Completure: A Crowdsourcing Tool for Better Elections

Guest Post by Mark Malkoun, CEO & Co-Founder of Completure

Living in Lebanon, a country where most media outlets are politicized, my friend Emile Khattar and I wanted an unbiased and unfiltered way to get the news that was affecting our daily lives. So in early 2012, we started developing Completure, an app that enables citizens to report news as it happens directly from their own communities to the rest of the world.

 

Completure allows users to take photos of an incident, write a caption, and post it for public consumption. The “mini-story”, as we call it, is time-stamped and geo-tagged, so app users can see exactly when and where a story occurred. Other Completure users can then vote up or down the “newsworthiness” of a story through a geographically segmented system, which gives citizens the power to determine what is the “top news” in their community.

To prevent would-be spoilers from spreading misinformation, we developed an automatic verification system that scans photo metadata to determine whether a photo has been doctored (we can proudly say that 99% of the stories on Completure are genuine). To reach the wider audience beyond the Completure app, we also included functionality that enables users to hashtag a story with a keyword and share it via Facebook and Twitter.

Emile and I developed Completure because we wanted a way to receive and share news, but we soon found that others were very interested in – and very supportive of - what we were doing. We obtained seed funding from Berytech, a top venture capital firm in Lebanon; we presented – and won an award - at Arabnet, the biggest tech conference in the Arab world; and our work was featured in Mashable, The Next Web, and Wall Street Journal.

 

In late 2012, I received a phone call from Michael Baldassaro, Middle East & North Africa Program Director at Democracy International (DI). Michael said he was using Completure and thought, with a few minor modifications and the release of an Android version of the app (we had only released an iOS version at that time), it could be a very useful tool for empowering civil society and citizens to promote more credible and transparent elections.

Emile and I were intrigued by Michael’s vision for how Completure could be used to contribute to better elections. I jumped at the opportunity to present Completure at an event that DI was organizing in Tunis in early 2013, aimed at bridging the gap between civil society and technology developers in the Arab world. There I met dozens of inspiring activists dedicated to strengthening democracy, including representatives of two organizations with whom I would soon be partnering: Social Media Exchange (SMEX) and Lamba Labs.

In April 2013, Emile and I began working with SMEX and Lamba Labs on a project to empower citizens to hold election officials, political parties and candidates accountable during the upcoming Lebanon parliamentary elections. DI provided us with a grant to develop an Android version of Completure and an application programming interface (API) so that reports sent via Completure, Facebook and Twitter could be aggregated on a single reporting platform.

 

We worked closely with SMEX, which trained civil society organizations throughout Lebanon to empower citizens to develop community priorities for observation during the elections and crowdsource citizen reports via Completure social media. We worked with Lamba Labs, which developed a dynamic platform for aggregating, curating, and publicizing crowdsourced reports sent via Completure and social media. Unfortunately, the parliamentary elections were postponed in May 2013 and have not yet been rescheduled.

On the positive side, due to the postponement of the elections, were able to modify Completure to integrate Arabic-language functionality, maximizing accessibility for citizens in the region; improve the user interface and experience to streamline app performance; and publish a top-quality Android version of Completure, opening Completure’s doors to hundreds of millions of users worldwide. So, when parliamentary elections are held, we are ready!

For now we look forward for seeing Completure in action across the Middle East and beyond. We would love to see social improvements thanks to our technology. We want people to express themselves, show what’s right or wrong in their communities, and collectively decide what issues are pressing.

And what’s more important than elections? Citizens need to be able to know and share what’s happening in their countries during important events like elections, and that’s particularly true when they cannot rely on the mainstream media.


Nouwweb: Opening Government to Empower Citizens in Lebanon

Guest post by Marc Farra, Director & Co-founder of Lamba Labs and OpenLeb

In March of 2013, Democracy International (DI) and Lamba Labs, Beirut’s local hackerspace, joined forces to work on new tools to aid election observation in Lebanon. Social Media Exchange (SMEX), an organization that advocates for a free and open, diverse and dynamic Arab internet, proposed to work with Lamba Labs to create tools exposing publicly available data related to Lebanese Legislators in a project called Nouwweb.

