By June Mwangi – Financial Controller - Kenya

Being an Accountant my days are filled with number analysis, document perusal, supplier payments and monthly financial reports. Not so during the last week of October, where the contentious second round of Kenyan presidential elections was held on the 26th of October 2017.

Ushahidi encourages each team members, irrespective of their job title and or direct involvement with our platform, to be conversant with it. Very specifically, we are all required to participate in running Uchaguzi deployments. Uchaguzi is an important project for us, as our identity is drawn from our platform having been created during the post-election violence of 2007-2008, to allow people to report the happenings around them during the media blackout. This is why we always have 100% team participation for it. Personally it is also quite gratifying to have the opportunity to be able to enable people, from all walks of life, raise their voices during a very important and lately turbulent time in our country Kenya.

For me the pre-Uchaguzi activities at the beginning of last week revolved around ensuring that all pertinent payments were made on time as well as availing cash for running the situation room at the I-hub, where all staff and volunteers involved in managing the deployment congregated on 26th and 27th October. The media ads payment was particularly tricky as it was required before the ads could be run; yet we did not have much time. A little treasury management here and some payment re-prioritization there, and I managed to get it done. It also happened to be payroll week and so that too had to be taken care of because, hey, no salary no team to work. The sudden public holiday announced for the eve of Election Day was particularly discombobulating for me, as it meant bank transactions effected on Tuesday 24th October, would only be reflected in recipient accounts on Friday 27th October. It also forced a bank run for me which was particularly long and dreary because everyone else in the country had had a similar realization of one less day to visit the bank. These challenges notwithstanding, I was ready for the big deployment day aka election day.

I have to admit having been involved in the first round of Uchaguzi had been very helpful to me because it meant that prep for structuring of posts, which is the team I participate in, was quite easy. I also have to applaud my colleague Angela Lungati, an excellent trainer who had trained us on the updated version of the Uchaguzi platform, and the changes therein.

Structuring of posts is basically the process of arranging incoming data from sms, email and or twitter into a usable format for our deployment. It basically entails reading of posts and:

  • Coming up with an appropriate title for them
  • Adding them to the relevant surveys and categories
  • Indicating the location from which they were sent (geolocation). The Geolocation team however is tasked with performing enhanced geolocation. All we do is provide guidance on whether or not the geolocation team needs to work on them.
  • Adding any photos videos or media links attached to posts.
  • Indicating whether the posts require translation which is executed by the Translation team.
  • Indicating whether posts need to be verified; executed by the Verification team.
  • And finally indicating whether posts need to be escalated; executed by the Escalation team. This team’s response is vital as it helps connect an urgent need indicated in a post to the relevant authority or humanitarian organization.
  • We also archive irrelevant posts that don’t add much value to the deployment even though they came through on to the platform; usually from twitter.

The Structuring team therefore plays a pivotal role in getting a deployment populated with relevant data because we either, serve as an efficient cog in the machine that the Uchaguzi deployment is or, as a bottleneck. The Publishing team responsible for reviewing all posts before they are posted on to the public domain of our platform would not have posts to review and publish, if our team did not get posts properly structured and forwarded to the other teams.

Comparative to the first round of Uchaguzi, working on the Twochaguzi deployment was relatively easier because some improvements had been made on the platform since August. One notable change was the timeline view of unstructured posts being a split page that allows one to work on the same page through- out the structuring process as opposed to each click leading to a new page. We were also better able to tell which post was being worked on by others although once in a while we encountered what Angela called “caching problems” that obstructed that feature from working efficiently. A bulk actions feature added greatly increased efficiency especially for archiving random twitter posts.

The nature of unstructured posts we work on varied based on the stage at which the election was at as well as the source of the post. Early in the day sms posts, especially from partner observers, tended to highlight preparedness of IEBC officials at various polling stations and their opening times. We also got posts on how well the kiems kits worked. From twitter typically we got lots of information from citizens about their feelings on whether they were going to vote or not, photos of comparison of round one and round 2 voter turn-out etc. Later in the day sms messages revolved around turn out percentages and technical issues around the voting process. Twitter messages had a myriad of displays of some of the protests, violence, police presence and a few wonderful displays of patriotism such a photo of a policeman helping an elderly lady leaving a polling station. We could also tell whenever our radio ads hit the airwaves because there would be an influx of messages from certain regions in the country requiring translation. We also get breaking news on security matters, press conferences and other incidents that may require the intervention of the Escalation team.

Overall I had a wonderful time working on this project; getting to know what was happening in various parts of the country first-hand, and at times through some very personal communication. That knowledge that I was part of a project designed to help people raise their voices, sometimes in life and death situations was not only sobering but also uplifting. I am well aware that my accounting job is an integral support mechanism to the heart that is the Ushahidi platform, but it was just excellent having the opportunity to be a part of the heart of the system.