NDI Launches DemTools Democracy Toolkit

E-participation, Radar

Demtools screenshot

The National Democratic Institute (NDI) today launched a new set of web-based applications.

From the NDItech DemocracyWorks blog: Meet DemTools: Closing the Geek Gap

Human rights and democracy advocates in the developing world have been left stranded in this leap to more effective tools. There’s a new form of digital divide that’s emerged: call it the geek gap. There are a lot of sophisticated open source software systems out there, but free software is a bit like a free puppy: the problem ain’t the initial price, it’s the care and feeding over years. In low-infrastructure societies, there just aren’t a lot of people with the sophisticated systems administration skills to set up a Linux server, configure Apache, set up MySQL, and install a web application like Drupal. While there are great commercial options, struggling human rights organizations often can’t write the checks to keep those services running.

NDItech has been working on technology for development for over fifteen years, and we’ve seen the same problems manifest repeatedly. Sustainability in development is hard, and when it comes to tech it’s harder. Keeping the lights on – and web sites running – years after a project ends just doesn’t happen very often.

We’re attempting to cut that Gordian knot with DemTools: the Democracy Toolkit. We’re launching with a set of four web apps that solve some of the most common problems our global network of partners have experienced. DemTools development was funded by a grant from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

  • CONSTITUENT OFFICES MOVE ONLINE with CiviMP, a customized version of the popular open-source contact management system CiviCRM. Members of parliament (MPs) can keep in touch with constituents, listen to their concerns, and help solve their problems.
  • ORGANIZE SUPPORTERS with CiviParty. Also based on CiviCRM, CiviParty allows civic organizations to organize events, contact or survey supporters via SMS, reach large audiences via blast email or printed mail merge, and track engagement.
  • LEARN WHERE CANDIDATES STAND with The Issues, which presents candidates’ positions on the hot topics of the day via recorded YouTube videos and allows citizens to ask them questions directly. Citizens can engage in dialogue and share statements via social media, connecting voters directly to their political leaders and opening new avenues of communication.
  • ANALYZE ELECTION INFORMATION with the NDItech Elections system, which can convincingly demonstrate the veracity of official results. NDI’s election data management system aggregates and manages reports submitted by text or telephone from trained observers at polling stations across a country. By analyzing the data instantaneously, election experts can spot trends, flag potential problems, and maintain easy, direct communication with observers in the field.

More about The Issues tool, which during the launch event earlier today was introduced as “a 21st-century debate platform” (emphasis mine):

LEARN WHERE CANDIDATES STAND with the NDItech Issues webapp, which presents candidates’ positions on key issues via recorded YouTube videos and allows citizens to ask them questions directly. Politicians’ video messages hone media presentation and communication skills. Citizens can “vote” with a thumbs up or down or engage in dialogue with comments. The candidates’ statements can also be shared via social media, enabling civic groups to connect voters directly to their political leaders and open new avenues of communication.

An online demo is available on their site. Like all components of the toolkit, the source code is open source and available on Github.

You can learn more about the toolkit on the NDItech DemocracyWorks website.


Top Posts July 2014


Some goodies on our list of top posts last month (for the period May through July 2014):

And our three top performing posts overall:

Thanks for reading!


Friday Findings


A few items that caught our interest this past week:

Have a great weekend!


Crowdsourcing Text Analysis of FCC Open Internet Rulemaking Data

Radar, Research, Rulemaking

Yesterday, the FCC released a large portion of the more than one million public comments it has received regarding its ongoing Open Internet rulemaking effort: FCC Makes Open Internet Comments More Accessible to Public

Because of the sheer number of comments and the great public interest in what they say, Chairman Wheeler has asked the FCC IT team to make the comments available to the public today in a series of six XML files, totaling over 1.4 GB of data – approximately two and half times the amount of plain-text data embodied in the Encyclopedia Britannica. The release of the comments as Open Data in this machine-readable format will allow researchers, journalists and others to analyze and create visualizations of the data so that the public and the FCC can discuss and learn from the comments we’ve received. Our hope is that these analyses will contribute to an even more informed and useful reply comment period, which ends on September 10. We will make available additional XML files covering reply comments after that date.

DiscoverText is a “cloud-based, collaborative text analytics solution” originally developed by Texifter, a “spin-out company based on text analysis research by Dr. Stuart Shulman, the founder of QDAP-Pitt and current Director of QDAP-UMass”. Among other things, Texifter works in the area of improving “research and federal rulemaking efficiency by streamlining the process of sorting large amounts of unstructured text.”

The team there just invited the public to join a “collaborative, web-based effort to find substantive comments and visualize what the public said about Net Neutrality”: Open Data on Net Neutrality: Help Crowd Source Analysis of Comments to the FCC

Texifter has the right tools to allow anyone not versed in raw XML data extraction to search and code this data, then export the results as a CSV file including the relevant metadata. We have loaded the data and started a project using DiscoverText, which was built specifically for crowd source public comment review by US federal agencies.

I’ve been loosely following the genesis of DiscoverText for many years. This is a great opportunity to play with this tool and learn about this family of tools in general. You can sign up for a free 30-day trial to get started.


Financial Platform Stellar to Apply Participatory Budgeting Concepts

Participatory Budgeting, Radar

Stellar user wallet

The Stellar Development Foundation, a not-for-profit organization launched publicly this past week, is developing a new financial platform based on Stellar, their decentralized protocol for sending and receiving money in any pair of currencies.

To learn more about the concept, check out their inaugural blog post.