An important decision that Lamba Labs and SMEX made was to publish all the team’s work under permissive open licenses. As Lebanon’s technology sector is still in its infancy with respect to collaboration and resource sharing, Open Election Technology (see Lebanon Election Data, a DI-supported project we conducted in partnership with the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections [LADE]) would be our model for reproducible research and analysis.

Contact Your Legislator!
Nouwweb organizes and displays information pertaining to the current Lebanese parliament (elected in 2009) including district, sect, party affiliation, phone numbers, email and presence on social media (Twitter and Facebook). The data itself is gathered from multiple websites, but all are publicly available.

screenshot of the website

Nouwweb presents the data in a searchable, user-friendly phone directory format. You can filter by confession, district or party and immediately get results. The purpose of the tool is to allow citizens to communicate their concerns with their elected representatives. If you are a disgruntled citizen, contact your MP!

Dive into the Machine
We really want to have a conversation with developers, journalists and data enthusiasts. One way to engage the community directly is by building an Application Programming Interface (API), an interface that enables one software program application to communicate with another (hence the name). The Nouwweb API is essentially a program that you can query for information. For example, if you (or another application) want to answer the question 'Who are the parliament members of Jbeil t!hat have a twitter account?' all you need to do is access the URL...:

http://api.openleb.io/search?district=Jbeil&twitter=true

...to get the answer:

[
{
"first_name": "Simon",
"first_name_ar": "سيمون",
"last_name": "Abi Ramia",
"last_name_ar": "أبي رميا",
"gender": "Male",
"gender_ar" : "ذكر" ,
"phone": "",
"fax": "",
"mobile": "03-035902",
"email": "",
"district": "Jbeil",
"facebook": "",
"twitter": "https://twitter.com/SimonAbiramia",
"deputies_terms": "2009",
"party": "Free Patriotic Movement",
"party_ar": "التيار الوطني الحر",
"sect": "Maronite",
"born_day": "6",
"born_month": "3",
"born_year": "1965",
"website": "http://www.simonabiramia.com/Home.aspx",
"other_notes": ""
}
]

While not immediately useful to non-programmers, this type of structured data is valuable to developers building their own applications on top of an API. For example, why not build a web application that shows the twitter network of the Lebanese Parliament? Or combine the data with electoral data to visualize the political reach of each parliament member? If you're looking for inspiration, look at the Clear Congress Project or the Sunlight Foundation's Open Congress data.

The Nouwweb website itself queries the API to create the contact list. It uses the structured data as seen above to build filters by which a user can pinpoint the representative he would like to communicate with. This is a simple application of the Nouwweb interface, but the possibilities provided by publishing an open data API are endless! We can't wait to see how developers might use these tools. The code to build the API is also open source and free to view, modify and share and we are always open to contributions.

Importance of Open Election Technology
Open Election Technology uses open data (i.e, data with permissive use licenses) to disrupt and improve society by disseminating data that can be used for technological innovation, supporting efficiency in election observation efforts, promoting data-driven decision-making, and measuring progress.

Useful data in Lebanon is marked by its scarcity and/or lack of permissive usage licenses. In our talks with entities in the private sector, we find that public domain data whose rights rightfully belong to citizens is usually obtained through less than legal means. It is often resold for profit, and in some cases, back to the government. Entire businesses are built on top of concealed data. If these datasets were rendered public, it would prove a boon to innovation in the private sector and stimulate widespread economic growth.

Published data is important for accountability of public officials. By being opaque about its performance over the years, the government effectively disarms the general public from the tools needed to make a decision at election time. The lack of transparency in government reporting of the news has led journalistic integrity to be disregarded on an almost daily basis, as the media devolves into purely speculative articles. Without accurate open data, organisations attempting to tackle underlying civic problems are practically handicapped.

There is a real need for open data in Lebanon published from government bodies, NGOs as well as private entities. Lamba Labs and SMEX was able to scrape sites for information about the parliament. The alternative would have been for the Lebanese government to provide this information to citizens directly - which would be ideal.

