A two-day regional conference in Jordan, hosted by NDI, brought together civic leaders from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, West Bank/Gaza and Yemen to discuss innovative uses of information technology in election monitoring.
The conference, held at the Dead Sea in early December, gave participants the chance to examine technologies used by NDI and its partners in recent elections in Albania, Angola, Lesotho, Madagascar and Sierra Leone. Among the tools demonstrated: custom mobile-phone text messaging to help field observers collect and submit election data, optical scanners to speed the processing of observer forms, and mapping and graphing systems for analysis of observation data.
The participants also presented some of their own pioneering work in using technology, such as text-message election reporting, a web portal developed in Bahrain, a web-based election simulator from Lebanon that incorporates geographic information systems (GIS) to map political data across the country, and a comprehensive plan for text-message reporting of election monitoring forms in Jordan.
The conference also featured roundtable discussions about ways to use technology in election reporting and the challenges organizations face in their monitoring missions.
On the conference’s second day, a representative of MobileActive, a U.S.-based organization focused on the use of mobile phones in politics and civil society, made a presentation on the use of text messages for advocacy as well as dissemination of information among citizens. At a later session, a member of NDI’s technology team talked about observation tools, forms and checklists – and underscored the importance of making technology easy for election observers to use.
NDI staff also provided one-on-one consultations with organizations in attendance to discuss how they could use knowledge gained at the conference in future plans. In addition, conference participants discussed Aswat, an online forum and resource center. The site, established by NDI, fosters conversation about politics and reform in the Arabic-speaking world.
The conference provided “a great opportunity to learn more about new technology tools that have been proven effective in election monitoring,” said Abbas Busafwan of Bahrain. “We also learned about other resources that can contribute to political reform in the region such as the web portal Aswat. I believe this initiative has great potential, due to the fact that it opens a space for activists to join efforts and voice their opinions and share their experiences.”
Another attendee, Nabil Hassan of Lebanon, said his group hopes, through Aswat, “to be able to remain in contact with other NGOs in the region and exchange experiences to improve the application of modern technology and networking.” He added, “I was excited to be introduced to various techniques such as data entry, web forms, form scanning and other reporting tools, and SMS text messaging. We are hoping that we can adopt this technology to monitor elections in Lebanon.”
Published on January 24, 2008