Using the Ushahidi Platform to Monitor the Nigeria Elections 2011

Reclaimnaija is a broad-based citizens’ platform, which was set up to enhance the participation of grassroots people, organizations and local institutions in promoting electoral transparency, accountability and democratic governance in Nigeria.

Why ReclaimNaija?

A look at the history of elections in Nigeria shows that there is weak public confidence in the integrity of the electoral process due to previous experience of massive electoral fraud in the country. The way the business of electioneering is conducted by the politicians makes it difficult for citizens to make informed choices about candidates running for office. There is paucity of information on the candidates and most candidates do not engage politically with the electorate. The campaigns are not ideologically driven nor do they focus on issues and programmes. Rather they are more focused on personalities, intra/inter party rivalries, inducement and gratification of the electorate, especially the rural and urban-poor communities.

It became imperative to build the capacity of the citizens and grassroots people to engage proactively with the electoral process and outcomes. ReclaimNaija was, therefore, created to provide such empowerment through in-depth voter education and the promotion of citizen action.

To this end, Community Life Project and its key partners, Community Development Departments nationwide and Federation of Muslim Women’s Associations in Nigeria (FOMWAN), the promoters of ReclaimNaija, carried out 193 civic and voter education forums for community and grassroots leaders spread across the 36 States of the country and the Federal Capital Territory. An average of 120 leaders was in attendance at all the forums. Participants were drawn from existing networks with viable structures such as Artisan and Trade-Based associations, Faith-Based Organisations, Community Development Associations, Youth Organisations, Okada (Commercial Motor Bike) Riders and Owners and Associations of Persons with Disabilities.

This broad scale education of community leaders was strategic in getting a buy – in from the grassroots. The trained leaders took ownership of the platform. They effectively became the faces and voices of reclaimnaija, as they went ahead to carry out public awareness activities. For instance, the Okada Riders and Owners Associations mobilised their membership and organised week-long carnivals in several cities across the 6 geopolitical zones of the country distributing fliers with the reporting numbers; while the Association of Hairdressers educated their members, put up posters in their salons and also distributed fliers to their clients.

Okada riders distributing posters

These outreach activities contributed significantly to the effectiveness of platform.

ReclaimNaija.Net Platform

The reclaimnaija platform, which is driven by the Ushahidi web engine, is a reporting platform set up as a mechanism for grassroots people to get their voices heard on issues of electoral transparency and governance. The platform makes it possible for citizens to monitor the electoral process and report incidents of electoral fraud and other malpractices simply by sending text messages or calling dedicated numbers in four major languages (Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba and Pidgin). For the text messages,FrontlineSMS is what has been used as the SMS gateway. Citizens can also report to the platform via email, direct reporting on the site and twitter.

Community Life Project successfully deployed the platform for promoting electoral transparency in the pre-election phase of the 2011 elections.

ReclaimNaija.Net and the 2011 Elections: The Journey So Far

The platform was effectively used by the citizens and grassroots people from all over the country to report incidents during the voter registration exercise. The reports were collated real time and fed to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). This assisted INEC in troubleshooting in many locations across the country. They were also useful to the media in monitoring and publishing stories on the voter registration exercise thereby helping to amplify the voice of the people.

In addition, the website serves as a one-stop online resource for information on the 2011 elections. It features all the polling units, senatorial districts and wards, the Nigerian Constitution, information on candidates, the 2010 electoral act, the election timetable, electoral guidelines, certified voters’ registration figures, political parties as well as civic and voter education modules.

For the first time in our history, citizens of this country have a formidable platform for promoting electoral transparency and popular participation. Citizens were able to positively influence the electoral process. For instance, a lot of reports came from communities with limited access to registration centres and a couple of such communities had the deadline for voter registration extended by two days.
has already succeeded in redefining the paradigm of election monitoring in Nigeria.

Democratizing Data Science

We like to say that our mission with the SwiftRiver project is to democratize access to the tools used for understanding information. To me that means taking the hard-work out of drawing insight from excessive quantities of data, to help humans process things more efficiently. That’s why it was huge honor to announce the SwiftRiver project’s ongoing collaborations with software developer Pete Warden earlier this year.

Earlier this week Pete announced a cool project closely aligned with our mission called the Data Science Toolkit:

The Data Science Toolkit is a collection of data tools and open APIs curated by our own Pete Warden. You can use it to extract text from a document, learn the political leanings of a particular neighborhood, find all the names of people mentioned in a text and more. He unveiled it today at GigaOM Structure Big Data in New York City.

It’s available as a Web service, or you download a virtual machine and host it on your own server.

  • Street Address to Coordinates – Street Address to Location calculates the latitude/longitude coordinates for a postal address.
  • File to Text – Converts PDFs, Word Documents, Excel Spreadsheets to text. Recovers text from JPEG, PNG or TIFF images of scanned documents.
  • Coordinates to Political Areas – Returns the country, region, state, county, constituencies and neighborhood a point is inside.
  • Geodict – Geodict pulls country, city and region names from unstructured English text, and returns their coordinates.
  • IP Address to Coordinates – IP Address to Location calculates country, state, city and latitude/longitude coordinates for IP addresses.
  • Text to Sentences – Removes any parts of the text that look like boilerplate instead of real sentences.
  • HTML to Text – Returns the full text that would actually be displayed in the browser when an HTML document was rendered.
  • HTML to Story – Takes an HTML document representing a news article or similar page, and extracts just the story text.
  • Text to People – Spots text fragments that look like people’s names or titles, and guesses their gender where possible.

