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It was Jim Lehrer who told the story of how technology has changed the way news information is gathered and how it is reported.

Several years ago the digital operations and the TV production team for News Hour with Jim Lehrer began to share office space. Shortly after that co-habitation the Fort Hood shooting took place…the story goes that when word came that there had been a shooting the TV/Print journalists grabbed for the phones and started calling their military/Pentagon contacts to find out what had happened…while the digital journalists were very quiet (as I remember the story) and focused on their computers….no reaching for a phone….reading screens.

The digital journalists were getting updates via Twitter (primarily) as well as other digital and social media….the information was current and in real-time. It was eye witnesses accounts and even official reports came through digital media.

Yesterday as the Navy Yard shooting was unfolding…I was in downtown Washington…in meetings, in cabs, at lunch, more meetings…and in between I followed my Twitter accounts to keep up on the shooting and its aftermath.

This was a local story. And the Washington media and national media that are based here did an remarkable job on air, in print, and digital. Kudos to them….(and yes, most print and broadcast journalists have Twitter accounts…)

I appreciate ALL of the news coverage no matter what format. And last night and this morning I read the news stories and listened to the analysis…but in the heart-stopping moments of the event I appreciated Twitter.

It was my source of information on the shooting, road blocks and closings, metro closings, and general updates from the District MPD.

Late-breaking news indeed.


PS…my apologies to Mr. Lehrer if have the specifics of his story off a bit

There have been a plethora of national elections in many new democracies, like Georgia, Kenya, and Nigeria, as well as countries not known for their democratic process, like Zimbabwe, Egypt, and Russia.

And in every news story or feature on the elections the lead paragraph mentions the “international observers” that are in the country to guarantee a free and open election.

georgia parliamentary election

Citizens cast votes in Georgia’s 2012 parliamentary elections

I always think of Jimmy Carter and the Carter Center’s attendance at elections in Central America and Asia where he and the team declared elections fair or under suspension.

There was a brouhaha in the last United States presidential election when some countries said they would send observers to the U.S. to make sure everyone had access to vote.

Shades of 2000 and 2008.

But what exactly is an “international observer” and what are they observing?

One of our partners, Brian McCotter, has extensive experience in the democracy and governance sector and has been an observer for elections for many years. Working primarily for the National Democratic Institute (NDI), a Washington, D.C.-based civil society organization, he has been involved in elections in South Africa, Malawi, Mozambique, and Georgia, where he now lives in Tbilisi.

Brian was an observer for last year’s Parliamentary Election in Georgia, which saw the voting in of a new prime minister and majority government—much to the surprise and shock of the incumbent party. Western-style campaign tactics, like negative advertising, and the flood of messages on mass and social media led to a record voter turnout—always a good thing in elections—and the voting out of the incumbent party.

Georgia has Presidential elections this October. Brian will likely be an observer for these elections as well.

Knowing he was going to be engaged in the upcoming election, and with voting issues at the front of my mind, I asked Brian to give us a “day-in-the-life” of an observer and a few talking points on what an observer’s responsibilities are.

Here we go:

1. Election observers come in all shapes and sizes, genders, and professional backgrounds. Although most have experience in some level or government, politics or international organizations.  Most international observers do not come from the country they’re observing in, but have some tie to or experience in that country. It’s helpful for an observer to understand the culture, context and environment in which he or she is working.

2. Long-term observers begin working on an election up to six months (often four) before Election Day, and oversee the planning and progress of the elections. During that prep time they look for red flags like voter roll fraud, illegal campaigning, media bias and political intimidation. Long-term observers work to keep problems to a minimum.

“Many of the problems with elections don’t really happen on election day,” Brian said. “Influence of the election happens long before the elections. Dead people voting, people voting four times, all kinds of things.”

3. Short-term observing is typically a five to seven day commitment that begins three days before the election and focuses on making sure elections are carried out fairly and appropriately. Brian has participated in both long-term and short-term observation missions, though the past four elections he observed were short-term.

The process for a short-term observer begins with a series of briefings by local and international NGOs—organized by the institution (NDI in Brian’s case) that is managing the observation mission. Along with representatives of political parties and the Central Electoral Commission, they walk observers through the rules and specifics of the election – also highlighting problem regions or issues that are topical. Everybody receives a briefing book—their “Election Bible”—to follow for the country’s election.

4. On Election Day, observers will visit 10 or 20 polling stations. Start time varies by country, but it’s always a big day. Following the voting, observers stay to watch the counting.

“Election Day is a long day,” Brian says. Counting usually goes until 4:00 a.m, so it’s not uncommon for an observer to work 24 hours straight on Election Day!

georgia parliamentary election

Central Election Commission employees prepare to register voters for Georgia’s parliamentary elections.

