Formhub: Cloud Data Collection and Analysis Toolkit

A presentation by Matt Berg, Director of Modi Research Group's Africa Lab on how Formhub can be used to collect data through customised surveys, to be analysed and visualized.

Project Rakeeb SMS Reporting System

A presentation by Ahmed Kassem, Managing Director of Advanced Computer Systems (ACS) in Egypt, on the SMS reporting system that was used by Project Rakeeb during the 2011-12 parliamentary elections.

Mapbox as a Data Visualization Tool

A presentation by Eric Gundersen, Founder and President of Development Seed, on how Mapbox can be used to convert large amounts of complex data into simple and elegant maps that tell stories.

Freedom Fone to collect and disseminate information via mobile phone

A presentation by Brenda Burrell, Technical Director of Freedom Fone, on how Freedom Fone can be used as a tool for receiving and dissemination election-related information using interactive voice response (IVR), short message service (SMS) and voicemail.

The Future of Technology in Election Observation

A keynote presentation by Ian Schuler, Founder of New Rights Group (NRG), on how the application of new information and communications technologies will facilitate greater citizen participation in election observation.

Citivox as an Election Observation or Crowdsourcing Platform

Watch Jorge Soto, Co-Founder of Citivox, on how the Citivox platform can be used to collect, manage, analyze and visualize election observation and crowdsourcing data.

A presentation by Jorge Soto, Co-Founder of Citivox, on how the Citivox platform can be used to collect, manage, analyze and visualize election observation and crowdsourcing data.

To watch other presentations from the FW: Elections Un/Conference please click here or visit ourYouTube channel.

To find other presentations from the un/conference, please visit our Speaker Deck.

FW: Tunisia ElecTech Un/Conference Agenda - March 4-5 2013

FW: Tunisia ElecTech Un/Conference

March 4-5, 2013

Golden Tulip Mechtel

Tunis, Tunisia

March 4

8:30        Participant Registration

9:00        Opening Remarks – Welcome to the FW: Network

Michael Baldassaro, Project Director, Democracy International (DI)

9:15        Keynote Speech – The Future of Technology in Elections

               Ian Schuler, Executive Director, New Rights Group (NRG)

9:45        Panel Discussion onElection Observation & Applied Technology

A moderated discussion with election observation group leaders from Lebanon and Tunisia about their experience; the challenges they face in implementing observation activities; how they currently use technology in their work; and the opportunities they see for using technology during the upcoming elections.

Moderator:         Abbas Abouzeid, Electoral Expert

Panelists:            Omar Abdel Samad, Board Member,LADE

Said Issa, Director, Lebanese Transparency Association

Moez Bouraoui, Executive Director, ATIDE

Lilia Rebai, Co-Founder, ATIDE

Rafik Halouani, Executive Director, Mourakiboun

11:15     Coffee / Tea

11:30     ElecTech Talks

A series of brief (five to 10 minute) talks by regional and international technology experts on different approaches to be considered and/or tools that could be used to improve data collection, analysis, and visualization. 

Mapbox(Data Mapping Visualization Tool)

Eric Gundersen, President, Development Seed

Formhub(Cloud-based Data Collection / Visualization Toolkit)

Matt Berg, Lead Developer, Formhub

Freedom Fone (Interactive Voice Response Data Collection Tool)

Brenda Burrell, Technical Director, FreedomFone

Completure(Smartphone Reporting App)

Mark Malkoun, CEO, Completure

Citivox (Observation / Crowdsourcing Platform)

Jorge Soto,Co-Founder, Citivox

WebRadar (Digital Media Monitoring Tool)

JazemHalioui, CEO, WebRadar

12:30     Lunch

13:30     Presentations on Applied Technology in Election Observation &

Innovative Approaches to Electoral Oversight

Ahmed Kassem, CEO, Advanced Computer Systems

A presentation and demonstration of the Project Rakeeb SMS reporting system used in the 2011-12 Egyptian elections

Leila Dal Santo, Project Manager, Souktel

Presentation on SMS/IVR reporting systems for elections in Libya (2012) and Tunisia (2011)

Jorge Soto, Co-Founder, Citivox

Presentation on how the Cuidemos El Voto Crowdsourcing Platform has used as a crowdsourcing-observation platform in Mexico elections

Eric Gundersen, President, Development Seed

Presentation on how the Afghanistan Elections Data open data portal was developed and is evolving as a resource providing electoral oversight

15:30     Coffee / Tea–Into Unconferencing Breakout Sessions


Unconferencing breakout sessions will be based on the interests of participants.   Participants may request regional and international experts to discuss a concept or tool presented in greater depth either in a small group session or in a one-on-one consultation.  Participants may also propose a project that they are interested in discussing - and possibly collaborating on - with other interested participants. 

