Tuesday, May 27, 2008

What do Georgian Troops Think about the Iraq War?

Recently, the Georgian Times published an article on a poll recently conducted by GORBI of Georgian Troops in Iraq. According to the article, this is the first poll conducted amongst these soldiers.

The article highlights that troops continue to have very positive feelings towards their tenure in Iraq and agree with Saakashvili sending them there. According to the poll, 89% are satisfied with the current conditions and 93% are satisfied with their training.

This data may point to the professionalization of the Georgian army. Interestingly, according to a poll done by the Military Times (no ability to rate its quality) at the end of 2007, 80% of American troops, still say they are "somewhat" or "completely" satisfied with their jobs. This is despite the fact that now more than half of troops believe that America should not have gone to war.

Georgian citizens, however, like American citizens and unlike the Georgian troops generally do not support troop involvement in Iraq and often possess cynical views of America "buying cheap Georgian cannon fodder" type.

The article, however, opens several interesting research questions.

  • Why do Georgian troops have such a positive attitude towards serving in Iraq? I think there may be several unexpected answers to this question, which involve exposure to different troops (i.e. Americans and Brits) and the benefits and salaries these soldiers receive compared to what the receive back home. Or maybe, they just have the feeling that they are serving a useful purpose. Feedback welcome.
  • Interestingly, the questionnaire used by GORBI was a self-completion questionnaire. Our experience is that these type of questionnaires work poorly with Georgians, as there is no tradition of filling them out. We wonder how this worked with the Georgian troops.
If the GORBI dataset was publicly available, interesting analysis could be done there.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Georgian Election | ODIHR Preliminary Report and its Percentages

So the preliminary report on yesterday's Parliamentary Elections which ODIHR has just released again notes that the count had problems.

While this, as discussed yesterday, is not a good overall indicator for how the counts went throughout the country, it raises the question whether we can at least compare this report with the one for the Presidential Election in January. Presumably, if 23% of observers managed to find a bad count in January, and 22% identify problems now, it should mean that the number has remained relatively stable. So: in terms of count, the election roughly is the same.

Right? Actually, no. First, different observers have different standards in terms of what they characterize as "bad". As the ODIHR statistician (a figure fighting for more attention internally, and fortunately making some progress) will tell you, Russian observers, for example, fill out their forms somewhat differently. Since there is no training, there's no calibration of what "bad" means, and how to distinguish that from "reasonable" or "very bad". Change the composition of the Election Observation Mission, and you may change the results. Although this is the biggest problem when comparing two very different missions (Georgia's numbers, with 22% of counts assessed as bad or very bad and Armenia's Presidential Election in February, with 16% in that category just can't be meaningfully compared), it can also affect a comparison of two elections in the same country.

A bigger challenge comes from better targeting of observers: since this is a repeat election within a relatively short time frame, ODIHR can target so-called problem districts and precincts much more accurately. More observers in these problem districts means more problems found. It is perfectly possible that a relatively stable number actually hides a marked improvement. Again, that's a sort of non-obvious selection bias.

Add another curious component: in the January election at least some teams were ordered to abandon the observation because of rough cold conditions and snowfall at some point in the night ("drive before the driver gets too tired"), and return to their hotels. This time, with better weather, the observation probably was more sticky, and more teams stayed until the very end when some of the problems become really apparent. Again, this could have some impact when comparing the numbers.

Noting these counterintuitive impacts (some small, some big) on absolute numbers shouldn't serve to dismiss the observation effort, nor the attempt to quantify. Yes, no count should be bad, and training and everything else should remain as ambitious as possible. We're noting this primarily to contribute to a sophisticated use of the data, and again to underline the need for a revised observation methodology, which ideally emphasizes more sophisticated sampling.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Diaspora Internet Presence | Switzerland and Germany

One way of tracking how organised migrants abroad are is simple -- just check the web. During a less exciting conference presentation, we browsed how the people from the Caucasus represent themselves -- checking Germany and Switzerland, since these are less likely to offer a plethora of sites. As you might have guessed, Armenia stands out with the most organised webpresence. Let's look at what they are up to.

Armenien.am is very active, with a forum, and many events, And once you see that there is a "flirt area", the Armenian-Rhenish boat party will not really surprise you.