Moving Forward
Lamba Labs and SMEX jointly established OpenLeb as a loose umbrella initiative for open data projects. Members can communicate via the mailing list and contribute to 'data challenges', answering problems in civic society through data. In turn, the team is hopeful that this initiative will spur innovation and be a model for data developers and data projects in Lebanon.

Join us and contribute to a growing open data community!


Mapping Mourakiboun's Parallel Vote Tabulation Simulation

The Mourakiboun network, in a first step to prepare for its observation mission of Tunisia’s upcoming legislative and presidential elections, conducted a Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) simulation on June 15, 2014. This simulation is a proving ground for what will be Mourakiboun’s first PVT (supported by the National Democratic Institute), offering independent verification of election results based on a representative sample of polling centers across Tunisia.

On June 15th, Mourakiboun’s 640 volunteers deployed in all 264 delegations and covered 520 polling centers - about 10 percent of Tunisia’s centers The selection of these centers was made possible by Mourakiboun’s innovative polling center mapping project, an ongoing effort to geolocate Tunisia’s 4,800+ centers. With over 85 percent of the centers mapped, volunteers were able to travel to geolocated polling centers in both rural and urban areas for a more realistic simulation of the upcoming E-days.

Volunteers sent SMSs to Mourakiboun’s operation room that included a code for each geolocated polling center. This allowed Mourakiboun not only to receive real time data, but also to know the source and exact coordinates of each observer, adding accuracy and transparency to the eventual observation mission’s findings.

The dynamic polling center map is useful not only for the PVT but a range of purposes, including:

• Providing election officials with a valuable tool to help them allocate human and financial resources more efficiently in administering future elections;

• Offering political parties, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders with a resource to facilitate strategic planning and outreach efforts; and

• Facilitating the visualization of data from the polling center level to promote greater transparency, accountability, and understanding of the electoral process.

A complete dynamic map that has the GPS data collected for all 4,833 polling centers used during the 2011 National Constituent Assembly elections will be displayed on Tunisia Election Data website within the next month and it will be available for the public to use and repurpose, as is all the data on the platform.


Lebanon's elections on the map

The Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE) has launched Lebanese Elections Data, the country’s first open data platform that uses open source tools to map elections results. The platform visualizes voter registration and turnout data from 2005 to the most recent voter register of 2014, and the information can be directly downloaded from the platform for any user to review and repurpose. All of the data is sourced from the public domain - originally published by the Ministry of the Interior and Municipalities (MoIM), the Directorate General of Personal Services (DGPS), and www.elections.gov.lb.

The project, supported by Democracy International (DI), aims to create visualizations that foster evidence-based discussions and data-driven debate on election laws, policies, and reforms. The four initial maps correlate to LADE’s proposed electoral reforms: the voter registration and turnout map with a gender breakdown to advocate for greater women’s quota in parliament; the invalid ballots map to demonstrate the importance of a pre-printed ballot; the discrepancies between electoral districts’ eligible voters and their representation in parliament to encourage a proportional representation system; and a map of registered voters by confession to visualize the changing amount and distribution of each sect since 2005.

For example, the platform’s Voters by Gender map shows that, in more than 75 percent of Lebanon’s electoral districts, more women than men turned out to vote in the 2009 parliamentary elections. In more than half of these districts dominated by women voters, they outnumbered men at the polls by 5 to 10 percent. In 6 of the 26 districts where more men voted than women, it was by an average of only 1.3 percent. This map illustrates that women constitute more than half of the voters in over 75 percent of Lebanon’s 2009 elections, and yet women have 2 percent representation in parliament.

Within the last two weeks, the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities (MoIM) made great strides in their own efforts to provide better access to election-related information. For the first time, the government’s official elections website offers an interactive map using open source mapping software for the public to explore voter registration totals per district for 2013 and 2014. In addition, users can download the results in an excel file and an infographic of the both registers’ gender breakdown. This is a significant step forward for the MoIM, for Lebanon’s nascent open data movement, and citizens’ access to critical election-related information.

