Published

7/14/11
  • Constitutional crowdsourcing site launched

    Ben_rowswell_hanna

    Ben Rowswell, co-founder of Cloud to Egypt, in Potrero Hill, San Francisco.
    Photo: Hanna Sistek

    SAN FRANCISCO: Egyptians can now discuss their proposed constitution at www.wathiqah.com, a new crowdsourcing site that launched Monday.

    The constitution webpage was developed by volunteers at a series of hackathons at Stanford University. After a round of amendments, the site now boasts six guiding principles and seven proposed articles.

    Ben Rowswell, one of the founders of the non-profit organization Cloud to Street – helped create wathiqah.com at the request of Egyptian presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei and his National Association for Change.

    Rowswell traveled from Stanford to Cairo to help with the implementation of the site, where “a number of bugs were revealed”, he says.

    For a week, Rowswell worked with activists from ElBaradei’s campaign, to improve the software and rewrite the code to accept responses in Arabic.

    We made quite a few late night calls to the coders from the hackathon to get the site working”, he laughs, when we met up for a coffee in Potrero Hill, a leafy neighborhood in San Francisco.

    Now, it’s up to the ElBaradei campaign to spread the word and get people in the 20 administrative units in the Egyptian state to participate.

    The crowdsourcing platform is just one way to involve Egyptians. There will also be organized offline events, where participants will discuss printed copies of the proposed constitution. Still, there has been some criticism against the online efforts.

    “Some human rights organizations even pointed out that this might increase the digital divide in the society”, Rowswell admits. Optimally, a combined effort of technical and offline advocacy will ”enable as many Egyptians as possible to participate.” 

    In Morocco, a similar exercise took place this spring, when King Mohamed VI created a committee to revise the Moroccan constitution. In a private initiative, two computer geeks set up the crowdsourcing site www.reforme.ma. In little over a month’s time, the site garnered the opinions of 150,000 Moroccans on the constitutional amendments. The huge response spurred the committee to reflect the crowdsourced opinions in the new draft constitution.

    But that’s where things get tricky. How do you sum up the voices of 150,000 people?

    Wathiqah has created a system that lets the most popular comments rise to the top of the site. The ElBaradei campaign will be responsible for analyzing the comments and using them to revise the draft constitutional proposals.

    However, the question remains: Is there existing software that might help analyzing large numbers of crowdsource responses, so the process isn’t dependent on a few “gatekeeping” analysts. Anyone know? Please share your experiences on our Google spreadsheet

    Posted by Hanna Sistek

    Posted by Tanja Aitamurto on 07/14/11
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