Setting Up An ESR
- Start Early
Just as in the planning of elections, establishing an Election Situation Room (ESR) requires an early start. You need to build consensus around decisions on your engagement, budget, possible partners, and challenges. You need to plan and anticipate what crises might occur. By starting early, you will be able to develop a solid network, identify your strengths and weaknesses, identify the assets and gaps and begin to raise awareness on your presence.
- Appoint a facilitator – an individual or a host organization.
There must be somebody or an organization driving the process, otherwise there may be a lack of direction and loss of credibility. The facilitators of the process must also have convening authority and acceptability within the civil society community. The initiative for a developing an ESR can come from any group, but when it comes to deciding who should host the platform; it must be a group that has capacity and credibility to drive such a process.
- Build a broad membership
You cannot run an ESR without building a coalition or collaborating with a broad range of NGOs and civic actors. No matter how good an organization is, it cannot take sole charge. The essence of the ESR is its collaborative model that allows for balance between diverse opinions. An ESR cannot be successful if a group of friends sit together and try to analyze the election. In fact, participants do not need to agree with each other. The important thing to keep in mind is that members’ primary commitment is to make the election a success. Its membership should be broadly composed, transcending ideological, sectarian status, gender, ethnic, racial, political and other identities. As much as possible, it should have a geographical spread enough to capture substantially the diverse interests and perceptions. The ESR need not be a coalition in the traditional sense, but it must include partners and contributors from a broad spectrum.
- Identify credible partners
While it is important to have a broad group of civil society groups, it is equally important to ensure that partners/members are committed to ensuring the success of the election; are genuine NGOs and bring some particular value to the table. In the case of NGOs with questionable reputations or a reputation for not working well with others, such groups should be avoided. Organizations that are politically partisan should also be avoided to protect the integrity of the ESR. It is necessary that political infiltration be prevented. It is important to target groups with expertise, integrity and skills.
- Build relationships with the authorities responsible for election management
This is very important as the focus of the ESR is to ensure that the elections are credible, not just to criticize the process. Hence, the ESR needs to cultivate a constructive relationship with the election management body and the government structures that have a role in election management, especially the security forces. Members of the Situation Room should be able to reach out to Government or the police to flag an incident or provide early warning and have the credibility to ensure that such a call is taken seriously.
- Build relationships with political parties, and other institutions or individuals with the capacity to influence the process
For the ESR to be successful, it needs to have the capacity to trigger a policy shift from officials or political actors. There could be instances where government or election management body may not be receptive in spite of the efforts from the ESR to reach out or where the efforts of the election management body are being ignored by the politicians. In this kind of situation, the ESR can use interlocutors, such as respected retired politicians, faith leaders or other leading figures to reach those who are blocking efforts to resolve a crisis. Alternatively, efforts can be made to reach out directly to individuals within political parties with the authority to influence party responses to challenges problems with an election. In other circumstances, international observer missions or significant development partners can be urged to put pressure on politicians or officials to change their attitude.
- Put effort into a communication strategy
The ESR should have the capacity to reach a good percentage of the general public and a strategy for doing so. A communication strategy should identify partners in the media and their involvement should start at the planning phase of the ESR. This is to help them understand exactly what the ESR is all about and also to create interest in its activities. Whilst engaging the mainstream media, it is also necessary to have a clear plan on how to use the online media to push out and receive information. Web portals, blogs, twitter and other social network platforms should be included in such plan. It is not just about creating such accounts, but also making arrangements on how information will be fed to them, as it is received by the ESR – and for creating rapid approval process to ensure that the information sent out is verified, and not just rumor.