The Story Behind Vote Report India: Citizen-Powered Election Monitoring

Vote Report India

This is a long and winding story, so let me first give you the quick short version.

I'm honored to be part of the wonderful team that launched Vote Report India yesterday.

Vote Report India is a collaborative citizen-powered election monitoring platform for the 2009 Indian Lok Sabha elections.

Basically, users contribute direct SMS, email, and web reports on violations of the Election Commission’s Model Code of Conduct (PDF). The platform will then aggregate these direct reports with news reports, blog posts, photos, videos and tweets related to the elections from all relevant sources, in one place, on an interactive map.

We are hoping that Vote Report India will not only increase transparency and accountability in the Indian election process, but also provide the most complete picture of public opinion in India during the elections.

So, that was the short version of what Vote Report India does. Here is the long story behind how Vote Report India came into being.

Ushahidi, as many of you know, was started last year by a group of Kenyan bloggers led by Erik Hersman, to track post election violence in Kenya. Over time, it has become a robust crisis reporting platform, with a vibrant ecosystem around it, and partnerships like the one with Al Jazeera during the Gaza conflict.

After the November 26 Mumbai terrorist attack, two members of the Ushahidi ecosystem, Chris Blow and Kaushal Jhalla, started thinking about building a platform called SwiftRiver, which would manage much higher volumes of data than Ushahidi, by partly automating and partly crowd-sourcing the filter.

As some of you know, I have been thinking about how to use a Ushahidi-like tool in the Indian elections. What you might not know is that Kaushal and I have been in touch with each other, on an on-and-off basis, ever since the Mumbai terrorist attack.

It all came together last week in a series of happy coincidences.

First, Ushahidi's strategy meeting on March 21 led to the decision to build SwiftReport by combining features from Ushahidi and VoteReport, with the help of Andrew Turner.

On March 29, I asked the Ushahidi folks if they would be interested in doing an Ushaidi/ SwiftRiver installation for the Indian elections, and fresh off the meeting, they not only agreed but put all their energy into customizing the platform for Vote Report India.

On April 4, we realized that Selvam Velmurugan and Munish Sivagurunath had put together another installation of Ushahidi at Free Fair Elections. We decided to pool our resources together and launched Vote Report India on April 6, within 10 days of the first email.

So, an idea that started off with the Mumbai terrorist attack has come full circle to be realized during the Lok Sabha elections.

We are far from done, however. On the technical side, there is some serious work to be done on integrating the SwiftRiver functionality into Ushahidi, and Andrew and Selvam are hard at work on it. On the deployment side, Anant Trivedi, Gautam John and Satchit Balsari are reaching out to media and civil society organizations in India. I'm somewhere in the middle, trying to put it all together, on time, and wondering how I ended up working with such super-smart rockstars.

We need another series of happy coincidences to make Vote Report India work, and we can use all the help we can get.

I would encourage you to spend some time at our website and project wiki to get a sense of what we are doing. If you like what we are doing, please join the Vote Report India community at Twitter (@votereportindia), Facebook, Orkut, SMSGupShup or Google Groups and subscribe to our blog. If you have a blog or a website, please consider writing about Vote Report India and displaying our banners (200X200 and 150X150).

Vote Report India Banner

If possible, consider volunteering for one of our open work streams. But, most importantly, do use and encourage others to use the Vote Report India platform, and help us make the election process more transparent.

You'll be hearing more from Vote Report India soon.

Also see: Great posts by Erik Hersman and Nancy Scola on how Vote Report India came together. Plus, my earlier posts on how political parties, civil society organizations and corporates are using digital media in the 2009 Indian Lok Sabha elections.

Cross-posted at Gauravonomics, my blog on social media and social change.

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