5. Observers carry a checklist and fill out a form to make sure the each polling station is adhering to the rules.  Each observer or team can then record their results and document what they witnessed at each station.

6. If there are problems: Report. Report. Report. Observers report to a number of different people. They may raise fraud issues with the Electoral Commission, or more often report back to a central office run by their sponsoring organization who then reports to the central electoral commission or further investigates.

“To be honest, most of the time everything is fine,” Brian said. “Observing can be a mundane, laborious process if the elections go well. And that’s exactly what you want. You want it to be a mundane, boring process that is well run.

“[Sometimes] new observers are a bit too keen to find fraud and problems, when often, particularly in an election that’s fairly well run, there are more human errors and administrative mistakes than conspiracy and malfeasance.”

As Georgia’s presidential election draws nearer, long-term observers are, at this very moment, working to ensure a fair election takes place in October. Election observers are valuable assets for promoting and preserving the democratic process in countries around the world.



This is the first in a series of posts that examine how social media is being used to address social issues and create or expand a community of practice.

The following looks at Facebook and web-based communication in The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the Middle East.

How many people have heard (or read) Dr. Spock? Not that one—the real Dr. Spock.

Benjamin Spock, MD.

The parenting expert.


In 1946 he published the renowned Baby and Child Care that became the parenting guide for several generations of Americans. For all the advice he gave in his many books, the big take-away was: you, the parent, know more than you think.

Parenting guides have evolved somewhat since 1946. Now books are electronic and parents participate in live or web-based classes. They ask questions of pediatricians and experts online. They Skype their friends and family members who have already gone through the parenting experience.

This is how most of us get information for everything. But in many countries and regions it is a new and gradual change.

We talked to one of the pioneers of online engagement in Jordan, Jida Sunna Cubeisy, who is fast becoming the electronic Dr. Spock of Jordan and the Middle East with her website

Ahaali means “parents” in Arabic—fitting, as the site aims to become “a platform where parents can seek guidance on how to enhance their capability for developing their children,” Jida said.

She started Ahaali specifically for parents to share their experiences with parenting,providing guidance and expertise for other parents who might not have a mentor or guide.

“From my own experience, I never felt there was a place to reach out to and seek advice from, other than my existing social circles,” she said. “Of course there are plenty of global parenting blogs and forums out there, but I found none of them were very relevant to our local society and community.”

The site is built like an online forum, allowing community members to pose questions and engage in meaningful discussion. Jida hopes this community involvement will enable parents to confidently navigate the challenges of child rearing.

“All around me are parents looking for answers, and if I can enhance the quality of life of one child or one family, it would have all been worthwhile,” she said. “To think that we can do it for an entire region makes Ahaali both a powerful business and an effective life journey.”

In less than a year, Ahaali’s Facebook page has amassed over 6,000 “Likes,” and continues to grow—a testament to the growing influence of social media for good around the world.

To view the full transcript of our conversation with Jida, click here.

Google Glass. Self-driving cars. Hyperloop. All examples of technology that is rapidly becoming common place in our lives.

Though these technologies are not the norm in most developing nations, technology is playing a bigger role. Let’s look at four of the fastest growing tools adopted by many of these countries.

Mobile Phones

Mobile phones are making an impact.

A 2011 study by the Kenya Medical Research Institute found that implementing a text message reminder service vastly improved the treatment of malaria at health facilities in coastal and western Kenya. Workers who received SMS reminders improved their adherence to treatment guidelines for outpatient pediatric malaria.

In some parts of rural Africa, a single mobile phone may be used by an entire village to bank, contact relatives, or check the weather. For example, though only 45% of people in Kenya reported owning a mobile phone in a 2012 Plos One survey, 85% of respondents said they had used a mobile phone—many of whom said they own a SIM card, but do not own a phone.

Similarly, 60% of Kenyans have used a mobile phone to send money, and 65% have used a mobile phone to receive money, according to GSMA.

While living and working in Brazil in 2008, I was astonished at how prevalent cell phones had become. It seemed like everyone I met had their own phone. As of 2011, 59% of Brazilians owned a mobile phone and nearly a third of the country had access to the Internet—and these numbers have continued to increase dramatically since 2005.

Internet Access

Mark Zuckerburg recently announced an ambitious project that aims to make the Internet available to—you won’t believe this—every person on the earth. Called simply, the organization has partnered with Samsung, Ericsson, Nokia, and other notable tech giants.