The DSTK project joins a number of similar open data science tools on the market. Increasingly there’s a need for people of all types to own and control their own data in ways that are easy to utilize or deploy. It’s one of the reasons people use Ushahidi products, apps like ours lower the barrier to entry for those who want simple ways to collect or visualize data. Hence the reason we’re actively contributing to GeoDict and the greater DSTK initiative.

Find out more at

Checking in with Applelines

The following post was written by Hugh Brooks of the Navanti Group who wanted to share his experience with the new checkin features for Ushahdi and Crowdmap. He and his colleague Ravi Gupta used checkins for their Applelines project.

Our first Crowdmap was, a citizen reporting deployment for all things local in Washington, DC Georgetown area. One of the categories we added was for reports on the Georgetown Cupcake lines, which we thought were a little extreme at times, it could also come in handy for locals wanting to pop in and get cupcakes for work or events and not have to deal with tourists.

With the Launch of the iPad 2, a number of people in our office were considering buying them, but given the chaos surrounding Apple releases, we were trying to come up with a system to circumvent or report on lines and stocks etc. to try and either avoid them altogether or strategize a reasonable time for waiting in line to buy the iPad 2.

We initially settled on doing a public trial run for the iPad 2 release in order to have the system perfected for the upcoming iPhone 5 release. We decided at first to do a standard Crowdmap, with online reporting and Twitter hashtag #applelines but soon realized the check-in feature would be a quick and easy fit for this kind of reporting. Especially given the fact that most people who are waiting in line for an iPad 2 would likely have an iPhone or other smart phone.

The day of the launch we got the most amount of traffic, and had a couple solid reports on the activity at the Georgetown Apple store. The following days, as Apple released more product, people were still in line so we decided that the first person on our team passing by could post a check-in with information about the lines so others could avoid going, or get in the line depending on availability.

For a trial run, it’s been mostly friends and colleagues that are checking-in and viewing the reports, and it’s been a good exercise in practicing a deployment – working out flaws and strategizing on how to drive more people to the map. We hope to develop and perfect the system as well as draw in more people around the country willing to report for their own cities for the release of the iPhone 5 and subsequent Apple product releases.

We really like the quick and easy check-in format, but having both the standard Ushahidi/Crowdmap web interface instead of only the check-in interface would allow for us to do a few things better such as:

  • Categorize products and stores a little better, such as those wanting to report on a BestBuy or AT&T store, or those wanting to go directly to Apple stores.
  • Interface easier with the data as an online viewer, such as seeing when peak times and days are.
  • Report on specific products and stores to strategize.
  • Additionally, we could have those without smart phones report via text.
  • Have people tweet reports to the map while in line if they don’t have the mobile app.
  • The ability to upload more than one picture, or short video.
  • Perhaps only a Twitter feed integration, making some reporting real-time, or quick updates to track on the map-site, Smartphone, or allow for quick updates.

So far the Check-in feature has gotten us off to a good start, and other than one photo uploading fail, we had no bugs or issues to report. The feature has saved more than a few friends the time and effort of having to travel or call the store, only to find the model they wanted was not the one Apple got in that day.

We’re going to keep Applelines going as long as the lines are forming outside stores waiting for shipments, and we’ll be getting a few more volunteers to check-in as they pass stores in their area.

We’ve already come up with a number of other ideas for check-in deployments, both private and public to make coordination of activities and people easier. We look forward to testing it out more in the future.

Realtime Translation with SwiftRiver

One of the problems a lot of crowdsourcing projects have is that they end up pulling in massive amounts of data from the web, Twitter and other channels from around the world. This means content arrives in many different languages, often languages that the deployer doesn’t speak.

Currently in Sweeper and soon in Ushahidi, users can translate real-time content from one language into another, on the fly, as they receive it. This is done using our Google Translate plugin. Google Translate currently supports 50+ languages.

For the Sweeper deployment we’re using to monitor the situation in Japan internally, we’re using this feature to monitor events, since we can’t manually translate every single message coming through. We’ve found it a significant timesaver. You can also see below that we’re showing the user what language the message was translated from, or if it’s been translated at all…



It’s important to understand, that this is machine translation, so it’s far from perfect. But if you’re monitoring feeds from multiple countries across Twitter, RSS, Email or SMS it’s sometimes useful enough to get a quick sense of what’s being said, where to potentially look for more info, or perhaps where to direct human translators.

Key Deployments and Lessons Learned – Part 2

Recently we began conducting research into the use of our various products around the world, assessing impact and use, apparent successes, perceived and critical failures, as well as qualitative and quantitative evaluations of the data collected from each platform deployment.

This report looks at the lessons we’ve learned around three years of assisting with crowdsourced campaigns. Specifically in the areas of: motivating participation, typical challenges faced by deployers, ideas on funding, and dealing with excessive quantities of data.

Lessons Learned
by Sarah George

8 pages. Excerpt. Download the full report.

At the International Conference on Crisis Mapping (ICCM) last September Sabina Carlson, an Ushahidi Haiti volunteer and liaison with Haitian diaspora, explained “People don’t speak in terms of data sets. They say ‘I’m Hungry’.” Her point is that the need for translation does not only refer to language but also applies to the need to translate information into action. In the following discussion of crowdsourcing, it’s important to keep this fundamental challenge in mind.

Crowdsourcing is a general concept – and various Ushahidi implementations apply the approach in critically different ways. While crowdsourcing broadly implies information generated by many for the benefit many, there are three distinct audiences or stakeholders for any individual campaign.

The full document is embedded below.

The slides that accompany this report are below.