Friday, May 7, 2010

Overview of African Elections Project

The African Elections Project is a country-specific platform giving the capacity of the media in ICTs in order for them to use it as a tool for election coverage and the provision of elections information and knowledge. It first run in 2008 in Ghana followed later by Cote d ‘lvoire and Guinea in 2009. By March 2010, it has run this project in ten countries including Malawi, Namibia, Botswana, Niger, Guinea, Mozambique, Mauritania and Togo.

It focuses on technology training for senior editors, journalists and reporters. They are also developing an election guide for journalists and civil society organizations and a mobile application to encourage citizens to engage in election monitoring.

A country-specific election portal aggregates election-related news articles, blog posts, photographs, events, and Op-Eds. Some of the countries, such as Ghana, also have detailed information about the candidates and political parties

What problem is your project aiming to overcome?:

A dearth of elections information and knowledge to aid in free and fair elections while promoting accountability and governance monitoring.
What are the roots of that problem?:

Lack of tools for elections information- and knowledge-sharing online coupled with low content generation on the continent.

Also democratic culture is relatively new in Africa, which means that supporting information- and knowledge-sharing culture is just evolving. This is true in most African countries.

There has been a slow uptake by citizen journalists to cover elections, maybe partly due to the fears elections create and also the counter-mechanisms by the competing political entities which mostly use the traditional media outlets like radio and television.

Lastly there are very few new media projects related to elections in Africa. African Elections Projects stands unique in this case.
Why did you personally become involved in this project?:

I was part of the team that conceived of the idea, therefore was part of it from day one in 2008. I have been amazed at how the project has rolled out and the possibilities of using new media it has offered.
Are you providing unofficial channels of information that should be provided by the government?:

Yes, through articles and blog postings to our web platform, especially in the area of voter education.
Why is the government not providing the information?:

We do not have any evidence to explain why such information is not provided, but we usually hear from the government that they do not have the resources to provide such information.
How does the information published on your website turn into offline change?:

It contributes to voter education and creates awareness about the electoral process. It also ensures accountability by the electoral management bodies by making them stakeholders. Information about political parties, manifestos and campaign promises invariably help stakeholders and voters make informed decisions.
How many people work on your project?:
How many hours a week do you personally spend on the project?:

Average 10 hours to full time during build up to elections.
How many hours does the whole team spend on the project?:

Full time for most of the team members and average of 12 hours for others.
What are the most time consuming tasks?:

Research, content generation and the uploading of content due to low bandwidth in most areas we operate from.
How do you extract value from large amounts of data? How do you build engagement around it?:

We have in house software we use to process the data plus the use of some web 2.0 tools that enable collaboration. We build engagement through enabling information and knowledge sharing.
How do you verify the identities of participants on your website?:

Contributors to our website are all registered users, so we have information about them though we do not get the information about persons posting comments since they are not required to register.
How do you attract new participants?:

Through the exchange of links, by disseminating content in our networks, and by advertising in traditional media. Also, word of mouth.
What has been the most effective method of spreading awareness about your project?:

Word of mouth through mostly online means and referrals.
What are the incentives to participate in your project?:

Contributing local content from an African prospective for the global market thus presenting the African story of elections as opposed to simply relying on foreign (non-African) online publications.
What are the biggest obstacles to your success?:

Lack of capacity by media groups to use ICT tools. This is true in all ten countries we have worked with, though of course with varying levels of capacity. But in most cases, the media is only coming to terms now with effective use of ICT tools.

Also, a lack of affordable bandwidth. I think this has been the biggest ICT infrastractural challenge. For instance in Malawi, we had to pay heavily to have even a basic connection.

Slow uptake of citizen journalism on the continent.

Democratic process - especially elections - are not yet well established in some countries hence bringing an election specific media project appears threatening to certain establishments by increasing visibility and accountability.
How do you plan on overcoming those obstacles?:

Capacity building for the media in the use of ICTS, stimulating citizen journalism, and advocating for free and fair elections.
What skills and expertise would be of assistance to your project?:

The use of ICTs in elections especially in information and knowledge sharing. Also, providing more online resources for both mainstream journalists as well as citizen journalists.
How do you plan on financially sustaining your project? :

Marketing and promoting our technical platform in the area of media monitoring, content mangament systems, and SMS to raise funds while at the same time exploring the options of advertising on our online platforms.
What other organizations are you working with?:

FrontlineSMS, Ghana Journalist Association, all Africa, Global Voices, in country news agency, electoral management bodies, MISA, SMSGH, Highway Africa, Media Foundation for West Africa, West African Democracy Radio, OSIWA, OSISA, Media Council of Malawi, Ghana Information network for knowledge sharing, in-country journalist associations.
Have you thought about developing your own tools?:

Yes, our web platform, SMS and media monitoring tools were developed in house plus we customise some web 2.0 for our use as well.

We also developed the following
1. CMS – elections portal
2. Results Manager – for presentation of results graphically, tables and maps
3. SMS System – for news production process, news broadcast and elections observations
4. Media Monitoring System
5. Video content production – customisation.

On a separate note, since we develop own own tools, we have copyright with an option to reproduce with permission.
Has there been any communication between your project and government officials?:

Yes, on regular basis, including interviews as well.
Are there any legal obstacles to your work? Any laws that should be changed?:

Freedom of information bills, when enacted, can contribute to access to information for our work.

Otherwise we have so had no legal actions against the website though we had a solicitor letter while covering Malawi Elections on content on the website.
Have there been any attempts to replicate your work elsewhere?:

We are currently worked or working in ten African countries (Ghana, Malawi, Mauritania, Togo, Niger, Cote d’Ivoire, Namibia, Mozambique, Botswana and Guinea. Otherwise AEP is original in many ways.
What other projects in your region should we know about?:

Ushadidi and in-country, elections-related websites like the Nyasa Times.
If someone gave you $10,000 how would you use the money?:

To train journalists and citizens journalist in the use of ICTs and new media while acquiring tools for them like flip cameras.
If someone gave you $100,000 how would you use the money?:

To train journalists and citizen journalists in the use of ICTs and new media while acquiring tools for them like flip cameras, satellite internet connection for our newsrooms on the go, a mobile broadcasting system, and to scale up our media monitoring platform.
What are your plans for 2010 and 2011?:

To cover 10 -15 countries having elections.
Further Questions
What metrics do you use to judge your own success?


- Usage and number of target audience reached using web metrics counted by number of visitors, where they are coming from, which websites are linking to us and repeat visitor
- Number of feedback received
- Number of reposts to other sites
How many visitors come to the AEP Portal? How many unique hits per month?

100,000. The majority of readers come from Europe and North America and are largely citizens of the countries we cover that are living abroad. Our content is reposted on other blogs, tweets, etc, and on other news organisation websites including AllAfrica.
What is the target audience?

Media, journalists, electoral management bodies, citizens and international bodies.

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