Seize the Day, Seize the Data: Tech-Enabled Moments of Opportunity in Closed Societies



Chris Spence, National Democratic Institute

Date and Time

September 30, 2010 4:30 PM - 6:00 PM


Open to the public.

No RSVP required


Wallenberg Theater

FSI Contact

Kathleen Barcos

The abrupt fall of an authoritarian regime often surprises the world with apparent suddenness.  Given the right moment of opportunity, skillfully applied pressure can prove a thuggish regime surprisingly brittle. However, these moments are prepared through a long struggle for democratic rights within a closed society. Technology can help create these openings, organize activists, document abuses and share information in the moment that the eyes of the world are watching.

Being prepared to seize the day requires more than tech, though: activists and citizens are most effective in political groups, using good organizing approaches. International development organizations, funders, academics, tech companies and others can help, but must consider the entire terrain - political, human, social and technical - in their efforts because liberation technology can land people in jail - or worse. Savvy authoritarians have inherent advantages in this "cat-and-mouse" game. 

This talk addresses the role of technology in fragile democracies and closed societies from NDI's perspective as implementers of democracy strengthening programs.

Chris Spence is Chief Technology Officer at the National Democratic Institute. In this capacity he manages NDI's work in employing the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to promote and strengthen democracy around the world through NDI programs, and has done so since 1996.  Mr. Spence was the first staff person to specialize in ICTs for democratic development at NDI, and during his tenure with NDI has overseen ICT programs in dozens of countries around the world in all of NDI's program areas and positioned the Institute as a leader in the use of ICTs in democratic development. Areas of specialization include ICT and e-governance projects, including working with legislatures, local government, election monitoring, political parties and civil society organizations in developing countries and emerging democracies.

Mr. Spence brings to NDI a combination of information technology and international relations expertise. He started his technology career in 1986 in Silicon Valley with positions in several companies including Oracle Corporation, Netscape Communications and Triad Systems.

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