1. Define the Overall Observation Strategy

This section should help observers determine their overall election monitoring objectives if they have not done so already. Once observers are clear what parts of the process are most crucial to their monitoring effort, only then can they start to consider how to incorporate open data into such an effort. Observer organizations should have a well-defined overall strategy first before pursuing open election data collection and analysis.

What are the observation priorities? What electoral processes are most at-risk?

No monitoring group can do everything. Organizations may have to limit their focus based on priority threats to electoral credibility, as well as institutional expertise, timing, and resource constraints. By identifying priorities, monitoring organizations can ensure that the most relevant electoral issues are scrutinized and that resources are allocated in the most effective way.

Groups should determine which parts of the process are likely to have the greatest risk to the overall integrity of the elections. This includes considering risks to competition or a level playing field, risks to participation, risks to inclusion, risks to transparency, and any other challenges that could undermine the credibility of the electoral outcome. This evaluation can include asking:

  • What problems have occurred in previous elections? What kind of electoral complaints, if any, were filed or reported?
  • What is the political climate for the upcoming elections?
  • What, if any, challenges do groups anticipate in the pre-election period, on election day, or in the post-election context?
    • Of these, how likely are these challenges to occur?
    • Of these, are there areas that you are particularly qualified to engage in? That you’ve observed previously or have specialized knowledge of?
    • Of these, what problems could be most effectively mitigated by election monitoring?
  • What is the international, citizen, and political party election monitoring landscape? Are there any other organizations that are already covering some of these topics?
  • Are there any rumors or hearsay about the upcoming elections? Are there particular topics the public is concerned about? Issues related to election rigging that are commonly referred to?
  • Are there any changes in the legal framework, administrative procedures, power dynamics, and public opinion that could influence how the electoral process occurs?

After asking the above questions, consider how problems in accountability, competition, inclusion, and transparency may actually appear during the electoral process and how those issues could undermine electoral integrity.

Complete Exercise A: Risk Diagnostic and Prioritization.

What are the observation objectives?

Election monitoring can accomplish many goals, such as increasing public confidence, enhancing citizen engagement, deterring problems and exposing them when they occur, and providing important unbiased assessments on the integrity of the elections to the public. There are a number of questions to consider when clarifying your observation goals, such as:

  • Why is election monitoring important to this election? What aspect or aspects of electoral integrity needs this kind of intervention?
  • What type or aspects of election monitoring might be the best intervention? The mass mobilization of observers? The collection, analysis, and dissemination of accurate, evidence-based data?
  • How do you want to build on your previous monitoring efforts?

After this brainstorming, monitoring groups should think pragmatically. What can you realistically achieve in the time frame and resources that you have? Try to narrow your objectives to one up to five. Monitoring groups should be able to succinctly describe their observation objectives in one or two sentences or bullet points.

What is your observation strategy?

Groups should reconcile their overarching election observation goals with the major priorities identified. Some questions to consider when defining your observation strategy include:

  • What observation methodologies suit your goals?
  • What major components and activities are necessary to achieve these goals and monitor these processes?
  • When will the organization—at least core staff—be engaged in the electoral process?
  • What processes should you observe and to what extent? Which aspects will require the training and deployment of observers?
  • What kinds of funding or personnel limitations exist and how will you work within these constraints?

Keeping in mind the top priorities defined in Exercise A, groups should consider how open election data can help to achieve their observations goals. Specifically, how would open election data monitoring fit with the objectives? The next step of this guide will walk groups through how to assess the open election data environment.