Certainly an active community!

In Switzerland, Hayastan.ch stands out. This is a Zürich group, young, with soccer games, volleyball, singing, an Armenian Summer Camp in Tessino, and a weekly language school. Knowing Switzerland well, I couldn't help noticing some very Helvetian traits, and not just in the fondue evenings. The website symbol combines the Zurich Churchtowers with Armenian colours

And then there is another Swiss group, too: more francophone, more political, with a lobbying component, for example asking Swiss election candidates for a detailed response on Armenian issues. Surely a balancing act for politicians, since there are Turkish voter groups as well.

You find them here. And again, some peculiar components: their major support the homeland project is... solar electricity.

Last stop, Armenien.de. A neat, professional site, based in Cologne, referring to local communities around churches, structured as incorporated associations. According to that site, there are 40.000 Armenians in Germany.

This isn't even exhaustive, just some snapshots. Next post: Georgian groups. They certainly are less visible. A Google search for "Zentralrat der Georgier" (roughly: "association of Georgians") returns:

No such Georgian hits! We are right back with the Armenian Central Council in Germany. It appears that in migration, the two cultures take very different directions in the level of their organization.

Ideally we'd like to measure that. Any creative suggestions how? (Number of mobile entries in migrants' mobile phones? Internet/Skype usage?)

Parliamentary Elections in Georgia | ODIHR Observation

With today's elections in Georgia, various themes come to mind. Certainly, elections have come a long way: by now, the Georgian government employs a series of highly qualified consultants, including Greenberg Quinlan Rosner of Clinton-fame, plus a Brussels-based PR firm, as well as working with experienced teams from the Baltics. This, then, is no longer the game of the 1990s, or 2003. Election observers know that they in turn will be observed, and maybe that's how it should be.

Note, also, the use of the Internet: so the United National Movement today is employing 150 minibuses to ferry voters around. And: they decided to put the number plates of these buses online. That doesn't make the move more popular with the opposition, but it's no longer the early-morning hush-hush thing of the past.

We're also currently working on a short paper arguing that OSCE's classical method of election observation needs to be overhauled. ODIHR, as OSCE's election observation arm is called, has an approach that has the feel of an undergraduate research project, and there is fairly little systemic thinking on how to do an observation well. While observers are briefed (often in tedious detail), there is no applied training on the minutiae of election observation. While there are legal, media, gender, minority analysts, CEC liaison, and security people there is no training officer.

In a good mission, the Long Term Observers will actually compensate for the institutional shortcomings. With bad LTOs (and having been on a fair number myself, it's noticeable how some dunderheads get recycled from mission to mission) it can be a farcical exercise.

Ultimately, research methods really matter: ODIHR (as OSCE's election observation arm is called) makes assertions about empirically verifiable facts, and this is precisely where social science methodology has come a long way.

Take this example from OSCE's Final Report on the Georgian Presidential Elections
Now, given that there were so many election observers out there (495 observers, that means almost 250 teams) a casual reader may assume that this is broadly representative: the count will have been bad in roughly 23% of stations throughout the country, right? Even if you do not draw this conclusion, test it out on friends or colleagues, and this is the assumption many will walk away with.

Now, as it ends up, that assumption may very well be mistaken. A team of election observers typically is visiting up to 10 polling stations on their observation day. They normally are instructed to pick a polling station in which they think "things will be bad" (politicized/ incompetent chairperson, some irregularities such as irreconcilable numbers during the day). As a result, there will be tremendous selection bias.

In other words, 23% of observers, untrained but looking hard, managed to find precincts in which counts were bad or very bad. Unfortunately, that number says little about what the percentage of precincts in the country is in which the count really was bad. It could be half that number, or even less (or more, given the lack of observer training!). An easy mistake to make, and just one example of what would need to be fixed in the reporting.

Time for ODIHR to undergo a rigorous external evaluation.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Creative Commons for the Caucasus! | A real opportunity

Many readers will already be aware of the concept of Creative Commons. The basic idea is to facilitate collaboration, interaction and people adding value to each other's online work. Creative Commons provides licenses for sharing easily, without giving up some of the author's basic rights. A great exposition of this entire concept is given by the founder of the entire idea, Lawrence Lessig, in an engaging TED talk (you didn't think that intellectual property rights could be that entertaining, did you?). See below.

