| 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.