“The Internet is such an important thing for driving humanity forward, but it’s not going to build itself,” Zuckerburg said in a recent interview with the New York Times. Access to the Internet would provide an increase in education and health that many areas of the world still lack. But Zuckerburg isn’t the only one lobbying for increased availability.

In June, we saw Google test Project Loon in New Zealand (see the video to the right). Loon is a network of balloons launched 11 miles in the air to provide Internet access to the regions of the world that would otherwise be considered “off the grid.” As these projects gain traction, people are lining up on both sides of the issue. Many view Internet access plans as financially motivated acts veiled as humanitarian aid—our modern day Pandora’s box.

Social Media

Of course, access to the Internet leads to participation on social media, which can be used in developing nations to help unite citizens, report corruption, and disseminate information during disasters, to name a few benefits. The Arab Spring provides a perfect example of how powerful social networking can be as more and more people adopt it.

A recent study by Pew Research showed that people in lower income countries are more likely to access social networking sites than those who live in countries like Britain, Russia and Spain, once given access to the Internet.

Facebook use grew in the Middle East and Africa by 29% in 2012, and continues to grow today. As of March of this year, over 50 million people in Africa use Facebook. The chart below, from the Afrographique Tumblr, displays some eye-opening statistics on Facebook use across Africa.

Data Analysis

Charles Duhigg recently published an article detailing how Target used purchase history data to identify a teen girl in Minnesota as being pregnant before her father even knew. Similarly, analysts are using Twitter- and SMS-generated data to foresee rises in unemployment and the spread of disease. “We’re trying to track unemployment and disease as if it were a brand,” Robert Kirkpatrick, director of the United Nations Global Pulse team, told the New York Times.

Companies and nonprofits like Global Pulse are advocating for a push in “Data Philanthropy,” the sharing of data from private sector companies for public benefit. This data sharing would allow data miners to identify spikes in unemployment, price rises and disease, among other advantages, months before official statistics are released.

So What?

Access to the Internet and social media tools allow communities to develop faster, providing advantages they wouldn’t otherwise have. Continued technological advancements can accelerate change where it is needed most. Because technology is about a lot more than creating a robot that can do stand-up comedy

Ok. I will admit. I have a crush on Atul Gawande.

I love his book, The Checklist Manifesto and his no-nonsense approach to avoiding medical errors which plague health facilities in the US.

Rather than pointing fingers he provides a practical tool for hospital staff to ensure all steps are covered during hospital procedures.

In his recent article in the July 29th New Yorker, SLOW IDEAS: Some innovations spread fast. How do you speed the ones that don’t? Gawande examines how important global health practices can “stick” given the right approaches and tools.

As someone who has been following the literature and practice of behavior change for 30+ years, such a treat to come across this article that succeeds in explaining behavioral theory, research and practice in one easily digestible, non-academic article.

The big take from Gawande’s article….

The gold standard for behavior change is positive personal interaction. High touch (personal interaction, mentoring, one-to-one instruction) interventions in many cases can be more effective than low touch (mass media, instructional curricula, and technology) interventions.

So in keeping with his checklist approach I will share with you my checklist from his article:

1. Observe and understand the context for why a behavior is or isn’t being practiced
2. Learn why people are doing what they are doing- and what is getting in the way of doing things the right way
3. Don’t assume that technology is the best solution (especially in global health)
4. Instructions (a checklist) followed by careful mentoring can reinforce positive behaviors for health professionals
5. Mass media is helpful to sustain a behavior over time
6. Community interventions that require a community learning a new practice need: individual interventions that demonstrate the practice; observations of community members trying the practice and monitoring of the practice over time.

I’m eagerly awaiting his next book.

I happen to think the whole idea behind Congressman John Lewis’ book March is brilliant.

Brilliant because it combines a “new” genre – okay, graphic books are not really new but compared to Gutenberg I’m going with new – and a history lesson to teach audiences and generations about our past that we shouldn’t and can’t forget.


Talk is that it was the idea of one of his Congressional aide’s and subsequently his co-writer, Andrew Aydin who introduced the notion of a graphic book to tell the Congressman’s story. Joining up with award-winning artist, Nate Powell the first of the trilogy is being released this month.

Not only is he (and his writing and artist team) using a graphic novel format….he is taking it to Comic-Con 2013 to promote it.


I saw one news report…and countless news stories…that ask, “what is John Lewis doing at Comic-Con?”

Good question.

And it did just what it they wanted to do…grabbed my attention!

Congressman Lewis – a national hero – mingling with action heroes.

There’s a visual there, folks.

Why I think it is so brilliant…because it is a perfect example of a good strategic communication approach to reach new audiences and tell an important story.