17:30   Schedule Meetings w/International and Regional Experts on March 5


March 5


Meetings Upon Request @ Golden Tulip “Ruby” & “Coral” Rooms

Participants who wish to discuss a concept, tool, or project in greater depth may request the time of an international regional expert(s).  Participants interested in collaborating on a project may use the time to develop proposals with expert consultation for consideration by DI.  At the Un/Conference, DI will issue a call for proposals from participants who wish to partner on a project for the 2013 elections. 


Proposals eligible for consideration must include a plan to:develop, adapt, and/or apply a new or existing technological tool to address a problem faced by an election observation group; or develop, adapt, and/or apply a new or innovative approach using technology to promote greater electoral oversight and accountability    Participants will be requested to submit proposals within two weeks of the event and awards of up to 15,000 USD each may be issued for winning proposals.

FW: {FORWARD} TUNISIA ElecTech Un/conference Tunis, Tunisia March 4, 2013

The Challenge

As election observation has evolved into a normative practice, familiar technology– mobile phones, databases, etc. - has been adapted and applied to facilitate the collection, management, and analysis of observation data.  As new technologies emerge there exists ongoing opportunities for observation groups to use new tools simplify data collection, improve the verification of findings, and more rapidly visualize and analyze data.Most observation groups are keen to apply new technologies, but lack the time or capacity to keep up with the latest technologies.

Technology experts canplay a key role in strengthening observation efforts through the development or adaptation of new tools.  While many technologists may be willing and able to play such a role, few understand election observation or how to support observation efforts.  There is a need to bridge the gap between observation groupsand technologists who may be interested in supporting their efforts.  Collaboration between observation groups and technologists could be of mutual benefit while serving a greater common good of strengthening the electoral process.

The Opportunity

On March 4, 2013, Democracy International (DI)will be sponsoring the first event of the FW {Forward}: Network: FW: Tunisia ElecTech Un/Conference.With elections due to take place in Lebanon and Tunisia in 2013, the event would bring together election observation groups and technologists from both countries to:

  • Learn from international and regional experts aboutdifferent observation approaches and new tools that could be adapted and applied by Lebanese and Tunisian election observation groups during the upcoming elections; and
  • Identify possible areas for collaboration on innovative pilot projects during the upcoming elections that apply new approaches or technology tools.

At the FW: Tunisia ElecTech Un/Conference, DI will issue a call for proposals fromparticipants who wish to partner on a project for the 2013 elections.  Proposals that would be eligible for consideration would need to include a specific plan to:

  • Develop, adapt, and/or apply a new or existing technological tool to address a problem faced by an election observation group


  • Develop, adapt, and/or apply a new or innovative approach using technology to promote greater electoral oversight and accountability

Participants will be requested to submit proposals within two weeks of the eventand awards of up to15,000 USD each may be issued for winning proposals.

The Event

The FW: Tunisia ElecTech Un/Conference will feature:

  • Panel discussion with observation group leaders about their work, challenges, use of technology, and how they would like to use technology;
  • ElecTech Talks by international and regional technology expertson approaches and tools that could be applied toobservation efforts;
  • Presentations by international and regional practitioners that highlight the practical application of different approaches and tools; and
  • Unconferencing discussions to enable election observation groups and technologists to identify areas for possible collaboration.

Confirmed international and regional technology experts include:


A keynote speech on the future of technology in elections will be given by:


  • Ian Schuler, Executive Director, New Rights Group (USA), globally recognized expert in applying technology inelection observation efforts and a pioneer in the field of SMS reporting systems.


The Network

Launched in January 2013, the FW: Networkis intended to be an informal, web-based, community of election experts,civic activists, technologists, academics, and citizens to come together around the common goal of safeguarding elections.  The aim of the FW: Network is to provide a space for activists who want to:

  • Learn new approaches for promoting credible and transparent elections
  • Build tools and develop technologies that enhance electoral oversight
  • Share techniques on how to improve citizen participation around elections

FW: is an initiative of Democracy International, a non-governmental organization that has worked in over 60 countries to promote democracy and good governance.

To join or learn more about the FW: network visit:

Using Smartphone& Tablet Applications for Data Collection

Smartphone and tablets have improved our ability to communicate with one another and connect to the world.  From a handheld device, we can surf the internet, check emails, download (and upload) videos, use social media, play games, and share photos with friends.

What makes a Smartphone “smart” is the use of software applications or“apps”. An app is a form of computer software that can be downloaded to your Smartphone or tablet from an online server, i.e. from the internet, or an offline server, i.e. from an intranet or a host computer.  Games, webmail services, and social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, are among the more common apps that are downloaded and run on smartphones or tablets.[1]

In recent years, dedicated apps have been developed and piloted for election observation and crowdsourcing data collection purposes.  For Egypt’s 2012 presidential election, the Carter Center (TCC) created a reporting app for election observers to transmit findings. In Russia, the internet search engine company Yandex developed a smartphone app to crowdsource reports regarding the voting process during the 2012 presidential elections.