The election data platform’s first four maps will be followed by visualizations of Lebanon’s next parliamentary elections, and possibly maps of proposed changes to Lebanon’s electoral law. Read more about LADE’s June 12th launch of the platform, and about Lebanon’s new open data movement for elections results.


Parliament for the People: Lebanon's first open data directory of legislators

On May 31st, Lamba Labs and SMEX - both leaders in Lebanon’s digital advocacy community - launched an open data tool that provides public information about Lebanon’s members of parliament. The tool Nouwweb*, made possible with support from Democracy International, is a directory for all 128 Lebanese legislators that users can sort according to each deputy’s district, religious sect, political party, official phone numbers (where available), and social media accounts. As SMEX says, “the tool aims to encourage more frequent and open exchange between MPs and the people they represent.”

But Nouwweb is more than a public directory or an opportunity to contact representatives; because it is an open API (application programming interface), Nouwweb serves as a foundation for web developers and other tech-savvy users to create visualizations that further explain the workings of parliament. SMEX hopes that “ultimately, civil society representatives, bloggers, journalists, developers, students and educators like you will use these tools and data to support your own initiatives.” As the Sunlight Foundation demonstrates, via a similar API for US Congress data, interactive displays can reveal a range of interesting facts and correlations about representatives – using age, net worth, education, gender and more. While an API’s selection of data relies on what information is publicly accessible (all of Nouwweb is collected from publicly available sources), this provides an incentive for Nouwweb’s users to grow its database so that future visualizations and locally grown initiatives are possible.

 

And that’s where community comes in. The launch of Nouwweb coincides with the start of OpenLeb, a portal where developers and tech enthusiasts can share and collaborate on open data projects. The content and outcomes of OpenLeb depend on the people who use it; to get started and learn more, join the OpenLeb Google Group and keep an eye out for SMEX’s upcoming open data challenges - an opportunity to build community around the benefits of open data in Lebanon.

For more about open data in Lebanon, see SMEX’s Nouwweb announcement and follow #openLeb on Twitter.

*"Nouwweb" is a creative play on words, a combination of the Arabic “nuweb” for parliamentarians and the ubiquitous web.


Introducing Tunisia's first open data platform for elections

Written by Kate Cummings and Rim Othman

On May 22nd, the observation network Mourakiboun launched Tunisia Election Data, an initiative to collect, open, visualize, and analyze election-related data on an ongoing basis. The project, supported by Democracy International (DI), aims to provide election stakeholders with comprehensive information about the electoral process that enables them to make informed decisions that lead to better outcomes for Tunisia’s upcoming elections.

More than 70 people from the media, civil society organizations and election observation missions attended Mourakiboun’s press conference for the launch, including the President of the Independent Higher Authority for Elections (ISIE), Dr. Chafik Sarsar. In his remarks, Dr. Sarsar recognized Mourakiboun’s work as “serious, intelligent and helpful”, noting that the platform’s visualizations will be invaluable resources for the ISIE throughout the electoral process.

The platform currently hosts 12 visualizations based on 2011 elections data with more to come for the 2014 elections, as well as a charts section that allows the user to select different 2011 elections results to compare with one another or with socio-economic data such as illiteracy and unemployment rates. All data visualized on the platform may be downloaded directly from the site for any user to repurpose, and the tools used to create the platform are open source.

During and after the 2014 electoral process, as new datasets become available they will be visualized on the election data browser to illustrate longitudinal changes and trends. One of the visualizations that will soon be added to the platform is Tunisia’s first comprehensive polling center map, another Mourakiboun and DI collaboration highlighted during the launch. Using a volunteer network spread across Tunisia, Mourakiboun is mapping all 4,800+ centers using tablets and offline mapping applications (see more about this project here); more than 80 percent of the centers have now been geolocated, and Mourakiboun plans to complete the map by May 30, when it will be given to the Ministry of Education (nearly all of the polling centers are schools) and the ISIE for their election preparations, and soon after publicly available on the platform.

