Crowdsourcing as a tool for political participation? – the case of Ugandawatch

December 06, 2016 by Johan Hellström

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Uganda has democratic deficits where demand for democracy exceeds its supply. As a consequence it is argued that a segment of Ugandans might participate and honour the freedom to speak out, assemble, and associate given new opportunities outside the traditional political channels. With expanded mobile coverage and access to mobile devices and services in mind, and using the concept of open crowdsourcing, the platform UgandaWatch was launched prior to the 2011 general elections with the intention to meet the demand, to offer increased equality of political participation, and to advance efforts toward increased citizen engagement in Uganda. From a community informatics point of view, the study examined how and under what conditions access to ICT tools (mobile devices, networks, and a crowdsourcing platform) can be made usable and useful for people and communities for increased political participation in a given context. By combining the collection and analysis of quantitative (SMS-survey) and qualitative data (focus groups) through a mixed-method approach, this study answers the questions, What are the key factors that influence users’ willingness to use mobile phones and crowdsourcing platforms as a channel for political participation?, and What concerns do users have with respect to using mobile phones and crowdsourcing platforms in the participation process? The study shows that users participated because they hoped it would bring real change to Uganda’s electoral and political landscape, that it was a convenient channel to use (quick and easy) and that confidentiality was assured. The user concerns relate to costs, trust, and safety. Crowdsourcing offers an alternative channel and may substitute or supplement traditional means of political participation. It can increase participation in some groups, including among those who normally do not participate—something that increases equality of political participation in a positive direction.