Reporting from the Field # 3: Notes and Quotes from Cairo

Posted on November 9, 2011


Writings on the Wall. Photo by Maria Grabowski Kjær

Writings on the Wall. Photo by Maria Grabowski Kjær

‘Reporting from the Field’ is a series of posts relating to my fieldwork in the fall of 2011. The fieldwork is a part of my Master in Social Anthropology from the University of Copenhagen, and the final thesis will be completed in early 2013. The posts are part of a research- and analyzing process and should not been seen as conclusive.

I went to Cairo as one of my two physical locations, Nairobi being the other one. In Cairo I conducted 15 interviews with people that have either led or been a part of an Ushahidi deployment.

With my focus on global cyberactivism, I see the deployments that I have visited in Cairo and Nairobi as examples of a global development of awareness and empowerment (June Nash 2005). Why did Ushahidi start up in the first place and what happens with the deployments that have grown out of the platform? All the information that they are sharing, what is it used for? My field-location is the world map drawing criss-cross lines, connecting different stories and experiences. I can’t wait to see what I’m concluding from all this in a year!

Two Types of Deployers

  1. Organizations that cooperate and make larger initiatives
  2. Private person that ‘take the matters into their own hands’

Either way it seems that the participation in an Ushahidi deployment has given the informants some sort of empowerment and maybe made the step from idea to action less intimidating. Many interviewees described situations of helplessness, where they used Ushahidi as a way ‘to at least to something’. Some have tangible goals as producing a report for the authorities based on their map, some have long advocacy processes as the purpose, and others wish to spread awareness. Some deployments remain without a defined goal, which means that a map becomes the last station for valuable data.

Tentative Notes

  • Many deployments in Egypt are ‘engineered’ in the sense that the reporters on the ground are mobilized centrally from the deployment.
  • Informants generally wished for more spontaneity, meaning a wish for more reporters of type 2 (people that contribute without being a part of the deployment team).
  • Good experiences with Twitter as source of reporting.
  • Ushahidi seems to be a good tool for getting a picture of a given situation: good for statistics and creating reports.
  • Typical Information Flow: reporters collect data > verifiers fact-check data > mappers put data on map (with icons for verified as well as not verified) > core team produce extended report based on data). Core team may have trained activist on each level.
  • Groups tend to use Ushahidi as a way to deal with the situation themselves: people ‘on the ground’ wish to affect conflicts and tell what they see.
  • It is motivating to do something positive for your own country or neighborhood.
  • The feeling of sharing and more tools combined has made political activism grow Egypt. Sharing knowledge + connecting people = give hope and tangible results.
  • Crucial for a project to include local actors.
  • Each project needs to be customized to get enough participation (local experience and expert knowledge).
  • Projects are often dependant on other social medias and networks to spread + traditional media to make promotion. Facebook for mobilizing, Twitter as real time updates and coordination, and YouTube to spread the message.
  • More groups are surprised by how much work it takes to run a map succesfully, but mostly people were also surprised by the succes that their project had.
  • A 100% clear image of the situation demands 100% participation


“Lets tweet the hell out of them” (Cyberconference in Copenhagen)

“There was nothing to do but to write reports”

“People wants to tell whats wrong”

“Political avtivism has grown because of the feeling of sharing”

“What happens in xxx concerns me. It is my country“

“What is good about Ushahidi is also that it is from no Country”

“Ushahidi is for action in crisis, but difficult to use for long term strategies”

“What is the dynamics with NGOs? Maybe not all NGOs are interested in documenting their weaknesses”

“You throw some dots on a map, some are taken further, some are not. It’s not like it is vibrating in social interaction”

“By a click people are changing something”

“Right categorization is important for the map to be effective”

“Doing something instead of complaining”

“Doing actions of meaning, giving hope”

“Facebook is like a megaphone, Twitter many to many communication” and Ushahidi can combine the two with geographical, quantitative and qualitative info”

“People found the project interesting because it gave them a little dignity”

“Doing something positive”

“The online warms up people offline”

 “Motivation: curiousity, hope, anger”

“Possibility of collecting more places in one situation”

“The purpose is to make a point clear…documenting”

“Small pieces of information that together creates a valid picture”

“Democratizing info – people have the right to know”

“At least we are focusing on the problem”

“The revolution has sparked motivation (…) showed us that things can change”