Tech and the 2015 Elections: What’d We Learn?

At Phandeeyar, we strive to be a learning organization: everyday, we collect, analyze and share data about our programs and activities with the goal of improving them. In this spirit, we hosted a chat this week with the people behind notable digital projects deployed around the 2015 elections to investigate two simple questions:

What worked?

What could have been improved?

Developers from the Myanmar tech community, and project managers from IFES, The Asia Foundation, and MIDO, gave short lightning presentations before engaging in a discussion with the audience on their projects. A full list of their projects follows at the end of this post.

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  1. They noted a few insights that should interest anyone planning to launch a digital project in Myanmar.
  1. 1. Consider how your product might be used offline.
  1. Presenters confidently said that voters accessed and used their digital content even when they didn’t have an internet connection. The M Voter application developers reported that few of their users downloaded their application from “official” content channels, or their website and the Google and Apple play stores. How were they discovered then? Likely through peer to peer file sharing through a popular file-sharing application called Zapya.
  1. In fact, digital content was also used offline by voter educators. Even in remote areas without internet access and low smartphone usage, voter educators used screenshots of the M Voter application as a training tool for their workshops.
  1. 2. Design is more important than you think.
  1. The M Voter team thought their product was popular with users because of its sleek interface, which looks a lot like Facebook. For the creator of Cha Party, the importance of design was evident: changing the design of the profile overlay filter from a basic flag design to a sleeker and simpler design boosted usage. Check Voter List spent time finding a pro-bono designer who worked with them to develop their logo (which means “vote”) which quickly became the visual brand for their page and helped attract users to their page. 
  1. 3. Facebook matters.
  1. The audience was not surprised to hear that Facebook was a key discovery channel for election content; project statistics shared by the speakers illuminated just how critical it was reach and engagement.

The Facebook page Check Voter List became a significant information source for users with questions about voting in the election. Its 820 posts during the pre-election period reached an impressive 4.8 million users in Myanmar, 10 million users globally. The page manager attributed content creation and advertising to this level of engagement. The interesting part: the page manager spent no more than an average of $37 in Facebook ad credits per month.

M Voter, a voter education application, downloaded 211k times before election day, also received a significant number of traffic to its website from Facebook which their team attribute to their Facebook advertising campaign.

  1. Cha Party, a web app that allowed Facebook users to show their party support by overlaying a party flag on their profile picture reached 150,000 unique users through Facebook without any marketing or promotion.

“We made a dent” 

Ko Thura Hlaing, as he was closing his presentation, said “we made a dent.” Based on the usage data provided by the speakers, this statement appeared to ring true. With 211K downloads, M Voter may perhaps be the most downloaded application in Myanmar that was created by a Myanmar developer. There were 11.7 million calls for data to the Mae Pay Soh API with usage from users and the M Voter app was used 722,000 unique times. The application’s reach was broad: more than 72% of all townships in the country. 

The personal reflections the presenters shared revealed their belief that Myanmar users love civic information and data; they just don’t know how to access it, or explore it.

At the end of the event, an audience member challenged the community to close this access gap and leverage their project learnings, as well as the code they had written, for equally meaningful civic projects to foster engagement and improved governance during the next phase of Myanmar’s transition. 

If you’ve got an idea for our next lessons learned event, please say hi at sarah at phandeeyar.org.

Speakers and Projects 

  • Soe Lin Htut, Check Voter List and Let’s Go Vote campaign, a Facebook page to drive people to check their name on the voter list, and @ResultsCenter, a Twitter handle created to release UEC results after the elections
  • Thomas Chanussot, Check Voter List Website, a site that allowed citizens to check whether their name was on the voter roll
  • Mi Ki Kyaw, Mae Pay Soh Hack Challenge, a community effort to build applications utilizing a database of candidate and party information developed with the Union Election Commission
  • Phyo Min Thu, M Voter Application, an application (winner of the Mae Pay Soh Hack Challenge) that gave citizens access to publicly available candidate and party information
  • Thura Hlaing, Cha Party Application, a web app that allowed Facebook users to show their party support by overlaying their Facebook profile with an image of the party flag
  • Yatanar Htun, Kyeet, an election monitoring platform for citizen observers
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