Civic technology

Five Areas of Opportunity For The DNC

There
are five major areas of interest/concern/opportunity for me with regard
to the DNC, and in order for addressing any one area to make a
difference, they all need to be addressed, sequentially.

1) Organizational Culture
2) Staffing
3) Tools
4) Data
5) Local Networks

1) In the realm of organizational culture, open technology can be a
great playing-field-leveler and connector in the Party and in
campaigns. Technology is the most apolitical of campaign departments,
so it can get the most done. Technologists also tend to come from
realms external to politics, and tend to be broad integrative thinkers.
Technology is more objective and quantitative than other campaign tasks
and inherently facilitates knowledge sharing and transparency. The
linkage between effective grassroots politics and open-source
technology is deep and growing deeper, and in the context of
contemporary politics, one cannot scale effectively without the other.

Zephyr’s point in her article about the DNC being *of service* to
*people* is hugely important– it’s the only way that someone is going
to feel that the Party is of, by and for THEM. Achieve this, and it
ceases to matter much whether you agree or disagree with a particular
plank or whether you like your local Party leadership. It’s YOURS and
YOU are responsible for and empowered to CHANGE what you don’t like.
Technology makes it possible to instantiate this connection without
losing the ability to act coherently nationally. There’s a great quote
by Rabindranath Tagore: "I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke
and found that life was but service. I served and discovered that
service was joy." Service and personal responsibility and empowerment
reinforce our core values, and transcend partisanship. The DNC must
eats its own (values) dogfood by empowering people, promoting personal
responsibility, and being of service. New DNC Staff and Democratic
candidates should take that to heart. I believe that Howard Dean does,
which is one reason this is an exciting time.

Equally important is Zephyr’s "culture of shifting leadership to new
people"– push people upwards incessantly– cause churn not because
people get disaffected and leave but because amazing new people are
pushing up from below. Get the top growth rate local MeetUps each month
get to nominate a rep. to go meet w/ Dean each month; hold virtual
messaging and strategy focus group session with representatives from
local organizations around the country. Hire charismatic young
evangelists like Justin Krebs and Josh Koenig Josh Koenig and Kety Esquivel to travel around country identifying, recruiting, inspiring, and training new leaders.  Network them.

2) In the realm of staffing, the DNC needs a CIO on the front lines;
and a tremendously geeky and focused CTO behind the scenes; and a
designated skilled technology liaison in each Department (and no we
don’t mean desktop PC support)– not just in DNC HQ but in every State,
and in all major campaigns; and the DNC should informally and
broadly/inclusively and publicly vett all major IT hires. Make sure
State CIOs are nationally peer-vetted and directly networked together.
And at all costs, don’t don’t be insular– don’t only work with one
firm, or trust one person’s opinion, no matter how great they are.
Open-source necessitates a vibrant flow of iterative input and
collaborative decision-making in order to work.

3) In the realm of tools, open source is critical, and network
effects are critical. Give everyone from the local Dem Club to the
local ACORN group to the DNC HQ in DC the chance to ride the same
technology rails, and you give the DNC the chance to leverage ad-hoc
networks of information and resources when and where it matters most
with phenomenal scale and granularity. CivicSpace and
GreenMediaToolshed come to mind. Don’t write the national grand master
plan and push it down to States. Pull it up from States like Minnesota
where the DFL is doing amazing IT work; then digest it, generalize it,
and then push it back out to other States with resources and expertise
to back it up.

4) Worry about data. You’ve got a solid data warehouse but it’s
buried treasure whose value is rapidly depreciating. Make it available
to people who need it– *now*, not after the Primaries. Not just to
Field staff. End the culture of compartmentalization of information. As
a condition for giving data out, make sure that all the data you push
out comes back– and comes back refined and improved. Change the
calculus about whether to invest in campaigns you know you’ll probably
lose because you know it will pay the dividend of collecting data that
will help us win there and elsewhere next time. Create the possibility
of winning everywhere.

5) Care about more than the DNC– within legal limits, invest in and
empower synergistic local organizations and networks. Here in the Bay
Area I’m pulling together networks of local Progressive leaders and also fighting to transform the Young Democrats
into a vibrant bottom-up organization. Make sure this is happening
everywhere. Make sure they’re networked and ready to flow information,
resources and ideas up, down, and sideways to one another. These
networks will spawn precinct-by-precinct organizing projects such as
that envisioned by Zack Exley, though not necessarily under the auspices of the DNC, which is ok.

More of my big picture views on data and the DNC in particular are summarized in this post in response to a thread Harish had over on EchoDitto last month.

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