Cultivating Democracy




Robust Data Collection and Analysis to Document Political Processes

Elections Powers Data-Driven Citizen Monitoring

Elections are an essential component of a vibrant democracy, but to be credible they must legitimately represent the will of the voters. Citizen observation groups or political parties can provide an important, independent validation on the electoral process. Doing so effectively, however, requires rapidly collecting and managing large amounts of information from hundreds or thousands of observers and being able to determine what the data means in a timely way.

As a data management platform, the Elections DemTool aggregates, manages and analyzes structured data collected through text messaging, smartphone app or phone calls from trained observers across a country. With built-in data analysis, election experts can quickly spot trends and flag potential problems while maintaining direct communication with their network of observers in the field.

While built for election monitoring, the same problems of structured data collection and analysis occur in many important areas of international development.

Why Should I Use Elections?

women raising their hands

NDI’s approach to election-related programs seeks to maximize the opportunities presented by elections to help advance democratic progress. Such programs promote the integrity of electoral and political processes based on international human-rights precepts and the practicalities of mobilizing citizen participation. NDI’s election-related activities are tailored to the broader political process in each country to promote citizen action as voters, monitors and candidates to achieve democratic governance, mitigate potentials for political violence and improve the lives of the populace.

During elections, time is of the essence. The data from an election observation effort needs to be quickly collected, verified, managed and analyzed so that the observer group can release their assessment in a timely manner. The Elections DemTool greatly reduces the complexity of this process and facilitates the rapid collection and analysis of the data. This allows observer groups to quickly provide key findings so that citizens know whether to have confidence in the process. The key findings also alert citizens if there have been serious problems.

The Elections DemTool is versatile, accepting submissions via SMS; ODK, a smartphone application; or manual entry via web form. Through the use of multiple-choice or numeric answers, these forms are easy for observers to employ, and submissions are saved in a comprehensive message log. As the database collects the records, designated data clerks can actively edit and review them. Polling stations can be verified by multiple observers reporting simultaneously, and the Elections tool keeps a log of all of their messages. As the data from observers flows in, this tool also conducts logical checks to ensure consistency and validity using automatic, SMS-based messages sent to observers that prompt them to correct errors.

When applied to election day observation or a long-term observation, the Elections tool should be deployed as part of a comprehensive observation strategy that includes a data reporting and management plan as well as a strategic communication plan. Combining the Elections tool with an observation strategy, in this context, ensures rigorous standards for data collection and analysis. This type of programming should always include specialized consultation from NDI experts on election observation methodology. If not used appropriately, incomplete or incorrect data and/or flawed analysis could lead to misleading assessments of electoral processes—information that can help legitimize fraudulent elections or undermine public confidence in credible elections.

Other Structured Data Analysis Programs

While Elections was designed for, well, elections, the same challenges of structured data collection to drive political analysis and civic advocacy are useful in a wide variety of contexts. In Albania, NDI partners used similar methodology to collect information on government medical clinics. Checklist-based data collection can be used to document other political processes, government service delivery, discrimination by marginalized groups, or other places where hard facts can make a case for political change.

Past Use Cases

The Elections DemTool has been successfully deployed in many observation efforts. In 2014-15 alone, the Elections tool was used to support the elections processes and strengthen civil society in Nigeria, Malawi, Zambia, Tunisia, Tanzania, Uganda and Cote d’Ivoire.