= Citizen Journalism project that started in Kenya but is expanding in other locations
"A shining example of crowdsourcing at work, Ushahidi is mobilizing citizens to report and map conflicts. The project began as a way for Kenyans to log reports of violence during the post-election fallout of early 2008; a period when mainstream media was banned. A new Ushahidi engine is currently in development that will allows users to SMS, email or an online form to submit reports that are then flagged on a map that anyone can view to gain a speedy understanding of where issues are happening. Reports are broken down into categories that include deaths, looting and peace efforts. Ushahidi works with NGOs to verify reports, helping ensure that content is as accurate and complete as possible. Reporting in this way promotes peace efforts, increases awareness of violence and provides a permanent log of events, referral to which may help in future conflicts and ensure that what happened is not forgotten.
Ushahidi plans to release the tool as a downloadable application that is both open source and plug-in friendly, meaning it can be customized for different needs and locations." (http://www.springwise.com/telecom_mobile/citizen_journalism_from_text_m/)
1. With ORY OKOLLOH - Kenyan activist, lawyer and blogger, and co-founder of Ushahidi, a crowdsourcing technology. She is 33 and now lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.
"What is Ushahidi?
It is a non-profit technology company that specialises in developing free and open-source software for crowdsourcing and interactive mapping. We build tools for democratising information and increasing transparency – we're lowering the barriers for individuals to share their stories. It started out as an ad hoc group of technologists and bloggers hammering out software in a couple of days, trying to figure out a way to gather more and better information about the post-election violence in Kenya in January 2008. Since then, the platform has gone open-source, and it's free so it's now being used by organisations big and small all over the world.
How did digital technologies best meet your needs, rather than the traditional avenues of publication and dissemination?
Digital technologies offer the ability to get up and running in a low-cost way, and the possibility of reaching a much wider audience.
What is it about the web that makes it such an effective platform?
Its accessibility and the low barriers to publication of information – plus the ability to be who you are.
What can't the web do to change our attitudes and behaviour?
The web can't change our behaviour – it can influence us, but it's individuals who change.
Where will the web have its greatest effect over the next 10 years?
No question: Africa." (http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/nov/28/internet-radicals-world-wide-web)
2. By Open-Steps.org
We contacted Chris Albon, director of data projects, and asked him some questions so you can learn more about this great tool.
1) Hello Chris, could you first introduce yourself? Briefly, what are the activities of Ushahidi as company and what is the purpose of your main product, the Ushahidi platform?
My name is Chris Albon and I am in charge of Ushahidi’s data work. Ushahidi is a Kenyan technology non-profit that builds platforms, tools, and communities extending from rural Kenya to the coast of Louisiana. As a disruptive organization we believe our place is at the bleeding edge; it is part of our organization’s DNA.
Beyond leading a movement in crisis mapping through mobile phones and the internet, and revolutionizing an industry of data-use to solve problems, we helped build the iHub in Nairobi, creating a new model for innovation and tech startups in the region and changed the perspective about where innovation comes from.
The core Ushahidi platform for data collection and changing the way information flows is now used in 159 countries around the world. It has been translated into 35 languages and has been deployed over 50,000 times. In addition, the iHub has grown to more than 10,000 members, spun out 28 companies and spawned a movement of tech hubs across the African continent.
2) Quoting your website, “the tool contributes to democratise information, increase transparency and lower the barriers for individuals to communicate their stories”. Could you give us some examples of Ushahidi-based initiatives that have succeeded on their goals?
There are many examples of Ushahidi tools being used to democratize information, from fighting sexual harassment in Egypt to civil society activism in Ukraine. For us, success is a user able to gain new knowledge and power from data from the crowd.
3) Who is actually using the Ushahidi platform? Are they individuals, NGOs, activists, public administrations? Is there a topic or an issue that is much more addressed among all the users? In which countries/continents has the platform been more actively used? Why?
Ushahidi is used by all manner of people and organizations, from small non-profits wishing to monitor an election to international organizations tracking disaster relief efforts. The platform is used globally and on a whole spectrum of issues.
6) You are working hard to build up a community (support, development wiki, help forum,…). What kind of contributors are getting involved in it? How big has been the impact of it for the development of Ushahidi’s products?
Ushahidi’s community has had a huge impact on the products development in a wide variety of areas, from volunteering during deployments of the software, to bug testing, to developing new features. We could not do what we do without them.
