Cultivating Democracy

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About

Internet access and powerful communication technologies are spreading around the world at a extraordinary rate, transforming the way citizens live and interact with each other. Social media drives a conversation of ideas around the world. Smartphone cameras produce on-the-scene reporting of events and put them up for international analysis. Massive amounts of data are collected and made accessible in compelling visualizations. With the many benefits that citizens experience from these advanced technologies, there is also the expectation that leaders in government, civil society and politics will keep up.

Unfortunately, many political institutions and citizen groups in the developing world are falling further behind, locked away from the powerful web tools that are powering data-driven political organizing, mass communications for civic advocacy and e-government service delivery. Even when effective communication or organizing tools are available, staff in civic or governmental groups often lack the technical expertise necessary to manage such new systems, preventing them from doing their job as effectively as possible. Without the ability to respond in kind to technically-empowered citizens, frustrations with leaders and disenchantment with political institutions increases. 

The Democracy Toolkit (DemTools) is designed to help empower civil society organizations, political parties and legislatures around the world by applying technology solutions to common challenges:

  • involving citizens in government decision-making;
  • helping civil society groups organize in a digital world;
  • better connecting elected officials with constituents;
  • managing election data; and 
  • fostering civic dialogue through social media.
People at computers
The free, open source software (FOSS) movement has created some powerful tools designed to help nonprofits bridge the gap between citizens and their leaders. These tools, however, aren’t typically designed with the needs of international civil society or developing world governments in mind. With DemTools, NDI works together with successful FOSS projects and their user communities to adapt software to the needs of critical democratic institutions. Through support provided by DemTools for internationalization, translation, usability testing, security and accessibility, these open-source products become more culturally relevant, easy to use, and accessible. Organizations can better organize and communicate, connect citizens to political leaders, foster multimedia debates, provide compelling data visualizations and analysis, and manage sophisticated political process monitoring. 
 
For many of our partners, the in-house tech talent required to manage and secure sophisticated web applications simply isn’t affordable, and the activists involved in democratic organizing didn’t sign up as a way to learn computer skills. DemCloud, NDI’s software-as-a-service (SAAS) system, eliminates this “geek gap” by providing partners with a fully-hosted service for all DemTools, sparing groups the systems administration, setup, management or configuration of these services. In other words, DemCloud harnesses the advantages of powerful tech tools without requiring advanced tech knowledge or experience, ensuring that groups using DemTools are able to focus their skills, time, and resources on democracy building.
 
DemTools are developed by the National Democratic Institute (NDI). NDI provides technical assistance to our democracy partners around the world including political parties, legislatures, civic groups, other organizations and individuals in more than 70 countries. Our programs help these groups strengthen democratic institutions, safeguard elections, advance citizen engagement, and promote open and accountable government in their countries. The NDItech team assists NDI partners and staff members around the world integrate technology tools into our democracy assistance programs in innovative and sustainable ways.
 
We care deeply that DemTools are sensitive to the needs of marginalized communities in the developing world, particularly women, minority groups and people with disabilities. Security matters for everyone; NDI is focused on keeping DemTools safe and ensuring that organizations’ private information remains that way. NDI works with digital security experts to assess our DemCloud software-as-a-service platform, and shielded it behind enterprise-grade DDOS mitigation.
 

Technology for Political Parties

NDI's Politicial Parties team has also released a new guide in 2015 to help political parties take advantage of the opportunities provided by Information Communication Technologies (ICTs). The guide is available here.