Democracy raises through transparency — the ideas’ marathon at “InnoVoter”
Elections, democracy, participation, competition, emotions, team, creativity, innovation — is it possible that all of these words to be depicted with one definition? Yes — InnoVoter! InnoVoter is the first creativity lab in the electoral field where, for three days, six teams have abounded in ideas.
Such as the electoral system has been modified and at the upcoming parliamentary elections the voters will elect not only the deputies submitted on the lists by the political parties or blocs, but also will elect the candidates from the uninominal constituencies. In this regard, to present the elections’ progress and their preliminary results in real-time during the elections day means to struggle with a Gordian knot.
So, how can we cut this knot?
In order to find a solution to this deadlock, UNDP Moldova, through the project “Enhancing democracy in Moldova through inclusive and transparent elections” and the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) organized a hackathon in the electoral field, where 30 young programmers, developers, designers and marketing specialists have put their creativity up and compete in an ideas’ race.
After two days working in a fast pace, on the last day of InnoVoter, the six teams presented their prototypes of the application which will allow the visualization of the elections’ progress and preliminary results in real-time during the elections day.
For those who are not very familiar with the IT terminology, the term hackathon comes from “Hack” and “Marathon,” which means “to find quickly a solution” and “marathon”. Here’s an alternative definition for hackathon from one of the winning team’s members:
“Hackathon is an event where an organization urgently needs creative solutions to a problem it is facing with — and then it calls out more people from outside with other visions and approaches, and, in return for rewards, that people have to solve the problem,” says Radu Marian from “The New Deal“ team.
As to what made them come to such laboratory, Radu stated the following:
“Vasile Schidu, the designer of the team originally came up with the idea of participating in this hackahton. He gathered the team and, also, proposed me to join, because he knew that I am interested in political topics. The other members of the team are friends and participated together in several hackthons. We assigned the tasks accordingly to our competencies: Vasile Schidu and Dorin Popa on design and interface, Dragos Lupei and Luca Schidu on web development and myself on the political strategy side.”
Radu says that he studied the way are being viewed the results of the elections in the US and, together with the team, decided to find out more examples of visualizing of data in that country, but also from other countries, such as Germany. From this documentation and other examples from outside, the platform for data visualization was born.
“We made our decisions very fast. In the first two hours of the hackathon we outlined the structure and principles of the interface and we had focused on three modules: the turnout, the results on the proportional vote, and the results of voting in constituencies. Each module should have three levels of visualization: diaspora, national level (districts or constituencies) and the districts of the capital city Chisinau. There was, also, the fourth module, the visualization of each constituency and the results there. We originally planned a “progress bar” for counting and showing up the mandates obtained after the proportional vote and in the constituencies, but the final number is decided after the final results — I hope that the CEC will find a technical solution for that. The idea of creating this project is quite simple, we put ourselves in the voters’ shoes and asked ourselves: what the citizen would like to watch? What would he/she be interested in? Also, we took into account the journalists when we designed the application,” concludes Radu.
Some young people did not come to the InnoVoter as a formed team, they individually filled out the application forms and the lab organizers chose five of them and formed the “Independent Candidates” team. The team has been ranked on the second place of the IT marathon.
One of the members of the ad-hoc team, Radu Lisita, explains the vision of their project.
“Our platform is minimalist and is representing only the data the voter needs to follow on the election day. Firstly, we conducted a small survey and asked the voters what kind of information they would like to watch, respectively, in the platform we put the data without too many technical nuances, so that we do not bother people. Such events are welcome, because at the individual level we are developing our capabilities, we learn new things.”
The “Bronze medal” of the InnoVoter went to the team coming from the “Orizont” High School from the capital city.
“Our team is formed by my classmates. We have been learning HTML for many years and this lab is a good opportunity to implement our accumulated knowledge,“ says Victor Rusnac of the ”Orizont“ team.
He and his teammates are only in the 11th grade and they don’t come of age, so never voted yet, but participation in this lab will certainly motivate them to be exemplary voters.
Even if the “Innovators Agora “ team is not among winners, instead it broke the stereotype that the girls are either not interested in IT or do not know much about it. Three of the five members of the team were girls, Anastasia Antoceanu is one of them and says that she and her colleagues have focused on simplicity in their project proposal.
“The idea of our project is simple: how can we present the elections’ data so as to be as clear as possible for the citizens? There are many statistical data to show, many important data, preliminary results, especially taking into account that we have a new electoral system — the mixed system. There are 51 constituencies, this is the great challenge for us, besides that there we have to reflect the national constituency, where the political parties and blocs submit their lists of candidates.”
During their virtual trip, the laboratory’s participants were guided by several mentors: Dorin Toma, Alexandru Balmos, Ion Iovu, Michelle Iliev, Mariana Gurghis and Nicolae Badareu, who mentored them both in IT and design aspects, but also in those related to the electoral processes.
“All the participating teams have worked hard to come up with an innovative product. With much curiosity we observed them. Along with the jury members, we had a very difficult mission to choose the best of the best. We will make every effort to implement the winning idea at the next parliamentary elections,” says the manager of the UNDP’s project “Enhancing democracy in Moldova through inclusive and transparent elections,” Eva Bounegru.
“A very important element of the creativity laboratory was the interaction of the young participants with the IT and electoral experts. During the three working days, I was with the participating teams to provide, in detail, the necessary information regarding the structure and functioning of the State Automated Information System “Elections”, the particularities of the new electoral system, but, also, to guide in the process of project developing of each team. As a result, all the ideas presented were very good in terms of utility and possibility to be implemented. The teams compete at the level of creativity, user experience and functionality of the application,” said Dorin Toma, project coordinator at UNDP Moldova.
“I have amazing impressions, as if I was in an interactive game where every minute something new was going on. We had six teams who worked day and night to produce something to everyone’s liking and they succeeded. During their presentations, you had the possibility to see the interfaces which will be used on the election day. There may be some small technical changes, but the concept, the idea and even the graphical interfaces will be these. We hope to have much many young people willing to participate in such events next time,” emphasizes Alexandru Balmos, the head of the IT and management of voters lists division of the CEC.
The fact that the participants worked day and night confess it themselves. Radu Marian recalls that the forced insomnia has strengthened the team spirit.
“Saturday night late, it was clear that Vasile, the designer, would have to work all the night on the visualization side, and we could not help him anymore, just to stay awaken in sign of solidarity. Vasile is the genius behind the user friendly layout of the interface and we are owing him our success.“
The winners of the InnoVoter creativity lab claim that the biggest reward for them is the usability of the newly created platform. “The New Deal” team’s project will serve as base for the application that will reflect the progress of the elections and preliminary results.
“We can only be proud — to know that millions of people will watch the elections through our “eyes”, but equally important for us is that the next elections are organized fairly and transparently, and people can vote freely, wherever they may be, in Moldova or the diaspora,” says Radu Marian.
Over the past seven years, UNDP Moldova has been supporting the CEC to develop the electoral information system, which allowed for the last three polls to provide real-time data on the election turnout. The system allows to show up the preliminary elections results in three hours after the closure of the polling stations. Previously, the calculation of the preliminary data could took even 24 hours.
The event took place at the Tekwill ICT Excellence Center between September 14–16, and marked the International Day of Democracy, celebrated on September 15th.
The creativity laboratory InnoVoter took place within the UNDP Moldova’s project “Enhancing democracy in Moldova through inclusive and transparent elections”, with the financial support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the British Embassy in Chisinau through the Good Governance Fund and the Embassy of Netherlands through the Matra Program.