More about the platform

Mourakiboun’s General Coordinator, Rafik Halouani, summarized the Tunisia Election Data platform as “an interactive, technological means to assist voters…and contribute to the success of the elections from a logistical and organizational point of view.” Mourakiboun aims to make the platform an integral tool for election stakeholders by:

  1. Creating a centralized hub of election-related data, maps, and analysis that facilitate data-driven decision-making to improve the electoral process;
  2. Presenting information in a highly accessible way so that stakeholders can measure progress and identify trends from one election cycle to the next; and
  3. Providing a meaningful lens through which electoral developments or election observation findings can be contextualized and understood.

Tunisia Election Data builds on a project initiated by the OpenGovTN community following the 2011 NCA elections. OpenGovTN volunteers wanted to “liberate” data that was published in protected formats on the website of the Instance Superieure Independante pour les Elections (ISIE); by April 2012, volunteers had “scraped” and “liberated” a deep reservoir of election data at multiple levels – district, delegation, polling center, and polling station – and archived the data online for public use.

The 2011 election data opened by OpenGovTN serves the cornerstone of Tunisia Election Data, and with Development Seed's technical support the initial platform was created. The election data browser is essentially comprised of two main components: a landing page that showcases the mapping visualizations on the site, and content pages with mapping visualizations or charts & corresponding analysis. Non-election but contextually useful datasets, such as socio-economic census data, has been added to the charts section for interactive comparison with election results.

All maps on Tunisia Election Data have been rendered using open-source software. All raw datasets displayed in the browser can be accessed via the online repository or directly downloaded from the website. Users are encouraged to repurpose the data, and share their own election-related data with the platform. When data is received and its accuracy verified, the Mourakiboun team will then create a visualization that appears on the browser with attribution to the contributing organization and the data will be available for public use.



Visualizing Women's Political Participation during Tunisia's 2011 Elections

Translated by Rim Othman

In the coming weeks, Tunisia's National Constituent Assembly will be voting on a new electoral law that will govern the country's upcoming elections. These visualizations offer a look back at women's political participation in the country's last elections, including the progress and limitations regarding women in politics and the 2011 electoral law.

During Tunisia’s unprecedented revolution in 2011, women were at the heart of the nation’s demand for change. Participating in demonstrations and advocating for equal opportunities, women turned out in large numbers as voters and some as candidates in the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) elections, encouraged by the new electoral law that required a nomination quota to ensure gender parity on candidate lists.1

 

During the 2011 elections, women comprised 46 percent of actively registered voters, and 48 percent of all candidates on running lists. Though there were nearly equal numbers of men and women running for political office, women now hold only a quarter of the seats (27 percent) in the NCA. While this percentage is higher than the world average (19 percent in 2011), it is lower than the 28 percent of women in parliament before the revolution.2

In the 2011 elections, many female candidates missed the opportunity to represent their constituencies because of how the nomination quota was applied. Decree law 35, article 16, states that 50 percent of each candidate list must be women, 50 percent men, and these candidates should alternate throughout the list (known as the “zipper” method). The law did not mandate that women candidates be placed atop the list.3

Only 128 out of 1,518 lists (7 percent) were headed by female candidates. Because most parties only won a single seat in different constituencies, and women were often second, fourth, sixth and/or eighth on lists, most of the elected were men. Most political parties had just two to four lists with women at the top, an exception being the Democratic Modernist Coalition (PDM) that applied a vertical and horizontal parity with 16 women and 17 men as head of the lists in all 33 constituencies.4

 

Only the Ennahdha party won several seats in multiple constituencies, which allowed 40 of its female candidates – more than any other party – to win NCA seats. Ben Arous was the only electoral district where the parity required in candidate lists was evident in the results, with 5 out of 10 seats won by female candidates. The challenges were more formidable for women in the interior regions of the country. For example, in the districts of Jendouba, Kairouan, Sidi Bouzid, and Kebeli, there were no lists headed by female candidates.

