Friday, December 14, 2012

Shadow Election Kenya

Versions of Shadow Election on interest group websites
In the first version of Shadow Election (trialed in the Finnish 2011 parliamentary elections) we used a question and answer model that proved to be very effective: advocacy groups (e.g. environment, social entrepreneurship, automobile, etc) sent questions to the candidates. The candidates' answers were then embedded in a customized version of Shadow Election hosted on their own websites.

Their motivated members were then able to directly rate the answers, and the results were aggregated in the central (hub) version of Shadow Election – alongside the questions and answers from other interest / advocacy groups.

In the Finnish and US 2012 presidential elections we trialled a different version that used existing online political content (particularly video) as the ratable element.

In Finland this proved to be popular, and user generate footage of candidates generated particular interest. We also added a virtual vote "live" poll that garnered even more interest. Shadow Election also rode the wave of the surprise last minute, social media driven support, of outsider green candidate Pekka Haavisto (seen in the screenshot below). And we ended up with a potential reach of around 30% of Finnish Facebook users.

In the US presidential election we tested a new Pinterest-inspired layout, and continued with the use of existing online video content (as we don't yet have the influence to get direct answers from the main candidates).

The overriding mainstream media support of the two main parties meant that there was little interest from the Obama and Romney supporters for an unknown service like ours;  however, we did gain considerable interest from the next most credible candidates, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, and their supporters — who in the end took over a million popular votes. This was only natural as they were excluded from meaningful participation in the main stream media debates.

Now we are going back to the Q&A format for the Kenyan March 2013 presidential elections (potentially together with some existing online content).

The current Kenyan administration has shown considerable willingness to embrace technology to help make government more transparent and accountable, and we are excited to be working with local Kenyan partners Mzalendo and Kenya Decides – who will also be hosting the service on their websites.

We are currently finalizing the letters and questions that we will be sending out to all the Kenyan candidates so that we have fresh and original content for you to rate when we launch on 11 January.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Kenyan Social Media Activism Revs Up

Kenyans are using social media more and more to vent their frustration against acts of parliamentary cronyism and personal pocket lining. 

Back in 2003, under the new Mwai Kibaki government, Kenya's MPs quadrupled their pay as their first order of business after the 2002 election; since then they have tried to increase their income far above the rate of inflation on three further occasions; however, a more concerned Kibaki has been doing a grand job blocking the most egregious demands.

Has the free press, and a more networked populace (mobiles and social media), helped make Kibaki and some of other MPs more sensitive to the concerns of the people?

Full credit must go to Kenya's current administration for being open to innovative ideas around the development of online transparency, government accountability. and allowing social media activity to flourish.

As Shadow Election team members, witnessed recently at the Open Knowledge Festival in Helsinki, Kenyans were the most active African representatives, and Kenya was one of the most positively talked about countries in regards to adopting open data and online technology to solve economic and civic challenges: the most renowned of such projects being M-Pesa (mobile payments) and Ushahidi (crisis mapping).

Therefore, it is not surprising that the offensive golden parachute (bonus) that MPS recently voted for themselves generated something of a social media storm leading up to protests just hours before the President Mwai Kibaki declined to give assent to the amended Finance Bill (2012) that was passed by Parliament on Thursday October 4, 2012.

You can see the growing audacity of Kenya's to express their concerns in the comment sections of news articles and blog posts – even on highly visible mainstream channels as the Daily Nation.

The troubled waters can still be felt in the active messaging around the Twitter hashtag #KOTAgainstMPBonus – which was also one of the channels used for organizing the protests.

So what has this got to do with Shadow Election?

We are currently trialling an early Beta version of our new Shadow Election interface in the USA; however, we will be releasing Shadow Election Kenya in the near future, and it will later combine features and lessons learnt from both the US and earlier Finnish versions.

We have also been talking with local civic, development and potential media partners, so that we can launch Shadow Election Kenya more vigorously.

Based on these discussions, we are expecting a strong interest in our service, and therefore we have to think very carefully about what we are expecting from our users and what levels of accuracy we can claim.

Are there dangers of speaking out about politics in social media?

It is crucial that the Kenyan body politic accepts the new terms of the game (for better or worse) as terrible damage would be done if they lost faith and started trying to get the social media genie back into the bottle.

Social media was used by the Bahrainian government to crowdsource the process of identifying and tracking down Pearl Roundabout protestors.  However, without the overwhelming assistance of Saudi Arabia, and acquiescence on the side of America due to their strategic interests, the outcome could have be quite different from the current sorry state.

The context of Kenya is very interesting for Shadow Election, as the press has always walked a freedom tight rope; whether real or not, some fear of retribution lingers on in the air after more oppressive times (eg – the attacks on the Standard newspaper and KTN television in 2006). And to this extent there might be a mixed reaction to Shadow Election.

They say if you don't give people a voice, they will make themselves heard!

Surely an open and constructive democratic debate in social media is better than forcing people to make themselves heard on the street – where there is an ever present threat of violence, both to the state and the people. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Looking for developers

Reality Creating Media is now looking for a skillful developer team to build the next version of Shadow Election.

We are interested in coders who have enjoyed working together in the past on successful projects.

The company works remotely and operates in English – so location of the team is not relevant.

The product manager will be based in Finland and we will use scrum and Lean Startup methods.

Find out more here: Developer Team Application

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Shadow Election Introduction

Video of Pekka Haavisto being rated during  the Finnish Presidential Elections 2012
Video of Pekka Haavisto being rated during
the Finnish Presidential Elections 2012

Shadow Election is an application to help voters get a better understanding of who the candidates are and what they represent.

Users rate the opinions of candidates on topical issues, and the system uses these to make candidate voting recommendations.

It also allows people to cast a virtual vote – resulting in a "live" election poll. Users can then help support their preferred candidate with Facebook promotional options.

The first version was used with considerable success in the Finnish Parliamentary 2011 and the Presidential 2012 elections.

The “live” leader board / poll at the end of the first round
 of voting in the Finnish 2012 Presidential elections.

A 2nd version, being developed for the US and Kenyan Presidential elections, will include data visualization features that will compare your opinions with friends and other users. And also allow analysis of which candidates are winning in electoral regions, with the ability to see specific opinions that are popular.

In all countries, but particularly in young democracies like Kenya, if Shadow Election gains good traction, it should help level the playing field between the well-funded established politicians and upcoming grassroots candidates.

We are actively looking for sponsors to help bring this service to Kenya.

(Download PDF executive summary from here)