Their website contains this interesting tidbit (emphasis mine):

Stellar creation

To account for both economic growth and lost stellars, there is a fixed 1% annual rate of new stellar creation. These new stellars will be generated on a weekly basis and distributed via a direct voting method similar to “participatory budgeting.” Our hope is that account holders will use the inflation-generated stellars to enable novel business models or to fund causes they support.

Here’s how new stellars created via this mechanism will work:

Every account is able to select another account as its nominee for new currency. Voting will be weighted according to how many stellars the voter has in his or her account. For instance, if you have 120 stellars and you vote for Jane as the recipient, that will be counted as 120 votes for Jane.

Each week, the network will identify the winners. The winners are the 50 top voted for accounts that also received at least 1.5% of the vote. If no account has over 1.5% of the vote, then the top 50 accounts voted for are considered the winners. That week’s new stellars are then distributed pro-rata to the winners.

If the Foundation is the beneficiary of new stellars, the stellars can be used to support our operations or to extend the direct signup and increased access programs.

According to the website, 100 billion stellars were created “at genesis”. Payment startup Stripe received two percent of this initial issuance in return for providing $3 million in funding to help get the project off the ground. Based on this transaction, the initial “exchange rate” was $1.50 per 1,000 stellars. While it’s likely that this value will fluctuate considerably at first, the rate seems to have already gone up slightly according to one exchange rate tracker ($2.46 per 1,000 stellar as of this writing).

Based on these early numbers, the amount of money up for distribution via some kind of participatory method could well exceed several million US dollars per year.


CivicPatterns: A Common Language for Creating Citizen Engagement Apps


CivicPatterns.org homepage

Via the Knight Foundation blog, I just found out about CivicPatterns, a new pattern language effort that was announced by the International Journalists’ Network (IJNet) in late June. From the website:

CivicPatterns is a catalogue of design patterns and tools for civic technology projects. Anyone who builds public tools needs to make sure that their approach is going to have real effects, and that they avoid common pitfalls. This site tries to establish a pattern language to support a discussion about what works, what fails and why.

According to the announcement, CivicPatterns “focuses on four themes: Community, Engagement, Delivery and Government.” More:

Civic Patterns is the beginnings of a language for those working to design civic technology. More than that, however, it could be a common vocabulary for all those who want to make apps for the public good – a group that certainly includes journalists and news technologists. Of course, this work is by no means finished. Instead – like any language – it is itself a collaborative project, where anyone is invited to suggest changes and additions.

Once we have a common language, we might realize that we’ve been working on the same problem all along.

Most of the patterns listed to date are still stubs (and may or may not stand the test of time), but anyone interested can join in the fun and get involved on Github and .


Friday Findings


A few interesting bits that crossed our stream this week:

  • Caroline W. Lee (Associate Professor of Sociology, Lafayette College) has a book coming out early next year: Do-It-Yourself Democracy The Rise of the Public Engagement Industry (Oxford University Press). Via the IAP2 Canada Facebook group, hat tip to Mary Moreland.
  • Participatory budgeting expands big time in New York City
  • The GovLab launches Demos for Democracy, “an ongoing series of live, interactive online demos featuring designers and builders of the latest innovative governance platforms, tools or methods to foster greater openness and collaboration to how we govern.”

Enjoy your weekend!


Top Posts June 2014


Before the month is out, a quick look back at our June top posts (for the period April through June 2014):

As usual, our three uncontested overall top performing posts:

Thank you for your attention.


Participatory Budgeting: Updated North America Participation Metrics 2013/2014

Participatory Budgeting

Update 2014/07/25: The voting period for PB Vallejo is actually September 27 through October 6, 2014. Thanks for the correction, John De La Torre.

PB North America participation metrics screenshot

Last May, we released a collaborative spreadsheet on participatory budgeting participation metrics in North America.

It has proven quite popular, so we’ve kept it up to date throughout the 2013/2014 cycle. You can check out the latest numbers on Google Docs: Participatory Budgeting: North America participation metrics

A newly added tab compares turn-out numbers for all North American PB projects year-over-year.

For the 2013/2014 cycle in the U.S., we’ve been tracking a total of 20 projects, 19 of which have now completed (PB Vallejo is set to start the voting process during this year’s PB conference on Saturday, September 27 and will release the results shorty after the voting period ends on October 6). Let us know if you’re aware of any others. Or better yet, go ahead and start adding to the data that’s already there. Thanks!


IAP2 USA Survey: Public Participation Core Competencies

Public Participation, Radar

The International Association for Public Participation in the United States (IAP2 USA) has launched an initiative to develop a certification program for public participation professionals. From the website:

The IAP2 Certification process is just beginning. IAP2 USA in cooperation with IAP2 Canada and IAP2 Southern Africa are working on behalf of the rest of the IAP2 Affiliates and the Federation to develop a Certification Program. The goal is to create a Certification Program for IAP2 USA that can serve as a template for other Affiliates that want to define their own programs.


Other professions (facilitators, architects, planners, attorneys, and engineers, to name but a few) offer credentialing programs that define professional standards and independently assess individuals’ performance in accordance with those standards.

Now it is IAP2’s turn.

The Task Force are working hard to think through what it might look like and how it might be delivered. But, we are just at the beginning and before we go too far we want to check in with IAP2 members and non-members worldwide.

IAP2 USA is asking practitioners around to globe to participate in a short online survey to help identify the core competencies of today’s public participation professional:

The purpose of this survey is to gather information about the core competencies of a fully qualified and experienced public participation (P2) practitioner. This survey is being conducted by the IAP2 USA Certification Task Force. The Certification Task Force is committed to incorporating your ideas and suggestions into the final program design that we deliver to the IAP2 USA Board.

Deadline is Sunday, June 15.