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Using New Technologies to Strengthen Democracy
February 6, 2015

Chris Spence is Chief Technology Officer at the National Democratic Institute (NDI). He leads information technology initiatives to promote and strengthen democracy around the world. Spence has conducted NDI technology programs assisting partner organizations in the advancement of democracy in dozens of countries, including 10 in Africa.

He offers this preview on issues he can discuss with YALI Network members in a February 10-12 #YALICHAT.

I’m delighted to have the opportunity to participate in an engagement with the YALI Network. You’ve created an important and exciting community, and I can’t wait to hear from all of you and share my experiences!

I’m delighted to have the opportunity to participate in an engagement with the YALI Network. You’ve created an important and exciting community, and I can’t wait to hear from all of you and share my experiences!

image of Chris SpenceI lived and worked in southern Africa with the National Democratic Institute (NDI) from 1996 through 2001, so I have a personal interest in good governance on the continent. While there, I worked in at least a dozen countries on technology and democracy programs. I helped Africans adapt to new technologies across various sectors: parliaments in Namibia, South Africa, Nigeria, Malawi and Sierra Leone; civil society and election monitoring groups in the same countries as well as Angola and Mozambique. I helped IT experts in Tanzania and South African governments come up to speed on technological advances of value to them

The rapid adoption of technology provides one of the most exciting opportunities for African democracy we’ve ever seen. Africans are more connected, and enjoy greater information access than ever before. At the same time, mobile and Internet access expand every day. These trends will have a powerful influence on the future, and will play a central role in the careers of young leaders like you who will chart the course for democracy, economic development and good governance across the continent.

As you all know, some of the best technological innovation has come from the Africa, including products that can help advance democracy. In fact, a small Nigerian tech firm called Timba Objects developed what has become NDI’s most widely used election monitoring tool. Called NDItech Elections, it gives civic groups capability to demand accountability in elections from their governments. Recently, NDI’s DemTools initiative released the Timba Objects code as an open source project. We reuse this tool in many of our election monitoring programs around the world.

NDI is proud to work with Timba Objects and its founder Tim Akinbo in broadening the availability of these innovative tools.

I look forward to taking your questions on the Facebook chat. I hope a few of you might also ask me about the challenges that come along with the use of these new technologies.

Both the political establishment and their publics must adapt. Parliaments, political parties, and governments need to evolve quickly to keep pace with the citizens they represent and serve. Joining their citizens on the latest technological platforms is critical if governments are to maintain public confidence.

Citizens also incur a new level of personal risk as they embrace new communication technologies and use them as tools in political activities. For example, individual privacy is challenged, as institutions or companies access our information and communications with neither our knowledge or consent. We have to be aware that’s going on, and be cautious about how much access to our information we allow.

My team at NDI has been very focused on these challenges in recent years and I’d be happy to address any questions or concerns you have along these lines.

I look forward to your questions and comments during this #YALICHAT. I’m certainly eager to learn from all of you!

Learn more about Chris Spence and the IT component of NDI’s work on their blog.

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author or interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government.