Recognizing the integral role youth played during the revolution, the new electoral law required all lists to include at least one person under 30 years of age. Thirteen of the 75 heads of lists under 30 were women, in other words about 17 percent. This age group had a greater percentage of female heads of lists than any other age group, highlighting that there is an interest particularly among young women to seek political office.5

Since gaining independence in 1956, Tunisia has long been a leader among Arab countries in progressive women’s rights laws, however despite these provisions and the recent revolutionary shift, there remains a gap between legislation and reality for many Tunisian women seeking greater political participation. Nomination quotas – as opposed to representation quotas - do not necessarily ensure representation in a closed-list proportional system. "There is the obligation of getting results," said Nejib Chebbi, the founder of the Progressive Democratic Party. "Parity is one thing, but the reality is another.”6

As the political transition continues, women play an active role in civil society and in the NCA, where in January 2014 a new constitution was adopted recognizing equal rights for men and women. As the NCA finalizes a new electoral law in the coming weeks, the 2011 election results offer lessons on how to further increase women’s participation in the next government, recognizing the vital role women have played in Tunisia’s transition to democracy.

Please see the infographic below for additional visualizations of women's political participation in Tunisia.

 


Press Release: Mourakiboun progresses with polling center map

The following statement from Mourakiboun's press conference on March 22nd, 2014, marks the geolocation of 25 percent of Tunisia's polling centers, with the remainder to be mapped by late May.

 

Mourakiboun has mobilized its nationwide network of volunteers to map all 4,800+ polling centers that were used in the 2011 National Constituent Assembly elections.  The goal of the project is to generate a dynamic map for a range of purposes:

  • Provide the Instance Supérieure Indépendente pour les Elections(ISIE) with a valuable tool in order to:
    • Visualize the polling centers, such as the distance between different population centers
    • Organize logistics for election day
    • Allocate resources and staff such as the poll workers
  • Offer civil society organizations and other stakeholders’ geospatially visualized data that will facilitate coordination and strategic deployment to avoid multiple observers in the same polling center while other centers remain uncovered.
  • Facilitate data visualization at the polling center level to promote greater transparency, accountability, and understanding of the electoral process.

Mourakiboun’s mapping project received partial financial support from the Foundation for the Future (FFF) and technical assistance from Democracy International (DI).

Mourakiboun’s mapping project has three phases, two of which are complete.  During the first phase, Mourakiboun recruited and trained volunteers to locate polling centers using the online mapping platform, Wikimapia.  Volunteers were provided with lists of polling centers and tasked with obtaining GPS coordinates for as many centers as possible via this online platform.

During the second phase, Mourakiboun tapped into its nationwide grassroots network to map three delegations per governorate. Mourakiboun oversees currently a team of 100 volunteers across the country who are geolocating the polling centers and recording the GPS coordinates using tablets provided by DI with MapsWithMe Pro, a GPS-enabled smartphone application. This second phase enabled the geolocation of 1,220 polling stations to-date, representing 25% of all polling centers.

In the third phase, the remaining 75% of polling centers will be completed by the end of May.

After completing the mapping project, Mourakiboun will upload the verified GPS data collected for all 4,836 polling centers to the online open data platform, Tunisia Election Data, that Mourakiboun oversees with DI support.  The complete polling center map will be displayed on the platform as an interactive visualization, available to the public, with the option to download the raw data. Everyone from the ISIE to CSOs to international observers will be able to use the polling center map for their own purposes, and it will serve as a foundational map for future elections’ data at the most local level.

The creation of this map highlights access to information as a cornerstone of both democracy and human rights.  Access to information is a necessary precondition for citizens to participate in electoral processes and to hold decision-makers accountable.  Tunisia has already committed to upholding the principle of the right to information through its constitution; this polling center map builds on Tunisia’s commitment to transparency and encourages equal access to information in order for Tunisia’s electoral process to be as free and fair as possible.


The Jomaa Meter – keeping track of Tunisia’s interim government

Tunisia’s new interim government, led by caretaker Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa, was sworn in on January 29, 2014. His appointment and subsequent nomination of a new government has underscored the recent consensus in what was previously a divided and stalled national dialogue. Tunisia’s three-year democratic transition is now nearing definitive elections and has the guidance of a new constitution.

