Posted 6 March, 2012 by Susannah Vila

When Tech Innovation Meets Social Innovation

The past few years have seen a lot of talk about the benefits of tech for civil society, but how does one actually get connected to the other? The process by which advocates identify and use the technologies most suited to their needs remains somewhat mysterious.

Uncovering it is one of the driving components of our work.

Fewer than 6 months after a political uprising shook the landscape of civil society in Egypt, Alix and I were conducting interviews with coordinators and participants in the ongoing revolution – we kept coming across people who had recently been transformed from citizens into advocates.

They had promising ideas for new campaigns or organizations but, the problem we saw (and set out to address), was their frequent difficulty in finding the right tool to employ in their new ventures. It was clear that new technologies offered a host of new possibilities…but it was much harder to know which tech to go for.

In a totally different part of the world, we’re now documenting similar challenges. Venezuela is a country where civil society is more threatened than emerging, but some loosely networked folks are trying to figure out how they can crowdsource citizen reports on irregularities during (and ahead of) October’s elections.

So which platforms are in the running?


  • Ushahidi is by far the most well known tool at their service. At the very least, it allows for web based submissions, but can also be integrated with SMS. Reports going in via SMS, though, must be verified by a person managing the platform.



  • CitiVox is another platform for crowdsourced mapping of citizen reports. With CitiVox it’s easier to create different tiers of users according to how trusted they are, so that some send in reports that are automatically verified and some arent. Like Ushahidi, adding SMS integration to CitiVox is relatively easy but requires choosing an option for getting the information from a mobile phone into the platform (saving that for another post!).



  • Crowdmap is Ushahidi’s lightweight, hosted platform and a good option if technical capacity is lower/they decide it’s more important to spend time creating an alliance that getting a fancy tech setup going (not a bad idea…to say the least).



  • Managing News seems to allow for a little more customization than out of the box Ushahidi – and is (I think) better looking. Would love to hear anyone’s thoughts on how user needs might elucidate differences between Managing News and other tools (!?).



The process of identifying the right tool to solve a problem is by no means new. But, back when the fax machine and telephone were novel organizing tools, there were simply less options. These days, the variety of technologies that can be embedded into a civil society project to increase its impact is immense – and overwhelming. That’s why a central part of our work involves honing in on this decision making process to document it, learn from it and (when collaboration is requested!) support it.

If you work with one of these mapping technologies or want to get involved in the process of choosing one…or can think of options I missed, get in touch or share your feedback in the comments.

1 thought on “When Tech Innovation Meets Social Innovation”

Subbu says:

Also check — which I maintain. It provides a mini-language for news tracking. This software is due for an overhaul this year, but this site has been up for last 6 years — primarily used in India at this time.

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