Principles for Design & Development

TMG’s Pre-Election Observation and Quick Count Case Study

The Elections DemTool and DKAN data warehouse tool were used to systematically collect, analyze & communicate election day processes and outcomes.

How Solution Meets Need

In the months leading up to the March 28, 2015 presidential poll, Nigeria was widely believed to be on the brink of disaster. Africa observers predicted violence as the likely outcome of the election, in a context of deep political and regional polarization combined with ongoing attacks by Boko Haram insurgents. There was broad concern that a failed election in Nigeria would destabilize the entire West Africa region. Nevertheless, Nigeria held an historic and closely contested election, which peacefully transferred power from one political party to another for the first time since independence.

The NDItech team provided technical assistance to the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), Nigeria’s premier citizen observation organization, to conduct a quick count during the 2015 elections and to carry out systematic pre-election observation for five months leading up to the polls. Using parallel vote tabulation methodology, election observers were sent to a representative random sample of polling units to monitor the process and report on vote totals to independently verify results and build citizen confidence in the process.

To do this the NDItech team deployed the Elections DemTool, a custom-built data management platform, to aggregate, manage, and analyze structured data collected through text messages and phone calls from thousands of trained observers across 774 local government areas (LGAs) across the country. With automated data analysis, election experts were able to quickly spot trends and flag potential problems while maintaining direct communication with the network of observers in the field.

In addition, TMG utilized DKAN for internal data warehousing and visual analysis. DKAN is a platform designed to make data readily accessible and understandable to nearly any audience by generating responsive, interactive data visualizations. By archiving their data sets, TMG was able to generate charts and graphs that were automatically shareable online and dynamically updated as new information was received. With the addition of shapefiles, maps were automatically generated, which allowed TMG to look for geographic trends in political participation and election administration processes.

Principles Addressed

Be Data Driven: Comprehensive and systematic analysis of observer reports allows an organization to accurately assess electoral outcomes. Organizational leaders use this information to evaluate the overall quality of election-day processes and to project and verify official election results based on precise analysis of polling station data. This assessment based on statistically conclusive information can legitimate or challenge the common understanding of the political process.

Design for Scale: Agile election data management processes are built with a “systems” approach that can adapt to a variety of input mechanisms including collecting data by paper, phone, SMS, web form, smartphone form, email or app. In addition, any custom range of questions and data types can be collected.

Reuse & Improve: Since its first deployment in Nigeria in 2011, the Elections DemTool has undergone significant improvements and been reused many times over. Originally built as a custom database that came to be called Apollo, the platform has increased in its processing speed and capacity for receiving data from the remote observers. It also came to allow users to create content entirely from the front end, making it more accessible and user-friendly, and now checks errors in the data automatically, reducing the time and effort required for execution. Elections expanded its input parameters beyond SMS messages to include submissions from the smartphone app Open Data Kit (ODK) Collect.

Outcomes and Lessons Learned

  • In 2011, the cost for building an election observation system in Nigeria was $70,000 and took six months to implement. In 2015, the site was running in 15 minutes at virtually no cost.
  • With the core functionality already taken care of, TMG could invest their time and resources into the
    more difficult and important work of training observers and organizing a national communication strategy
  • Partner organizations often lack capacity for data driven decision-making. This project also required the organization to be data-driven
    at scale, which proved to be resource intensive. The skills and resources required for data reporting and analysis were especially burdensome.
  • In-person trainings remain the common method of preparing observers, and are time intensive.
  • TMG’s Quick Count analysis generated from the Elections DemTool strongly indicated that turnout was inflated during the collation process in southern Nigeria. This discovery prompted TMG to call on INEC to immediately investigate the inflation of turnout figures during the collation process before local elections this year.
  • The Elections DemTool enabled TMG to collect data on over 80 individual question per SMS through coded text messages. This allowed TMG to collect and analyze over 125,000 data points on election day.

For more case studies, click one of the links below:

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