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Kenyan elections: Uchaguzi revolutionises crowdsourcing

Launched just before the Kenyan general election of 2013, new online platform Uchaguzi gave Kenyan internet users the unique opportunity to report on violence and other disturbances unfolding as members of the public cast their votes. It is hoped that this latest development of iHub will continue facilitating a form of citizen journalism that will lead to calmer, more transparent elections in the future.

by Nick Tjaardstra nick.tjaardstra@wan-ifra.org | May 21, 2013

Translated as ‘election’ in Swahili, Uchaguzi’s objective is a clear one: “to contribute to stability in Kenya, by increasing transparency and accountability through active citizen participation in the electoral cycles.” The initiative aimed at “the creation of a more rapid reporting and alert system in traditional electoral monitoring, as well as [bringing] in the voice of citizens as a new dimension in electoral monitoring through crowd sourcing of data.”

To help achieve this, the Kenyan public were invited to report any incident relating to the electoral process, before, during and after the voting. Potential voters could contribute information using their mobiles or indeed any device with internet access (e.g. by email, by filling out a form on their website, uchaguzi.co.ke, by sending a text to 3002, via iOS and Android apps, and via social networks, using @Uchaguzi and #Uchaguzi). The Uchaguzi team collected the information, and following procedures such as geo-localisation, categorisation and verification, the information was presented in real-time on an online interactive map. Following the verification of information, Uchaguzi then aimed to provoke a response, by “getting verified information to organizations and individuals who can intervene positively and monitoring that response to measure its effectiveness.” By 18 March, the site counted 4964 contributions, 2699 of which were verified.

Uchaguzi is a spin-off of the well-know Kenyan platform Ushahidi (Swahili for ‘witness account’). Launched during the post-electoral crisis of 2008, the non-profit tech company that “specializes in developing free and open source software for information collection, visualization and interactive mapping,” hereby allowing news stories to be shared in a visual, instantaneous manner known as a crowdmap. They describe their mission as “[building] tools for democratizing information, increasing transparency and lowering the barriers for individuals to tell their stories” and used their original website “to map incidents of violence and peace efforts throughout the country based on reports submitted via the web and mobile phones.” Ushahidi’s influence has gone from strength to strength; it was even used by Al Jazeera to source eye-witness reports from the 2008-2009 war in Gaza.

As with Ushahidi, Uchaguzi uses SwiftRiver, software which helps filter and add “context, value and relevance to information coming from the web.” The team recognises that “information overload is a problem that is growing exponentially for everyone,” and that in the world of journalism, it is becoming increasingly important to filter information, not by popularity, but in terms of reliability and authenticity.

The 2013 general election set a new record for participation levels, with 87% of potential voters turning up to cast their vote (12 million voters in total). During the election, the public received thousands of contributions in the form of ‘citizen reports’. On 9 March, the day of the election results, Daudi Were reflected on the success of Uchaguzi’s undertaking: “Uchaguzi was a deployment focusing primarily on the election process, we have done that… So far Kenya is largely peaceful, we anticipate that it will remain that way… We’d like to thank you all for sending in your reports, for taking time to visit the Uchaguzi website, for your support out on the ground and online. We appreciate you.”

Thanks to Uchaguzi, then, interactive mapping has become a collaborative tool that may be used by communities to make their voices heard during times of political unrest. In presenting personal witness accounts in a visual, geographical sense that is clear and accessible to the public, it has become one of the bases of “crowdsourcing” and “citizen journalism” that looks set to stay for the long run.