ACCRA, Ghana (11 August 2014) – A pan-African coalition of civic-minded volunteers have stepped in to help Ghanaians who are struggling to find information on the voter registration process, by building a simple website that helps citizens find their local registration centers.
The GotToVote website (http://ghana.gottovote.cc) explains who is eligible to register for the 2016 general elections and gives a simple overview of the voter registration process. It also tells users what documentation to take with them to register, and (most importantly) helps users easily find their nearest voter registration center.
Much of this information is available elsewhere, but only as difficult-to-access PDF and MS Word or Excel documents that citizens are forced to download from a confusing variety of different ministry or other official websites.
GotToVote! Ghana takes the pain out of finding the information, by bringing it all together in one place and by presenting it in a standardised format that is easily searchable and readable.
The online campaign to help people find the website uses the #GotToVote hashtag on Twitter and Facebook.
Future versions of the site will introduce SMS tools, and will help users verify their registration, find their balloting stations, and track their local election results.
GotToVote! Ghana is not a government website. It was instead built by a grassroots Ghanaian social justice watchdog organisation, Odekro (www.odekro.org) and the continental open data and open government incubator, Code for Africa (www.codeforafrica.org), in partnership with the new Code for Ghana civic hub in Accra.
The project took just two days and $500 to execute. All the cleaned-up data and source materials used to power the website are available, free-of-charge, for both government and other civil society organisations to reuse on your own projects.
This GotToVote! Ghana collaboration is the first in a new partnership to create simple digital tools that empower Ghanaian citizens.
Management of Ghana’s voter registration data has been devolved to the districts, without a unified or umbrella data standard or data schema.
“This means that each of the districts has used their own approach, and storage methods. The lack of a standard schema was a challenge but, adding to this, not even the Electoral Commission’s website has all the information. There are big holes in the Commission data, because of the difficulties in reconciling all these conflicting formats from the districts. This is a confusing nightmare for ordinary people, because they were expected to download a miss-mash of PDFs, MS Word or MS Excel documents, along with CSVs, to try find where they should register,” explains Code for Africa’s lead technologist, David Lemayian.
Lemayian and his counterparts at Odekro, Emmanuel Okyere and Nehemiah Attigah, therefore systematically downloaded and decoded all source documents from the districts and all other available sources and built a standard schema, reconciling often misspelled or missing data points and weeding out replications.
“A lot of the data, particularly for the Ashanti, Eastern, and Northern regions, were in .doc and .docx files. While most of this was in properly formatted tables that we could extract, some Ashanti documents had really crazy tables that took a long time to clean up and that made it difficult to write scrapers to extract the data into a Fusion Table,” explains Okyere.
Many of the documents also included extraneous data, such as a list of “Unwieldy Electoral Areas”, along with commentaries between Electoral Commission officials about the wisdom of creating additional registration centres because of the distances that voters would have to travel in rural areas to register. The recommendation doesn’t appear to have been adopted.
Some of the data was also incomplete. The Ahenbronum electoral area in the Ashanti Region, for example, had no Designated Centre provided. And data for Brong Ahafo turned out to be same data for Volta region. Data for the Central region was not available at all. Regions like Volta were role models, with all their data cleanly formatted on separate spreadsheets within the same Excel workbook/file.
Ghana’s Electoral Commission was quick to help when problems were identified, proving the potential for constructive and mutually beneficial partnerships between official agencies and civic technologists.
The Commission and its district agencies will be able to reuse the consolidated GotToVote! datasets.
“What advice do we have for the Commission? Officials need to understand that data collection should NEVER be done in word processing software like Word. Spreadsheets should be the minimum standard, with the CSV formats preferred, Something like Excel is only acceptable if nothing else is possible,” says Okyere.
“Collaboration rocks! This entire project was done online, across time zones and 4,000km, with teams working in Ghana and Kenya. The Ghanians did all the data processing, at lightning speed, while the Kenyan team focused on setting up the site structure. It’s amazing what we were able to achieve in just two days, at virtually no cost,” says Lemayian.
GotToVote! is an example of how open data can be useful to ordinary citizens.
GotToVote! was built at virtually zero cost as a Code for Kenya data journalism experiment ahead of that country’s 2013 general elections. It was built in response to the fact that Kenyan citizens — like Ghanaian citizens — were struggling to find out where to register. You can read a short blog post about the experiment here.
But, why would journalists care? GotToVote! was designed to demonstrate that data-driven tools could help media audiences act on the news they read / watch, by showing how a national event such as the elections affects people’s personal lives or local communities.
GotToVote! has since been replicated in Malawi (where electoral authorities adopted it as the official government solution for voter verification) and Zimbabwe. Ghana is therefore the fourth country to use GotToVote!
Code for Kenya itself was also a success. It started as a pilot programme funded by the Africa Media Initiative (AMI) and its African News Innovation Challenge (ANIC). It embedded four Data Fellows (technology strategists) into major Kenyan newsrooms and a civil society organisation, for five months, to help kickstart experimentation with data-driven civic engagement tools. The Data Fellows were supported by an external software development team.
Its success has sparked the launch of Code for South Africa in early 2014, and now the new Code for Ghana and Code for Nigeria initiatives.
Code for Africa and its partners hate seeing civil society or anyone else being duped into wasting money unnecessarily on inappropriate technology or predatory consultancies.
There are thousands of civic apps and other technology solutions already available for reuse, free-of-charge, on communities such as GitHub.
Code for Africa is committed to help grow these resources and the global civic technology community, by making its code and data freely available. It is also committed to helping fellow African citizen agency organisations re-purpose and customise existing civic code as cost-effectively as possible.
The code for GotToVote! Ghana is available here.
All the data used by the Ghana project and other initiatives is available for free reuse on the openAFRICA.net portal. It is already the continent’s largest repository of public data, despite being volunteer run, and offers data ranging from government budget and tender information, to data about parliamentarians and other public officials.
Emmanuel Okyere : +233 20 336 1009 : firstname.lastname@example.org
Nehemiah Attigah : +233 26 448 6657 : email@example.com
Code for Africa
Justin Arenstein : +27.82.374.0812 : JustinArenstein@gmail.com
David Lemayian : : firstname.lastname@example.org
Code for Ghana
Florence Toffa : +233 26 77 77887 : email@example.com
Kojo Boakye : : firstname.lastname@example.org