National Hero tells his story….using graphic novel format….illustrated by an award-winning graphic illustrator….then promoted through traditional media outlets….NBC…NYTimes…press releases….and new outlets including….appearances at Comic-Con 2013.




Congressman (and national hero, in my opinion) John Lewis’ recount of the Selma March and eventually the Voters Right Act of 1964

Mobile phones have become very popular in development communication and I am constantly on the lookout for information on how they are being used in development programs and what’s working. In my quest to stay current I followed the news from the GSMA Global Mobile World Conference which was held last week in Barcelona Spain.
I can across some interesting intel from the non-profit group Mobile Intelligence. I learned that there is actually a term for my area of interest with its own acronym, Mobile for Development (M4D). Who knew! M4D describes s collection of over 1000 development services available through mobile phones. Mobile health dominates the M4D sector but others include money, entrepreneurship and education.
What is interesting to me is that the sector is maturing from using an SMS exchange of information to a more interactive; personalize communications which involves SMS and APPS for mentoring and delivery of services. These more complex services will require smarter phone, which are still out of reach for most people in developing countries.
Interestingly, the phone company heads were also addressing the issue of internet access for developing countries. Their interest is that there are 1 billion customers up for grabs for the company that can produce the affordable smart phone at the right price point. The race is on and it appears from all the talk at the conference that we will see these affordable smart phones in the near future.
With over 40% of mobile phone subscribers as of 2012, there is still a big and growing market for mobile phones, smartphones and M4D services!
It is wonderful when the private and development sectors all are working toward the same goal!
James E Burke died last week.

Though most folks won’t know him by name they will know his contribution to business management and crisis communication.

He was CEO of Johnson & Johnson when the Tylenol crisis happened in 1982.

Every business student and communication practitioner has studied and memorized the Tylenol case because of how successfully they, or he, handled a terrible event that potentially could have destroyed a company and a brand after the horrible deaths of seven people.

In later interviews he had said J&J didn’t have a crisis communication plan. He and the company made decisions as they went along and much can be attributed to the humanity in J&J’s response because of the type of person he was reported to be – very decent.

His instincts were to be honest and forthright – say you don’t know when you don’t and keep everyone current as information became available. Also to accept responsibility.

In Mr. Burke’s obit in NY Times, Jack Welch formerly chairman of GE said “[Mr. Burke’s response] taught corporations a lesson about candor. It was a huge legacy to leave: When you have a problem, deal with it openly, up front.”

It is the same basic instructions we as communication professionals tell our clients to do in day-to-day communication or during a crisis. What’s amazing is that 30 years hence individuals, organizations, and governments still don’t do it.

One last thought, there were other changes that came out of the Tylenol crisis – how OTC products are configured, packaged, and promoted – something to remember when at 2 a.m. you struggle to open a bottle of aspirin. It is for a reason.

Sound familiar…can you identify with this woman’s data trail?

NYTimes tracked One Woman’s Data Trail Diary ( and commented on how normal it probably is for most of us working souls. 

TIME Magazine dedicated an August edition to the digital state of the US and the world.

Yep, that’s us.

Technology in all forms is here to stay….so we need to adjust.

And with almost 60% of people in developing countries having access to smart devices of some form do their government leaders…and even development experts….under estimate the capability of their populations/citizens to use and benefit from emerging technologies.

Think B.I.G. folks. 

Communication professionals everywhere are grappling with how to monitor content and respond to misrepresentation and devastating rumors….USG and other governing bodies along with private companies, e.g., Google, FaceBook, are drawing lines on privacy, ownership, and censorship. Technology is moving much faster than policies, procedures, and regulations.

We need to contribute to setting the standards and the value of these technologies….not ignore them or be paralyzed by them.

For the past several years I’ve conducted communication workshops all over the world as well as have worked with other communication professionals to develop effective communication plans and the question that repeatedly comes up is – How do you respond to incorrect — read, negative and malicious – information posted on the internet and through social media.

Short answer: It is tough.

Anyone with an opinion and a computer or smart phone can do irreparable damage by spreading wrong information presented as Truth.

Even tomorrow’s first Presidential Debate of the 2012 election is unlike other Presidential Debates in that everyone watching the debate can be an expert and instantaneously show their approval or disapproval via social media.

I for one will watch with one eye on the debate and one on Twitter.

The worry we communication practitioners have about social media – though we see it as a marvelous media channel – is also shared with the media companies, i.e., Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter. How do they better police themselves to keep inflammatory stories and information off their sites and hold users accountable while not infringing on free speech.

NY Times provides background on what key actors are discussing on this big issue which will have major impact over the next decade.