Hello, World!

By Madeleine Nicoloff | October 28, 2020

Large Photo
Fall mountain range

Hello! I’m Madeleine Nicoloff and I am thrilled to be joining the NDI DemTech team as a Program Assistant.

My interest in technology for democracy has grown throughout my time supporting program implementation in community-based human rights groups and more recently in my Central and West Africa regional experience with NDI, as I began to recognize the increasingly universal and integral role that technology plays in shaping human rights and democratic participation in politics. Technology is now more than ever a simultaneously expanding avenue for and growing threat to people’s ability to communicate and mobilize. It’s critical that we act proactively to shape technology’s power for positive change– from protecting digital human rights and data rights to opening and ensuring secure channels of civic activism and collaboration.

As an undergrad at McGill University, my passion for social justice and international relations led me to focus on issues at the intersection of migration and forced displacement, minority inclusion in politics, and post-conflict state-building. I developed an interest in the politics of exclusion and the state-civil society power dynamics around discourse for consolidation of power, at the same time as the world was watching democracies globally be confronted with the existential challenge of the rapid spread of disinformation and growing ideological divisiveness.

Working in community-based groups with refugees, migrants, and women over these past years, I also began seeing the value of quantitative data analysis as a critical tool in implementing effective programs and policy advocacy for systemic change. With this in mind, I worked as a Public Policy and Data Science Fellow with the Institut du Québec, where I conducted an exploratory analysis of social mobility in Québec at the county-level, using data from the 1986 and 2016 censuses. This involved creating interactive data visualizations and provincial maps of social mobility metrics in R, and presenting these in a Shiny dashboard (a place for consolidating web apps through the Shiny R package) to communicate patterns over the years.

The fellowship opened my eyes to the inherent subjectivity within the decisions made at every step along the way in data analysis and AI, and the need to bridge the divide between the world of data science and technology and the world of policy-making and democratic development. This need has only become clearer to me as I have begun working in the area democratic development and have seen how impactful the shift to digital advocacy and organizing is for activists operating in closed or closing political spaces – and then add to that the COVID-19 pandemic that has increased both the threat to and the need for online activism.

This is why I am so excited to work with the DemTech team to increase access to locally-appropriate technologies that will help empower inclusive participation in politics and in society.  I’m looking forward to learning more about civic tech tools to combat disinformation and security threats, promote minority communities’ ability to make their voices heard, and open collaborative channels of dialogue in government and civil society. As democracy moves online and into the realm of new technological tools, technology will only continue to have a growing impact on democracy.

Still relatively new to DC, I am often out exploring the city by bike! I love to spend time hiking, practicing photography or yoga – albeit not gracefully, reading, and discovering new community spaces.

I can’t wait to dive in and join the DemTech team in strengthening active and secure citizen participation for more transparent and representative institutions.