Case study: How Tella helped monitor the 2019 Nigerian Elections

In this post, we want to share how one of our partners, CLEEN Foundation, has been using Tella. CLEEN first deployed Tella in February and March 2019 to monitor the behavior of Nigerian security forces during the country’s General Elections. With predictions of militarization and violence of the electoral process, monitoring was critical. Using Tella, CLEEN was able to:

  • Collect data from hundreds of users from all around the country
  • Identify patterns of violence and electoral fraud in real-time
  • Protect the data collected from tampering and interference
  • Make informed policy recommendations to the Nigerian government
CLEEN Foundation staff review data sent in by observers

Following the success of this first deployment, CLEEN deployed Tella to investigate human trafficking in Nigeria, better understand its causes, and identify potential remedies.

Check out the full case study below and get in touch to explore how Tella can help your organization or your partners collect the data they need!


The Problem
Prior to deploying Tella, the CLEEN Foundation’s documentation efforts centered on WhatsApp: hundreds of observers sent photos, videos, and text to one WhatsApp number to report issues with the electoral process. CLEEN staff would then download the material and attempt to organize it to identify patterns. This was an extremely cumbersome and time-intensive process: it was difficult to keep track of who sent what and to analyze data that came in many different formats. In other cases, CLEEN used Google Forms, which allowed for more structure but didn’t support the sending of multimedia files or offline data collection. 

Horizontal Support
In February 2019, the CLEEN Foundation deployed Tella to observe Nigeria’s 2019 General Elections. CLEEN was hoping to systematize and secure the data-collection process. Horizontal therefore installed the data-collection software on a server for CLEEN and maintained it over time. Throughout the deployment, we also provided support and guidance on how to best shape forms and how to deploy Tella. CLEEN trained dozens of state coordinators on the app, who in turn trained hundreds of observers in their respective states. Each of those “accredited observers” was given a username and password, so that each dataset could be linked to an observer for follow-up questions and verification. In addition, CLEEN published instructions for anyone to become a “citizen observers” and send data on Tella through a guest account.

CLEEN created forms to ask observers the specific questions they were interested in–how many security officers were present at the polling station, at what time they arrive, etc– and to report incidents. The incident reports allowed observers to share their account of the incident and to attach photos, videos, and audio evidence.

The Impact
Throughout the electoral process, CLEEN received a total of 7,800 reports: 6,300 from accredited observers and 1,500 from citizen observers. Those reports came in real or near real-time, allowing CLEEN to release several reports on Election Days: one mid-day and one after all polling stations had closed. You can see here one of those reports, published the day after the elections, and another post with key findings and recommendations to the Nigerian government to improve security in upcoming elections, reduce violence, and prevent fraud. 

Lessons Learned
To be sure, the deployment was not without challenge. Most critically, poor internet connectivity meant that some users struggled to submit their forms, and some couldn’t submit them at all. Immediately after the deployment, then, Horizontal implemented a number of changes to mitigate those challenges:

  1. We added a new screen to show upload progress, so that users could tell whether their form was being uploaded, even slowly, or not at all
  2. We allowed users to submit multimedia files separately from the form, so that the form could be submitted immediately, even with poor connectivity, and the heavier attachments could be submitted when the user reached a more stable connection
  3. We created a new “offline mode” to make it even easier for users to collect data offline and submit their forms once they reach a connection

These improvements have since proved critical for many of our other partners who operate in environments with poor connectivity or where cellular data is prohibitively expensive. 

Next Steps
Following the success of the deployment around the elections, CLEEN decided to integrate Tella more deeply into its workflow. Most recently, as part of Stamping Out Slavery in Nigeria, CLEEN deployed Tella to investigate how victims of human trafficking get recruited and develop strategies to prevent the recruiting. 

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