To facilitate these kinds of data collection efforts, many open source customizable tools have been developed, including Formhub, Open Data Kit (ODK), and Kobo Toolbox. These and other toolkits feature apps that can be deployed for data collection purposes and customized to meet the research needs of the user firm or organization. TCC customized the ODK toolkit to develop its tablet app in Egypt (I’ll talk more about this in my next post).

As smartphones and tablets become less expensive and more common, apps will become increasingly useful for election observation data collection purposes.  Using smartphone and tablet apps for data collection provides many benefits:

  1. Real-time reporting: similar to SMS reporting systems, reporting apps allow observers to send reports via the internet provided that a connection is available.  Note: even If an internet connection is not available, observers can save the forms and data collected and send them once a connection is available (like a draft SMS).
  2. Error reduction: Apps can be developed to look like paper checklists so reporting can be done by an observer ticking a box with his or her finger or using the keypad to write a quick description. This can help to reduce common data transmission mistakes, such as phone operators making recoding mistakes, data clerks to making data entry errors, and observers misreporting via SMS systems that use long complicated strings of code.
  3. Geolocation: Smartphones and tablets support the Global Positioning System (GPS) feature enabling observers (and, in turn, their findings) to be located automatically with a great deal of accuracy. This makes it possible to verify the location of observer, connect findings to specific locations, and facilitate the visualization of observer data on maps.
  4. Instructions: Although observers should be trained on how to use any reporting system, they may forget some details or technicalities. With an app, it is possible to include instructions, reminders and tips to guide reporting and ensure greater quality control.
  5. Photos and videos: Observers can use in-built cameras to take photos and document irregularities to correspond with their findings.  Even if the reporting app itself does not allow for photos or videos to be attached, there are other apps that could be used to send photos to the same database used to collect observer findings or directly onto a map (I’ll talk about Completure in a future post).

Although using reporting apps comes with these benefits, you need to consider the following before deciding on whether to use an app for data collection:

  1. Limited Usage: While the number of smartphone users is increasing, smartphones still represent justa fraction of all mobile phones in use.  And just because someone has a smartphone doesn’t mean that he or she uses it to connect to the internet or use apps. Before deciding on whether to use an app for data collection purposes, you should do your homework regarding the smartphone users within your observation mission.
  2. Coverage: Most remote and rural areas, especially in less developed countries, do not have internet coverage whether GSM, WiFi or satellite. Limited or weak coverage may mitigate the benefit of using an app for real-time reporting since observers may not be able to send reports until they can travel to a coverage area. Before developing an app, you should review maps provided by telecommunications providers to identify the coverage areas and gaps that may exist.
  3. Cost-Efficiency: Developing a dedicated app for reporting purposes may not be the best use of your financial resources, especially if smartphone or tablet users represent just a fraction of your observers.  Using open source tools can help to reduce costs, but if you don’t have the technical capacity in-house, you will need to incur costs related to customization and integration.  You should perform a cost-benefit analysis to make a determination as to whether it makes sense to develop an app.
  4. Compatibility: Unless all your observers use the same type of smartphone or tablet, you may need to be developed multiple apps to accommodate different operating systems, i.e. Android, iOS, Blackberry, Symbian, etc.  This will have financial implications that may alter your cost-benefit analysis.
  5. Battery: The battery life of smartphones or tablets is generally shorter than a regular phone, often lasting for less just a few to several hours depending on usage.  If observers are unable to charge their smartphones or tablets, they may not be able to access the reporting app at all let alone send in their findings.

In sum, the use of smartphone and tablet apps for reporting purposes can improve speed and accuracy, but you will need to weight the practicality and costs of doing so.

In future posts, we’ll provide case studies of how apps have been developed and used in election observation as well as information on existing tools that can be used and customized for observation purposes.

[1]Apps are sometimes incorrectly used for any icon placed on a Smartphone’s screen. At first glance, an app and a mobile website could like very similar. However, the difference basically lies in the fact that a mobile website is just another normal website that has been optimised for mobile browsing and designed for touch-screen interface and smaller display for smaller portable devices. On the other hand, an app is software, as stated above, which is developed in the native language of a specific platform. A platform in a nutshell is a virtual place from which to launch software.

Mobile Data Collection: Applying SMS Reporting in Election Observation

SMS reporting is becoming an increasingly common means for election observation groups to collect data.  The primary advantages for using SMS reporting are that it increases the speed of data collection while reducing burdens on central level staff.  It is also may be useful in reducing overall communication costs.  However, using SMS in observation reporting requires, at a minimum, an evaluation of the telecommunications infrastructure, a cost-benefit analysis, and a review of the electoral framework.