Amid these changes, I WATCH, a Tunisian civil society organization committed to fighting corruption and promoting transparency, created the Jomaa Meter to track the caretaker PM’s promises and follow-through. Since taking office, Jomaa has announced 32 promises covering three main themes - economy, security and elections - that the Jomaa Meter lists in terms of Achieved, In Progress, and Not Achieved. Via the website, Tunisians can monitor the new government’s performance regarding preparations for presidential and parliamentary elections, national security - including the investigation into Belaid and Brahmi’s assassinations - as well as economic stability and growth.

I WATCH was inspired by the Egyptian Morsi Meter, created by Abbas Adel Ibrahim to monitor President Morsi’s commitments during his first 100 days ioffice. Ibrahim collaborated with I WATCH to create the Jomaa Meter, and it has already gone viral before the website’s official launch. While some promises listed on the site are general, such as “fight poverty” and “fight the deterioration of the financial situation”, others such as “review contracts for natural resources” can be more specifically tracked in the media’s coverage of the caretaker government.

During I WATCH’s press conference, held on February 6 to officially launch the website, I WATCH’s co-founder Mouheb Garoui recognized that some of the promises were vaguely worded but that the platform would track exactly what Jomaa has stated in order to accurately portray his commitments. I WATCH will track the government’s progress by communicating directly with the presidency of the government office for official and updated information. If it is not possible to procure progress updates from the government, I WATCH will consult with trusted media sources and civil society organizations. Stay tuned for the Jomaa Meter’s account of this interim government’s path to Tunisia’s long-awaited democratic elections.


Local mappers geolocate Tunisia’s polling centers

In late December, DI-MENA’s local partner Mourakiboun deployed coordinators from each of the 22 governorates outside of greater Tunis to map sample delegations in their area. The exercise was a test-run for the new mappers based on DI-MENA’s mapping pilot in four distinct regions of Tunisia, and offered Mourakiboun a better understanding of the true costs and timing for the larger field-mapping phase to begin in early 2014. The 22 coordinators (20 men and 2 women) were given a training on how to use the tablets and the MapsWithMe Pro application before returning to their delegations to map.

 

Each mapper chose two delegations, one that was mostly rural and another urban to get a sense of the challenges in different environments.  Back in their home governorates, each mapper recruited a volunteer from these two delegations to assist; the volunteers’ participation saved significant time as they often knew the location of every school. While some mappers drove themselves, most found it more efficient to hire local transport familiar with the delegation. On December 27th, mappers reconvened to recount their experiences. During their 2-3 days of mapping, they geolocated more than 600 schools in 40 delegations, spending an average of 4-5 hours a day on the road. The mappers’ GPS coordinates were submitted remotely as a KML file to a verification team made up of Mourakiboun and DI staff, who confirmed the locations using online satellite imagery and created a Google Fusion Table of all the schools.

Mappers faced different challenges depending on their location.In the northwest, bad road conditions and mountains forced several mappers to walk far from the road to reach some rural schools. In the south, roads were better but mappers had greater distances to cover. Procuring local transport and at a good price was another challenge. Some local taxi drivers refused to take the job because of the long distances between schools, and those who did agree charged higher prices than expected (many more than 100 Tunisian dinars for the day – about $60). Safety was a concern in some delegations close to the national borders; one mapper brought several friends to minimize the risk of being targeted by militia. Another mapper found it difficult to map a handful of schools located beyond a border checkpoint but still within Tunisia; to cross the checkpoint, he was required to stamp his passport and pay a high fee.

The primary lesson from this mapping pilot was that local knowledge is the key to ensure efficiency and rapidity in geolocating polling centers. Finding someone from the delegation to support the mapper is crucial, since the lead mapper may lack an integral knowledge of certain delegations. Local knowledge and efficiency with local transport is just as important, and a high cost to consider. Taxis may further reluctant to make long trips over the next couple months in Tunisia’s northwestern governorates, where snowfall and heavy rain often wash out bridges and roads.

Stay tuned for the launch of the nationwide field-mapping phase, where these coordinators will spend three weeks traveling their governorates to add the final schools to Tunisia’s first polling station map.