Transparency for Free and Fair Elections
Electoral Commission of South Africa

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
The Electoral Commission of South Africa is an elections management body (EMB) created out of a constitutional mandate to organise and manage free and fair elections to all three layers of government (national, provincial and local/municipal). A process which demands high level of openness, impartiality and transparency underpinned by high level of scalability and flexibility. The key challenge was as follows: • Access to elections information to provide transparency in election management; • Communicating and responding to huge volume of enquiries from all citizens and voters in particular; • Providing openness and transparency about electoral process to enable voters to exercise their democratic rights; • Response capacity to deal with volume and speed from anywhere at anytime. • The need to provide real-time services at all times and from anywhere, that is, create online services which are accessible around the world and at all times. Most important, was to help South Africans to join the Electoral Commission and walk with us in the journey of delivering a free and fair 2014 National and Provincial Elections, through transparent processes. The solution was intended to access to all citizens and more specifically voters at all level of society equally, straddling all sectors of society, the poor, rich, urban, rural, etc., without any segregation. The project was developed and launched early in 2013 and reached its peak during the 2014 Nation and Provincial Elections in May, when more than 12,3 million transactions were processed in a week and continues to underpinned access to information, always ready to support future elections. The situation until then was follows: a) We had a public sector organisation which was seriously challenged on public engagement and the use of social media in communications; b) Extreme volatile business cycles with highly seasonal business cycles, which escalate in exponential terms in and around elections; c) Communications was supported through the internet website, call centre, cell-phone SMS, advertising through radio, TV, billboards, print media and posters accompanied limited response capacity at local offices; d) Given limited internet access in the country, existing capacity was not scalable enough to deal with elections volumes of enquiries at elections times, when you can be flooded with millions of calls in a matter of minutes; and, e) Except for the internet all response capacity was limited to availability during business hours.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
The solution was conceived and proposed by the CIO (Chief Information Officer) through the ICT (Information and Communications Technology) department. The key objective was on providing openness and transparency on elections management processes to assure citizens of their voting rights, which are key to the delivery of free and fair elections. The objective was based on taking advantage of the high penetration of mobile communication devices in South Africa and mobile technologies to achieve the following: • Make information about elections preparations freely accessible to all through available channels; • Enabling all citizens, voters and stakeholders to access elections data, including the media on a real-time basis; • Enable citizens to follow the processing of elections results as it happens in real-time; • Provide flexibility and scalability in our ability to service all citizens; • Enable citizens to verify their statuses on: voter registration, applications for special votes, out-of-country registration, out-of-country notification and out-of-country voting; • Provide information on voting stations, ward councillors, frequently asked questions, candidates, historical and current elections results, seat allocations and integration into social media. The initiative (solution) involved the development of mobile applications and API’s (Application Programming Interface) which also provided platform for making available Open Data for other all stakeholder to take advantage of build their own online mobile application and simply consume real-time data without worrying about the complexities of our data structures and business rules. The solution was as follows: • The API’s enabled all stakeholders (media, political parties, broadcasters, etc.) to build their own mobile applications and access data online and in real-time; • Data is accessibility to all citizens, through all major mobile Applications Stores (iOS, Android, Windows 8, BlackBerry, Symbian and feature phones. Went beyond just smart devices to ensure greater reach to a wider population including the poor; • The project was about building a citizen centric elections focussed mobile solutions using mobile applications which will enable citizens to access elections data through mobile applications and API’s (Application Programming Interface) which will be accessible through the internet, mobile and smart devices such as cell phones, tablets, laptops, workstations(PC’s) and TV panels. • The solution provided the following elections related information: voter registration status, status of special vote applications, out-of-country registration, out-of-country notifications(VEC 10 process), out-of country voting and details about voting stations, ward councillors, candidates, historical and current elections results, frequently asked questions and contact details • Citizens can download