGOs and civil society organizations that may lack your team's technical expertise and contacts about younger activists, but that have established processes in place for monitoring elections. You build your own strategy on top of and alongside these established processes.
Identifying and reaching out to existing projects and activists will also help with promotion and longer term sustainability of your project, including making sure the information collected is acted upon and the network created can be used in ensuing elections or other events.
Reach out to everyone on your list. Consider inviting them to an informal gathering. In your first meeting with these groups, decide on the nature of your collaboration - are you going to create an alliance that drives all reports to the same platform, or will it be enough to make sure you are sharing information with each other about your efforts? Are you including voter registration drives as part of your campaign? Do you want reports to begin to come in before voting begins on election related offenses (for example, evidence of vote buying), and if so how long before? How will you know if your outreach efforts to spread the word about the platform are successful or not?
When meeting with community partners, you can emphasize that the same campaign can have multiple goals. It can go beyond crowdsourcing electoral observation and make an impact on their primary issue area, whether it’s voter education, voter registration drives, civic engagement or anti corruption. Consider make advocates for these issues the managers of their own sub campaigns, with unique goals.
Where are the biggest populations of people from your country living abroad and who can you connect with within them? If you are not a native of the country that you are setting up the project in, first make sure that there is a very good reason for this (are you sure no one that is from the country and living there can lead the charge?) and begin connecting as soon as possible with allies on the ground who have relationships with citizens, activists an NGOs. In this case, it is all the more important to identify and reach out to the diaspora.
You’ve got to get word out to as many citizens as possible. Here are some ideas
- flyers, events, design that will excite your audience
- get media attention, for example by throwing an offline concert or contest that gathers lots of young people in one place. Harness the megaphone you get from people wanting to cover that event in order to spread word. Also target online influencers who also have big audiences online, for example on Twitter.
Attracting volunteers ties into your overall outreach and publicity plan. Make your initial team available to people who find out about your project and are interested. Once you begin to have a few people as you how you they can help, you will want to want to draw up different roles for participants and use them to delegate responsibility, starting with the core group. For example:
Verification Team (or strategy if you are modifying the Ushahidi platform to include automatic verifications of incoming reports)
Make it as easy as possible for partners and volunteers to collaborate. Set up platforms for collaboration. Ideas:
A public skype chat
a google group
an fb group
a twitter handle and hashtag
Remember how you drew up a timeline with your goals? Make sure that timeline is in as many places as possible - at the top of the Facebook group, the Google group, etc.
You may want to make two of these groups, one for the public at large and one for your core team. Be clear about who’s in each.
Mobiles - SMS - Do you want to get a cell number using Frontline SMS or Clickatell, get a short code, or both? SMS is recommended, but be aware that you will have to find a way to map these text message reports yourselves, unless you can ask the telephone company that gave you the short code if they have the data. Your decision here should take into account how cooperative you think telephone companies will be, including whether or not you have already begun a dialogue with them.
Email/Twitter/Other social networks - Make sure to get all necessary information when intaking reports from these platforms. Consider creating a web form to link people to on social networks which asks for everything you need : detailed location information, category and multimedia.
Media Reports and Journalists - Comb the news for reports (Hint, you can assign this job to a group of volunteers) .
Verification team and strategy. You may want to have a verification team on site that is able to receive alerts from the platform on events happening around their polling stations to be able to verify what is going on. Even better, ask a local partner organization (remember steps 4 and 5!) or local journalists to do this. You will also have to decide if all incoming reports have to be monitored, or just those from untrusted sources. In Mexico, the Cuidemos el Voto platform decided to modify Ushahidi slightly so that incoming reports from whitelisted people, for example Non Governmental election monitoring organizations, showed up automatically. If this is something you would like to do then get in touch with Cuidemos el Voto's Oscar Salazar.
Closing the loop of information. How will you show people who provided information that you received it? Make sure you have a system in place to tell reporters that the info they’ve provided has been received and that you will attempt to act on it.
How will you act on it? How can digital documentation be used in your country’s court rooms? Make sure to preserve the documentation of election fraud that your platform has received so that it can serve to hold the perpetrators accountable.