shutterstock_549002065.jpg

17 November 2017

Civic Hall: When it Comes to Fixing Politics, Tech Needs a Reality Check

21ST CENTURY CAMPAIGNS

The current technology and data solutions for campaigns are too complicated, segmented, and expensive to be effective. It’s clear to everyone that we need to upgrade political campaigning technology.

Campaigns are still highly dependent on siloed consultants—the direct mail vendor is typically different from the digital vendor and the TV ad vendor. This is incredibly inefficient. In addition, each individual campaign shouldn’t need to pay expensive data scientists to do their targeting; every campaign should be able to leverage the power of centralized technology to easily and intelligently craft target universes. RevUp and WealthEngine are already doing this for sales and fundraising. We need something similar for voters, too.

Even simple tools like distributed phone banking programs could be improved—campaigns are still reliant on off-the-shelf programs that fail to live up to expectations.

There’s also an important need to help campaign managers quickly identify the best set of tools for them. It’s shockingly hard for campaigns to go from zero to sixty. Candidates are given a mishmash of different tools, and almost nowhere in the country are candidates immediately handed the tools they need to successfully compete.

This is the area where we’re seeing the most innovation right now. New companies and organizations like GroundGameThe Tuesday Company, and VoterCircle are building out products as we speak and we’re excited about the potential for better and cheaper tools. This is also an opportunity area that Raffi Krikorian, the new CTO of the DNC, has taken head-on and we’re looking forward to seeing the party help campaigns small and large find the right tools.

Read the whole article at: https://civichall.org/civicist/when-it-comes-to-fixing-politics-tech-needs-a-reality-check/

2 November 2017

Bloomberg Businessweek: CAN DEMOCRATS HARNESS THE #RESISTANCE?

...Over the summer, Higher Ground Labs invested in 11 companies, many of them focused on reaching voters through mobile technology and social media. Field organizers Shola Farber, 27, and Michael Luciani, 25, who worked in Michigan for Clinton’s campaign, say this is important because two groups Democrats struggle to activate—young people and minorities—are more transient than others, making them harder to reach, since they often don’t own a landline telephone or pay for cable television.

“In the past it’s been hard to lure the brightest young minds in tech into the world of campaign politics”

Trump’s election prompted them, too, to leave their jobs and found the Tuesday Company, another HGL startup working in Virginia that’s developing “digital door-knocking” technology. While working for Clinton, Farber could see that the standard voter contact methods of door knocking, phone banking, and TV ads were not reaching many millennials. “When we talk to people via Facebook or text, they often don’t know there’s an election,” she says. A Tufts University poll taken a month before the 2016 election found that just 30 percent of millennials had been contacted by a campaign. “That’s a figure that haunts us,” says Luciani. 

Tuesday’s technology aims to extend field organizing’s best practices into the digital realm. “The one thing Democrats absolutely excel at is volunteers,” says Farber. “Our system uses a bottom-up approach to built a grass-roots volunteer network among voters who aren’t being reached by traditional Democrat efforts.” Tuesday’s app, Team, allows users to share campaign content with their social network. When friends “like” or comment on a video, meme, or GIF, Tuesday learns what issues excite them and can then encourage friend-to-friend outreach. Roem’s campaign is using the technology to connect with people whose doors are harder to knock on, either because they live in private buildings, gated communities, or rural areas difficult to canvass. 

Reaching voters through Facebook is particularly urgent, Luciani adds, because Trump’s campaign used the platform to send “dark posts” with negative messages to blacks and millennials to weaken their support for Clinton. “The same people that they don’t want to vote are the people we do want to vote,” he says.

Senior Clinton officials who have studied the reasons for her loss say these startup efforts are vital to reversing the party’s electoral doldrums. “In the past it’s been hard to lure the brightest young minds in tech into the world of campaign politics,” says Brian Fallon, a top Clinton campaign adviser. “We’ve still only really scratched the surface of social media platforms’ potential to make voter persuasion more effective, targeting more precise, and organizing more efficient. The coming midterms and even the down-ballot races [in Virginia] will give us the chance to experiment with new technologies.”

Unlike Silicon Valley startups, these enterprises offer little money or glamour for their young founders. Since leaving her job, Farber has spent nine months in couch-surfing transience as she works to launch the Tuesday Company. “There’s a generational aspect to many of these startups,” says Hoover, “a lot of energy and dedication, a lot of founders’ stories tied to the day after the election. Many of them pivoted, changed careers, or changed focus based on that moment. People are woke.”

Read the whole article at: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-11-02/the-democrats-must-go-local-to-win

 

2 August 2017

Wired Magazine: OBAMA ALUMS POUR $1.5 MILLION INTO PROGRESSIVE TECH STARTUPS

AFTER A PRESIDENTIAL campaign ends–particularly if it ends badly—the campaign’s once-innovative tools to target voters tend to collect dust along with unused boxes of buttons and bumper stickers. Unlike the campaign tchotchke, however, those data analytics and targeting tools could actually be useful to future national and state campaigns.

Now, a group of former Obama staffers is trying to break that cycle. The group, Higher Ground Labs, is taking a note from Sand Hill Road and applying venture-capital tactics to progressive politics. On Wednesday, Higher Ground is disclosing investments totaling nearly $1.5 million in 10 startups and enrolling them in a five-month accelerator program, during which they’ll work with mentors from the political-tech space to build their businesses.

“We haven’t built a culture around investors who invest in political tech in a real way. So people have had a hard time getting off the ground,” says Betsy Hoover, a co-founder of Higher Ground, who worked for both Obama presidential campaigns in online and field organizing. “I think there’s a real moment to think about this differently.”

Higher Ground, whose founders also include former Obama-administration staffers Shomik Dutta and Andrew McLaughlin, debuted in May. Since then, some 150 groups have applied to participate in the accelerator program and a related fellowship program. Higher Ground has raised $2.5 million from investors spanning politics and the tech industry. The companies receiving funding include Qriously, which uses programmatic online ads instead of phone calls to gauge public opinion, Victory Guide, a so-called “digital campaign manager” that gives local candidates a day-by-day agenda of campaign goals, and Tuesday Strategies, which helps volunteers send personalized text and social media messages to friends the campaign wants to reach.

Tuesday Strategies grew out of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 field organizing efforts in Michigan. Clinton lost Michigan, but Tuesday Strategies CEO Michael Luciani said the company’s tactics helped the campaign beat its outreach targets in the state. “There’s a much higher response rate, because it’s coming from a friend not a stranger,” Luciani says of the personalized text messages.

Luciani and co-founders Shola Farber and Jordan Birnholtz say Higher Ground’s investment will help Tuesday Strategies build and sustain its product as it gains campaign clients. Already, it’s working with state house, city council, and gubernatorial candidates in Virginia, New York and Michigan.

Read the whole article at: https://www.wired.com/story/obama-alums-pour-money-into-political-tech-startups/