the applications from mobile applications stores and access the information from their devices from anywhere and anytime • The APIs enabled stakeholders like the media, political parties, etc. to build their own mobile applications and access the data online and in real-time. • To ensure accessibility to all citizens, the applications were designed and made available in all major Applications Stores such as iOS (Apple), Android (Google), Windows 8 (Microsoft), BlackBerry, Symbian and feature phones (Nokia Asha, older BlackBerry, etc.), that went beyond smart devices • Providing access to all citizens on time and as required; • Scalability ensured that all enquiries could be serviced anytime from anywhere around the world and at any time; • Given South Africa’s cell phone penetration, accessibility through all popular cell phone platform ensured that all citizen had access, in particular older BlackBerry and feature phones ensured that the service is accessible to the majority of South Africans including those with low-end mobile phones; The project was developed and launched early in 2013 and reached its peak during the 2014 Nation and Provincial Elections in May, when more than 12,3 million transactions were processed in a week and continues to underpinned access to information, always ready to support future elections.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
Within the context of the public sector, this solution was creative, innovative and ground breaking in that besides unpinning its core mandate and strengthening democratic processes in ensuring the highest level of access to information, transparency and impartiality. Most importantly it provided a platform for Open Data which opened up huge opportunities for collaboration with all stakeholders in information dissemination. This made it possible for political parties, the media, NGO, private sector and interested individuals to build communication online communications tools and services which assisted in extending the capacity of the Electoral Commission to reach and service more citizens not only in the country but across the world. The project was about building a citizen centric elections focussed mobile solutions using mobile applications which will enable citizens to access elections data through mobile applications and API’s (Application Programming Interface) which will be accessible through the internet, mobile and smart devices such as cell phones, tablets, laptops, workstations(PC’s) and TV panels.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
A motivation based on possible business value and contribution to the organisation’s communications efforts and its response handling mechanisms was presented and approved by senior management, project team was setup, project plan was compiled, a delivery strategy agreed and delivery teams assembled. The strategy was underpinned cell phone usage demographics in the country, which necessitated the need to provide for low-end feature phones which are not smartphones and have limit capacity for mobile applications. The delivery team was divided into the follow teams: a) Project management; b) API development ; c) Smartphones Mobile Applications development – standardised on HTML 5; d) Low-end feature phone Mobile Applications; and, e) Infrastructure provisioning. The strategy was to have a presence in all mobile stores and mobile platforms available and used in South Africa, such that the following platforms were targeted, namely: iOS(Apple), Android(Google), Windows 8 (Microsoft), BlackBerry, Symbian and feature phones (e.g. Nokia Asha, older BlackBerry, etc.). Likewise the key deliverables were clearly defined focusing on key elections information on frequently asked questions and key voter information so as to complement all other response processing facilities and reduce calls to the call centre and local offices. The solution provided the following elections related information: voter registration status, status of special vote applications, out-of-country registration, out-of-country notifications(VEC 10 process), out-of country voting, details about voting stations, ward councillors, candidates, historical and current elections results, frequently asked questions and contact details. The systems are flexible for use on all platforms irrespective device and form factors, the Apps can run on cell phones, tablets, laptops, personal computers, phablets and generally on any internet connected device. Access from anywhere, anytime and any device was critical in extending access and reach.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
Key stakeholders were identified, targeted and engaged, this included consultation on their needs, accreditations, coordination of testing and real-time access. The following stakeholders were identified and invited to participate, namely: a) Internal stakeholders – The Communications and Outreach department and the Electoral Operations departments; b) Political parties – Through the National Party Liaison Committee and all interested and participating political parties; c) Media – Both print and electronic media; d) NGO (non-governmental organisations and interested groups; e) Other state institutions; f) The private sector; g) Interested individuals. The API’s provided an Open Data platform for all stakeholders to consume and access real-time electoral data, this provide coordinate response mechanisms for specific information, served as the central reference point and allowed for the provision single truth for all stakeholders