7) Ushahidi develops open source software. What are the reasons and benefits for a company like yours for making the code available for everyone? Reading your site, “we have also built a strong team of volunteer developers in Africa, but also in Europe, South America and the US”. Is this engagement a consequence of the Open Source collaborating philosophy?
Absolutely. The open source nature of the software makes community involvement possible. If our software was not open source, there would be very little way for our great community to help us make the software better.
8) Ushahidi provides services (consulting, customization, deployment) around the platform. What kind of organisations do you count under your clients? Besides this, do you rely on other financial resources?
Ushahidi is lucky enough to have a set of great organizations supporting our work, from the Rockefeller Foundation to Google.org to many others. In addition we also provide additional services for users who want some technical customization, training, or strategic guidance in the deployment of the platform or management of crowdsourced data." (http://www.open-steps.org/ushahidi-open-source-platform-for-collaborative-data-collection-nairobi-kenya/)
"Ushahidi is the name of both the organization (Ushahidi Inc) and the platform. This understandably leads to some confusion. So let me elaborate on both.
Ushahidi the platform is a piece of software, not a methodology. The Ushahidi platform allows users to map information of interest to them. I like to think of it as democratizing map making in the style of neogeography. How users choose to collect the information they map is where methodology comes in. Users themselves select which methodology they want to use, such as representative sampling, crowdsourcing, etc. In other words, Ushahidi is not exclusively a platform for crowdsourcing. Nor is Ushahidi restricted to mapping crisis information. A wide range of events can be mapped using the platform. Non-events can also be mapped, such as football stadiums, etc.
The platform versus methodology distinction is significant. Why? Because new users often don’t realize that they themselves need to think through which methodology they should use to collect information. Furthermore, once they’ve chosen the methodology, they need to set up the appropriate tools to collect information using that methodology, and then collect.
As my colleague Ory aptly cautioned: “Don’t get too jazzed up about Ushahidi. It is only 10% of the solution.” The other 90% is up to the organization using the platform. If they don’t have their act together, the Ushahidi platform won’t change that. If they do and successfully deploy the Ushahidi platform, then at least 90% of the credit goes to them.
Ushahidi the organization is a non-profit tech company. The group is not a humanitarian organization. We do not take the lead in deployments. In the case of Haiti, I launched the Ushahidi platform at The Fletcher School (where I am a PhD student) and where graduate students (not Ushahidi employees) created a “live” map of the disaster for several weeks. The Ushahidi tech team provided invaluable technical support around the clock during those weeks. It was thus a partnership led by The Fletcher Team.
We do not have a comparative advantage in deploying platforms and our core mission is to continue developing the Ushahidi platform. On occasion, we partner on select projects but do not take the lead on these projects. Why do we partner at all? Because we are required to diversify our business model as part of the grant we received from the Omidyar Network." (http://irevolution.wordpress.com/2010/06/16/think-again/)
2. As a liberation technology, Patrick Meier:
"The new dynamics that are enabled by “liberation technologies” like Ushahidi may enable a different form of democracy, one which arising from “the inability of electoral/representative politics to keep it promises [has thus] led to the development of indirect forms of democracy” (Rosanvallon 2008). More specifically, Rosanvallon indentifies three channels whereby civil society can hold the state accountable not just during elections but also between elections and independent of their results. “The first refers to the various means whereby citizens (or, more accurately, organizations of citizens) are able to monitor and publicize the behavior of elected and appointed rulers; the second to their capacity to mobilize resistance to specific policies, either before or after they have been selected; the third to the trend toward ‘juridification’ of politics [cf. dataveillance] when individuals or social groups use the courts and, especially, jury trials to bring delinquent politicians to judgment” (Schmitter 2008, PDF).
These three phases correspond surprisingly well with the three waves of Ushahidi uses witnessed over the past three years. The first wave was reactive and documentary focused. The second was more pro-active and focused on action beyond documentation while the third seeks to capitalize on the first two to complete the rebalancing of power. Perhaps this final wave is the teleological purpose of the Ushahidi platform or What Technology Wants as per Kevin Kelly’s treatise. However, this third wave, the trend toward the “juridificaiton” of democracy bolstered by crowdsourced evidence that is live-mapped on a public Ushahidi platform, is today more a timid ripple than a tsunami of change reversing the all-seeing “panopticon”. A considerable amount of learning-by-doing remains to be done by those who wish to use the Ushahidi platform for impact beyond the first two phases of Rosanvallon’s democracy." (http://irevolution.net/2011/10/02/theorizing-ushahidi/)