The first documented use of SMS in election observation dates back to 2005:

During the 2005 Indonesia local elections, observers of LP3ES, Yappika and  JAMPPI were assigned with unique ID numbers and asked to send their ID numbers via SMS to a phonenumber when they were ready to report.  Each observer received a reply generated from a central server indicating the approximate wait time before they would receive a call back from a central data center clerk.

The following year, during the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, National Democratic Institute (NDI) observers were asked to send an SMS with the code number of the polling station upon arrival.  The message was received by a mobile phone connected via USB to a laptop in Jerusalem.  A customized database recorded the code and established the location of the observer.

In both cases, SMS was used as a communications tool, but for limited purposes.  In 2006, SMS was used as a means of conveying election results datafrom the polling station level to the central level to help verify the accuracy of election results.

The first time SMS was used as aprimary tool for such purposes was during the 2006 Montenegro constitutional referendum.  A Montenegrin NGO, the Center for Democratic Transition (CDT), relied on SMS to help gather results data to verify the outcome of a key referendum on the future of the country.

A similar approach was employed during the 2006 Bahrain parliamentary elections, which were contested by dozens of political parties and candidates.  Observers from The Bahrain Transparency Society (BTS) reported the election results through a series of messages using a sophisticated coding system, compiling election tallies with near accuracy.

Since these early applications, election observation efforts worldwide have employed SMS as a means of collecting data from observers, for both traditional and statistical-based observation efforts.  SMS is now commonly used transmit data in all areas of election observation, including pre-election and post-election processes.

The most obvious benefit to using SMS is that it allows for real-time reporting and, in turn, rapid data analysis.  On Election Day, when the public is waiting for information about the electoral process, time is of the essence!In some circumstances, using SMS may enable a group to issue of regular, evidence-based reports throughout Election Day to calm tense situations and promote confidence.

A related benefit is that SMS reporting can facilitatedata management. An SMS reporting system coupled with a user-friendly database can help to ease the burden on individuals whose job it is to review, clean, and analyze data for the purposes of drafting statements.  (In futureposts, we’ll talk about the various complementary components for an SMS reporting system in place and provide case studies.)

Another possible benefit is that SMS reporting can sometimes reduce overall communications costs, particularly when large numbers of observers are deployed.   Cost-efficiency varies depending on the complexity of the SMS system used and the related components utilized, including developing a database to receive the messages and setting up an SMS gateway to enable message transmission.

However it is not always necessary, practical, or cost-efficient to incorporate SMS in an observation exercise (and, in some places, it may be illegal to use a mobile phone inside a polling station!).When determining whether and how to employ SMS as part of your communications plan, many factors must be considered, including:

  • Telecommunications infrastructure: There may be parts of a country where mobile coverage is weak or doesn’t exist, or where one or two providers may have coverage gaps.  An observer trained to send SMS reports, but deployed to an area that is outside his/her mobile coverage area is a waste of resources.  At a minimum, it is extremely important to consult with major mobile providers and obtain coverage maps beforehand.
  • Cost:The costs of deploying an SMS reporting system will vary depending on the price of sending an SMS, developing a database, setting up a gateway, SMS aggregator, etc.   In some countries, local gateways are not available and an international gateway will need to be used, possibly skyrocketing costs.  Increasingly, free or low-cost services are being made publicly available, including FrontlineSMS and Clickatell.  (In future posts, we’ll examine various approaches, tools, and techniques that can help keep costs down).
  • Timing: how quickly do you want (or need) to be able to say something?  It may not be practical to use SMS if you are not collecting time-sensitive information or planning to issue a statement quickly.  You may want to develop a staggered reporting schedule to facilitate data management and/or prioritize certain types of data that need to be transmitted rapidly.  Character limits (often between 140 and 160 characters), costs, and complexity for observers must all be factored into the decision-making process.
  • Legal Framework: SMS reporting should always be applied in accordance with the electoral laws of the country.  Some countries prevent individuals from using mobile phones in polling stations.  Furthermore, the law may prevent groups from issuing statement until the electoral process has finished, making SMS data collection for rapid reporting purposes irrelevant.

This is just a partial list of considerations and needs, costs, benefits, and challenges may vary greatly from country-to-country, group-to-group, and mission-to-mission.

In future posts, we’ll provide examples, case studies, data analysis, helpful tips, and various tools that can help you to use SMS or other mobile technology for election observation purposes (smartphone / tablets apps, mobile money, etc.).

If you have a question about anything above or have first-hand experience using SMS to collect data, please leave a comment below – we’d love to hear from you!