on time and real-time. Stakeholders were given the freedom to build their own mobile applications on their own online platform without worrying about timeliness and complexity of the Commission’s data structures and database. All they needed is to know which API, what to query and what to expect back. For ease of use and consistency the Electoral Commission consumed the same API’s for its own mobile applications. The political parties and media houses used these facilities extensively for their own reporting and real-time commentaries on radio, televisions, print media, monitoring progress and verifying results as they came through. Through this process all participating stakeholders increased our reach and ability to service more citizens and reduce traffic on our infrastructure. The facilities caught fire on the social media and generated huge interest from the general population and voters, received lots of positive commentaries. The volume of enquiry traffic provided proof of the popularity of the services, at some point serviced more than 100 000 enquiries per minute and over 13 million over 5 days.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
The following resources where used: a) Funding as obvious central element; b) Skilled ICT resources, project managers, application developer, systems analysts, testers, all types of cell-phones, phablets, tablets, laptops and personal computers, all in combination with the different operating software platforms, Windows, Google, iOS, etc. c) Graphic designers; d) Apps Stores – the top 6 major App Stores used in South Africa were used, i.e. iOS(Apple), Android(Google), Windows 8 (Microsoft), BlackBerry, Symbian and feature phones (e.g. Nokia Asha, older BlackBerry, etc.). e) The datacentre – Providing highly scalable back-end processing capacity; f) The internet and internet connectivity.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
a) Provided extended access to election information and democratic processes to all citizens through the accessible means and facilities in their possession, the cell-phone; b) Automation brought scalability and access flexibility which overcame speed and volume; c) The APIs enabled the media and other stakeholder easy access to real-time data to publish and broadcast through their own means without worrying about the complexity of data structures; d) The stakeholders, the media, political parties, journalists, media commentators and analysts accessed data in real-time and worked from fresh and raw election results data as it arrives at the Electoral Commission; e) The API’s guaranteed that data aggregation and interpretation is done correctly and accessible to all to avoid errors and misinterpretations; f) Access is all inclusive to all citizen including the poor; g) Access is worldwide and at all times; h) Access to the information enabled citizens to verify the correctness of information and results strengthening confidence in openness and impartiality of the management of the elections. i) The solution underpinned transparency, process integrity, openness, citizen participation and organisational responsiveness; j) The solutions caught the imagination of citizens and we received lots of complementary comment in social media, in newspapers, TV and radio commentaries, for details see sample in Annexure A. k) Usage of the solution was extensive with over 12,3 million hits in a week and at peak over 100 000 per second, for details see Annexure B

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
a) Project management – We have adopted a standardised project management framework and tools for project managers to monitor and manage all delivery processes and activities in line with agreed timelines, resource utilisations and cost management. Project management had to manage the project according a defined management framework; b) Clearly defined deliverables – Clearly defined all agreed outputs and deliverable, underpinned clearly defined quality assurance, delivery timelines, performance requirements, turnaround time and response time; c) Stakeholder engagement – Coordinated stakeholder engagement to ensure alignment with stakeholder expectations and performance experiences; d) Rigorous testing and quality assurances; e) Implementation of performance monitoring tools to monitor all elements of performance, such as response time, traffic volumes, errors, failures, infrastructure capacity utilisation in terms of bandwidth utilisation and back-end processing server and storage utilisation. This enabled us to identify potential bottlenecks and proactively indicate build up to potential overloads and failure points; f) Dedicated operational monitoring teams; g) Feedback from users and stakeholders at all times.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
Challenges can be summarised as follows: a) Reliance on different requirements and coding standards from different Apps Store provided some challenges; b) The different Apps Store’s quality requirements and the time they take to review and approve applications in their Apps Store sometimes works according to their own timelines which you cannot influence; c) Coordination of different stakeholders with competing interest sometimes introduces unexpected dynamics irrelevant to the project objectives; d) Project management of external stakeholder such as the media companies, political parties and other third-parties was complicated by their own weaknesses, some started late, while others did not do what was required of them, some did not know the framework of using API’s and did not know what is required to develop their own presentation applications; e) Provisioning of back-end processing and capacity planning for the API’s is a challenge, especially in an elections management process, due to the unpredictability of public response, you never know how many citizens and when will they flood your facilities. It is possible to receive millions of enquiries with a few minutes, so the capacity and scalability of supporting infrastructure is critical. You literally have more than 50 million citizens out there with the potential to make enquiries at the same time.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
