Google Ideas develops citizen engagement pilot project for Somalia

Monday, June 11, 2012

When a country is unable to hold regular elections, how do people make their voices heard? That’s the challenge today in Somalia, which hasn’t had a permanent government since 1991. Somalia is in the middle of drafting a new provisional constitution which will be ratified later this summer, and with this process has come new opportunities to increase citizen engagement.

As the draft constitution has undergone revisions in recent months, Google Ideas developed a pilot project with the Somali service, Africa Division of Voice of America (VOA) to help Somalis register their opinions. Using Google App Engine, Google Voice, and Google Docs, we built an internal site for VOA to conduct public opinion polling:

Starting in April, with just a few clicks, VOA pollsters could call and survey Somalis for their thoughts on a new constitution, asking questions such as: Should there be a strong central government? Should Sharia law be the basis of the constitution? And should there be a requirement that women be included as elected officials? Over three rounds of polling, VOA used the internal site to collect the survey results. The last round concluded last week, and VOA published the aggregate results across the country on its new radio program, “Constitution Square.”

We’re pleased to make this small contribution in helping Somalis participate as they draft a new constitution, and hope that others might benefit from this as well. This open source project can be modified for use in any country or context, and anyone interested in downloading the source code can click here.

By Brendan Ballou and Yasmin Dolatabadi, Google Ideas