August 8, 2017 | Notes on Working with Volunteers on the Geolocation team
Uchaguzi is a team effort and the workforce behind the posts emerging on the crowdsourced map of Kenya’s electoral landscape is a nearly 24-hour effort spread all over the globe and coordinated via online messaging apps. Volunteers spend hours to triaging, researching, and publishing incoming reports. And the experience of working with these volunteers from around the world - all coordinating with Kenyans who are monitoring the situation on the ground - can be oddly exhilarating, worrisome, and satisfying. As the reports come in via SMS, social media, and trusted reporters, you have a front row seat to what data analysts often refer to as “real-time.” The intensity of the work can’t be overstated. Our volunteers create a deeply supportive atmosphere within these chat rooms as they pore over reports looking for any that may signify a problem that needs to be addressed immediately.
One example sticks with me as a write this. At 4:36 PM (UTC) we saw a flurry of activity around a specific post that was reporting violence: the volunteers quickly pinned the report to the map, double-checked the information, and contacted the Uchaguzi field team to escalate the report. By 4:52 the report had been sent to the local authorities who, in turn, sent police to investigate. Although it only lasted 16 minutes, an episode like that can feel hours long, prompting the volunteer who was handling it to write, “i'm so stressed i feel my hands shaking.”
As I and other online volunteers provided words of encouragement, support, and reminders about self-care or asking for help, I was struck by what a wonderfully and intimate experience this is. Although at times stressful, I find myself in an online world filled with support and positivity. It’s such a stunning change from the acidic mudslinging associated with online politics today that it catches me off guard. Suddenly, I’m reminded that one individual is capable of making a difference; that the Internet can be a tool for mutual support; and that partnerships for social good make sitting at a computer and working with people around the world an experience filled with genuine humanity. It is an incredibly rejuvenating reminder.
We can’t thank our partners and volunteers enough. But we’d be remiss not to try. Thank you all: you make it worthwhile.
The Uchaguzi Team