Now that larger idea is extremely important in the South Caucasus as well. There is a lack of ideas, there's a lack of great materials for people to use, to teach, to read, to share, especially in the local languages. And conversely, there's little respect for authorship, and for the people that have created valuable content.

Introducing Creative Commons in the South Caucasus could be one step to alleviate this: not just by providing the licenses along the "build it and they'll come" expectation, but using the very process to advocate ideas of online interaction and sharing, and recreation.

And: this is precisely what Eurasia Partnership Foundation is about to do. They invite applications until the end of the month, hoping that some qualified groups will apply to port the licenses, and to popularize the concept. Hopefully, this will help to start the debate.

So for anyone interested in the web, or in Intellectual Property issues this really is a unique opportunity. Find a gang of like-minded people, apply, and get paid to popularize what you care about. Check the website of Eurasia Partnership Foundation for more detail. (The project is running in all the three countries, but I'm just linking the Georgian site.)

Here is the talk:

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Caucasus Migration | US Immigration Services Annual Report for 2007

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently released its annual report for the fiscal year 2007 on immigrant and nonimmigrant visas issued by the US Foreign Service posts worldwide. The report also includes data for US visas issued under various categories for the years 2003-2007.

The report shows a general increase in the numbers of both US immigrant as well as non immigrant visas issued worldwide. Thus, from 2003-2007 the number of immigrant visas issued worldwide has increased by around 16% (from 364,768 in 2003 to 434,374 in 2007) and non-immigrant visas by 30.5% (from 4,481,632 in 2003 to 6,444,285 in 2007).

The picture is a bit different across the South Caucasus. Among the three South Caucasus countries Armenia has the highest number of US immigrant visas granted annually. Moreover, from 2003-2007 this number has increased by 35% (from 689 in 2003 to 1062 in 2007), reaching its peak in 2007. Azerbaijan, on the other hand, has the lowest and more or less consistent level of US immigrant visas granted every year, varying between 230 and 294.

According to the report all three South Caucasus countries are considered a source of immigrant orphans, with Armenia leading the chart. But ultimately, numbers are comparatively low: 4 in Georgia, 5 in Azerbaijan and 32 in Armenia. Curiously, 2003 saw many orphan adoptions: 128 in Georgia, 62 in Azerbaijan in and 43 in Armenia.

If you want to see the full report, check it out here.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Subjective Well-Being in South Caucasus

How do people in the South Caucasus assess their well-being? What specific factors influence subjective well-being (i.e. self-rating of well-being) in these countries? How similar are these factors across the three countries, and are there significant differences with other transitional societies?

Elvin Afandi (2007 Fellow, CRRC-Azerbaijan), examined these issues using data from CRRC's Data Initiative survey for the year 2006. DI's "How would you describe the current economic condition of your household?" question allowed assessing subjective well-being of respondents who had to choose from "very poor", "poor", "fair", "good" and "very good".

Overall in the region, responses were distributed almost equally between poor/very poor (47% of respondents) and fair (48% of respondents). Cross-country comparison, however, revealed that subjective well-being in Armenia was more positive with more respondents identifying their economic conditions as fair, good and very good and less people identifying their economic conditions as poor and very poor than in other countries of the region.

Elvin's study suggests that impact of consumption poverty, unemployment, and inefficiency of social protection system on subjective well-being is much stronger in South Caucasus than in other middle-income transitional countries such as Ukraine or Russia. This is explained by economic recession in South Caucasus being more prolonged and more dramatic than in other middle-income transitional countries.

Some correlations are similar across the region. For example, being divorced, separated, widowed, being unemployed, and working in agriculture correlates with low rate of subjective well-being. Elvin Afandi suggests paying special attention to the fact that low subjective well-being is strongly associated with having negative perception of the past and future welfare. This may imply low upward mobility and chronic poverty.

Some variables, however, are more significant in some countries than in others. For example, being migrant in Armenia and Georgia has more impact on subjective well-being than in Azerbaijan. Interestingly, the study finds no effect of ethnicity on subjective well-being. It means that low subjective well-being is related not to ethnicity but rather to the fact that person migrated from another place.