In addition the key benefits for this initiative may be summarised as follows: a) Access to real-time elections information, about registration and voting station enabled voters to know where the voting stations are, providing easy access to voting facilities; b) Access to information anytime, anywhere and on any device helped voters prepare for voting, know about voting processes and reduced spoilt votes from 1.73% in 2011 to 1.37% in 2014; c) Likewise contributed to increased voter registration from 23,1 million in 2011 to 25,3 million in 2014; d) The solution provides timely responses and is scalable enough to deal with volumes at all times, at peak servicing over 100 000 enquiries per second. e) The project started last year 2013 and reached its peak during the 2014 Nation and Provincial Elections in May, when more than 12,3 million transactions were processed in a week. f) The API’s enabled stakeholders (media, political parties, etc.) to build their own mobile applications and access the data online and in real-time; g) Data is accessibility to all citizens, through all major mobile Applications Stores (iOS, Android, Windows 8, BlackBerry, Symbian and feature phones. We went beyond just smart devices to ensure greater reach to a wider population; h) Citizens had free and unhindered access to information at all times i) Voters were able to follow results processing and the entire election process; j) The API’s provides one version of trust, through a single reference point and dissemination of up to date real-time data; k) The mobile Apps effectively reduced the call volumes and workload from the Call Centre, as citizens could do self-service in real-time at a lower cost and faster than a call centre could do. l) Consistency of information across all platforms and all stakeholders;

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
a) The sustainability of the solution is assured, designed and built for continuous at all times and in future elections; b) The solution is maintained and will constitute a key communication channel for the Electoral Commission going forward, designed to incorporate future data and results as and when it is generated; c) The solution is currently accessible on all relevant platforms and Apps Stores, all you have to do is, visit the Apps Store, search for “IEC” or “Electoral Commission” the Application will come up, then select, download freely and then you can use for as long as you wish to, or visit our website at http://www.elections.org.za/content/For-Voters/Mobile-apps/ for hyperlinks to the Apps Stores; and d) The value of the information and its relevance in election management positioned the solution and making it central to the ongoing work of the Commission. e) The delivery mechanism and project approach can easily be replicated and adopted by other public service institutions, the simplest adaption can be done by other elections management institutions; f) The use of APIs makes an adaptation much easier by decoupling the presentation layer from the complexity of the data structures; g) While the output of the solution is highly innovative is not that costly and can be delivered within a limited timeframe; and h) The approach utilised to deliver the solution can be used to create a common government-wide Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) and inter-government information sharing.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
a) Clarity of purpose – clear identification our project purpose, value and contribution business objectives is critical to business success; b) Stakeholder buy-in makes ongoing engagement, participation and commitment to project objectives and successful completion easier; c) The Open Data platform provided by the API’s simplified the process of accessing data by all stakeholders, which facilitated collaboration efforts beyond what money could buy; d) The ability to freely consume this data for presentation on third-party Apps and platforms extended the communications reach of the Electoral Commission to more citizens that it could have ever done; e) Contribution to business success is critical to management support and the successful delivery of any project; f) The use of API’s and creation of Open Data facilities especially in the public sector provides a platform for collaboration with the private sector and the establishment of Public Private Partnerships which will assist in service delivery;

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Electoral Commission of South Africa
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Libisi Maphanga
Title:   Mr  
Telephone/ Fax:   +27126225589
Institution's / Project's Website:  
E-mail:   maphangal@elections.org.za  
Address:   1303 Heuwel Avenue Centurion
Postal Code:   0157
City:   Pretoria
State/Province:   Gauteng
Country:  

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