Digital Mapping Technologies for 21st Century Democracy


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Presentation I gave at the 2011 Club D

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  • Good morning, how are Digital Mapping Technologies shaping21stCentury Democracy?Outline for Club de Madrid presentation* Liberation Technology & Accountability Technology* DIY Innovation and Open Data* Shared awareness Habermas, sousveillance * Three waves of democracy* Elections* collective witnessing* PhD research on Internet > democratic change* Syria/Somalia* SBTF* Arab Spring* Shift to more democratic multipolar system
  • In December 2007, the Kenyan presidential elections turned violent. The government chose to downplay the severity of the situation. And the mainstream media could not be everywhere at the same time to report on the human right violations taking place across the country.
  • So some Kenyan activists launched a live crisis map and decided to crowdsource the reporting of human rights abuses. We set up a free SMS number which allowed anyone in Kenya to text in their eye witness accounts of unfolding events. We then added these SMS’s to the map as fast as we could. In this way, we circumvented both the government and the mainstream media to let people speak for themselves.
  • Ushahidi means witness or testimony in Swahili, we are an African nonprofit technology company that specializes in developing free and open source solutions for crowdsourcing and live participatory mapping. Our platform has been used in over 130 countries since the Kenyan elections and we have added several new features to the technology as well, such as smart phone app integration. Why is this technology important for 21st century democracy? Because as JuergenHabermas said half century ago, those who take on the tools of open expression become a public and a synchronized public increasingly constrains undemocratic rule. Live maps synchronize shared awareness. Some call this “sousveillance” or upward accountability, others call this digital democracy.
  • Take this picture from the Iran elections from over two years ago. Since then, millions of new smart phones, flip cams, digital cameras have ended up in the hands of ordinary individuals in hundreds of countries. We live in a world where entire crowds are are now beginning to collectively testify, collectively bear witness to events both large and small. This wired global civil society is a critical ingredient for democratic change. This global network is a new nervous system for our planet. We saw this nervous system pulse at an entirely unprecedented scale this year during the Arab Spring and now with the Occupy Wall Street movement.
  • One Egyptian activist aptlysummarized the impact of these new technologies earlier this yearBut these activists are also doing something else. They are not just turning to social media during times of upheaval, they are increasingly leveraging digital mapping technologies to live mapping democratic change and synchronzeshared awareness.
  • We’ve seen this happen in Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, the US and Syria, to name a fewIn the case of Syria, we also partnered with Amnesty International and Tomnod to search high-resolution satellite imagery for further evidence of mass human rights violations. Because there was so much imagery, we recruited hundreds of volunteers from around the world to crowdsource the analysis of this imagery.Shared, synchronized awareness, HabermasSecurity issues -> satellite imageryADD OCCUPY WS SCREEN SHOT!!
  • The SBTF recently launched a new team, the Satellite Team, to micro-task satellite imagery tagging and analysis. Over the past 3 months, the Sat Team has partnered with Digital Globe and Tomnod on joint projects with UNHCR in Somalia and AI-USA in Syria. The former tagged informal shelters in the Afgooye Corridor while the latter tagged heavy military equipment and checkpoints in key Syrian cities.
  • Who are these volunteers? They are members of the Standby Volunteer Task Force. A global network of some 700 volunteers from over 70 countries who we have trained in Digital Mapping Technologies for 21st Century Democracy. You can join by simply sending us an email at Join at standbytaskforce com
  • These same volunteers created this live crisis map for the United Nations earlier this year. In fact, it was the UN that asked the volunteer network for this support.
  • During the early days of the crisis in Libya, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs had very little information on the situation. So they asked us for a live map to help inform their situational awareness. We set up the Ushahidi platform and began to map within hours of the request. Many other humanitarian organizations as well as the human rights groups and the ICC began to closely follow dthe map.
  • So we’ve talked about the use of digital mapping technologies for human rights monitoring and humanitarian response. What about election monitoring? The platform has been used in dozens of elections around the world for independent, citizen-based election observation.
  • Verify 91% of reports, included 100’s of pictures, video. Truly multi-media sousveillance. Incidentally, it was the Egyptians who trained the Tunisians no how to use the Ushahidi platform for election monitoring.Live mapping technologies have also been used in response to natural disasters. Boycott of the electionsFrom your diss re elections and technology shifting balance of power; Phil Howard
  • Such as the Haiti Earthquake last year, the recent earthquake in Van, Turkey. And last year in Washington DC during the massive snow storm that paralyzed the city. Here you have a free and open technology from Africa helping the world’s superpower dig itself out of the snow.This last example is important because the Washington Post did something no other crisis map had done before. Not only did they crowdsource problems, but they also crowdsourced solutions. This is important because professional disaster responders cannot be at every street corner of every city in the world. But the crowd, the crowd is always there. We are not all affected by disasters in the same way, and it’s human to want to help others in need. What these technologies are helping us to do is build more resilient communities from the bottom up.
  • Our friends in Russia took this approach last summer during the massive Russian fires. Using the Ushahidi platform, they launched the most ambitious crowdsourcing exercise in the country’s history. Ordinary volunteers matched needs with offers for help, setting up their own call center in a volunteer’s living room in Russia. What is stunning about this use of the Ushahidi platform is that it showed very clearly how unprepared and useless the Russian government was. It showed the limitation of Russian statehood was and how well organized and capable ordinary citizens were. So whither the state? The Russian government tried to show it was in control by setting up webcams in several cities around the country showing that they were monitoring the situation. But what the use of the Ushahidi platform did in this context was monitor how worthless the state was.
  • The point here is that if we want digital technologies for 21st century democracy, then we need to democratize the use and access of said technologies, they need to be DIY technologies.these need to by Free and Open Source technologies, but they also need to by DIY technologies, let people decide for themselves how to use and customize the technologies for their own purposes.130 countries, reverse innovationReverse innovationUshahidi not finishedLet people decide for themselvesNot about African solutions to African problems, about your solutions to your problems
  • Digital Mapping Technologies for 21st Century Democracy

    1. 1. Changing the WorldOne Map at a Time @PatrickMeier(PhD)
    2. 2. “We use Facebook to scheduleprotests, Twitter to coordinate and YouTube to tell the world.”
    3. 3. Standby Volunteer Task Force
    4. 4. Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter, Princeton University
    5. 5. Free & Open Source DIY Technology for 21st Century Democracy @patrickmeier