Living in urban and rural places is more significantly correlated with subjective well-being in Azerbaijan and Georgia than in Armenia. It might mean that more dramatic urban-rural gap exists in these countries compared to Armenia.

Interest in politics positively correlates with the increase in subjective well-being. Correlation between withdrawal from discussing politics and low subjective well-being is significant in Azerbaijan and not significant either in Georgia or in Armenia. This might suggest higher risks of social exclusion of the poor in Azerbaijan.

Contact CRRC if you want to get in touch with the Elvin Affandi.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Diversity Polling on the Caucasus | Ask500

Sometimes it's worth clicking on those Gmail links. "Ask 500" is a website in beta, the web version of a straw poll. Polling? Surveys? Obviously I wanted to know more. To say it up front: it's about as unrepresentative as you can get, since it assembles those that suffer from terminal curiosity.

Playing around with it and discovering that so far this still is a small community, I posted a question on people's feelings about the Caucasus. I wanted to know whether people have positive associations (mythical, attractive), or rather negative ones (messy, dangerous, uncomfortable). And then providing some options in between. I also wanted to see whether this question will go anywhere, or whether tabloid interests will prevail.

It certainly is an attractive interface for seeing where the votes are:

Also, the comments function is particularly useful, a sort of focus group of the electronically vociferous.

Ask500 could become incredibly powerful in doing a quick review of an idea, checking it for mistakes. Put more succinctly, where a diversity of viewpoints is more important than representativeness, this approach could be a BIG THING (maybe not THE, but certainly A). It's interesting to see how the founders explicitly invoke Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds as a starting point for their work.

What never ceases to amaze me is how technology DOES flatten the world. An instrument can still be under development in the US, and as long as you have an Internet connection, you already can take part. (Obviously, turning electronic into economic opportunity to alleviate poverty is a very different challenge. Unless you are a programmer.)

In the meantime, check Ask500 to see how responses to the Caucasus develop while the poll is open. Note that the Vote button is quite small: top right.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Exit Polls | Take Two

Readers may recall that we voiced some concern with regards to exit polls. Here is a fascinating account, first-hand, by a reputed pollster having what they describe as an "Adventure in Baku". It is a salutary tale, and again shows that exit polls are not the quick fix they often are believed to be -- even when organisations such as Mitofsky International, bringing extraordinary experience get involved. As the authors conclude:

"One should never go through an experience like this without taking away something for the future. The number one lesson here is that public polling is difficult to do for organizations other than the media and for organizations that have a long history of publication of survey results, regardless of the direction of the findings. This criterion is met in the United States by foundations that sponsor polls, many government agencies, and private companies. However, if one chooses to work, as we did, for organizations with no known record for open availability of the survey findings, caveat emptor."
Well, OK. And who outside the US (and in a transition context) meets these criteria? At a very minimum, the old virtues of total transparency are critical for getting it right. But even then, huge challenges remain that cast serious doubts on the accuracy of any such enterprise, especially in a really competitive environment. Who in their right mind would have serious confidence in nuanced district level results, given the extensive problems described?

Highly recommended reading (it's entertaining, too), you find the article here.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Georgian Party Archive: extraordinary Soviet History

Quite some time ago, Georgia has opened up the party archive of the Soviet period to researchers. This is a pretty unique resource for researchers. Georgia deserves particular praise for making that history accessible. Few countries of the CIS have made this important step.

Yesterday, the relevant working group launched their first Archival Bulletin, in Georgian and English. The working group consists of some employees of the Archive Department of the Ministry of Interior, as well as some engaged enthusiasts that dedicate much of their spare time to making historical materials accessible.

The launch in the well-done Museum of the Soviet Occupation was attended by some historians, foreign scholars and representatives of the Ministry of Interior, including Minister Vano Merabishvili.

Sure, there are various challenges in Georgia, and lustration remains a contentious topic. But releasing this material marks an extraordinary achievement. Many topics could be of interest. How, for example, did officials look at de-Stalinization? How do documents reflect the stagnation in later periods of the Soviet Union? And, countless tidbits: what do the archives show about various international visitors, such as Fitzroy McLean or John Steinbeck?

Ideally, let many people know about this resource. Some background on the Georgian Freedom of Information is here, and here is the link to the actual archive (Georgian only, so far). We will keep you updated.