The hottest new political tech is one you're probably already using: important lessons on building your campaign tech stack.
November 26, 2020
Author: Alonso Hernández Sánchez
There seems to be a never-ending conversation on what are the most effective technologies to power up digital campaigning. "What tools should we be using?" is always among the most frequent and first questions we get from our new clients.
This is understandable: having a great toolset is important. However, it's not only about the tools. There's always also a need for diving deeper into an organisation's relationship with technology. Unfortunately, at times there seems to be missing a strong organisational culture within some progressive campaigns that incorporates the development of and best ways to use organising technology.
In this blog post, we hope to push the conversation in the right direction by sharing some thoughts, recommendations and resources on the best use of digital organising tech in your work - especially the ones in which you may already be using.
We learned a great deal from the mass of data we collected for the first Report on the State of Digital Organising in Europe. Beyond the clear image of a massive unrealised potential for digital organising in Europe’s progressive political landscape emerged a number of insights into approaches for digital campaigning, major trends, and the direction political technology and strategy should be taking.
Perhaps most insightful was the data that ran contrary to general assumptions. While many other studies have focussed on the development and adoption of new tools, we left our survey process as open as possible, beginning with qualitative interviews to let our participants tell us what is most important in their digital organising work before then narrowly defining the questions of our quantitative survey.
The answer to one question we asked interview participants really struck us as representative of which technologies are really important in digital organising. In retrospect, however, it seems quite obvious. When we asked our interviewees what tool or technology they couldn't live without, the answer was almost always the same: Google Docs.
When you think about it, it makes sense:
- Campaigners take advantage of networks/tech that supporters and activists are already using: there is not always a need to invest resources in convincing people to embrace new tools.
- When possible campaigners choose to use tools they’re already comfortable with and those tools are not often political-specific technology--which is ok.
- As the report also highlighted, there is a lack of specific education and best practices on digital organising. It's hard to pioneer the use of new tech without references.
- The organising platforms sector is an incipient market in Europe with a huge opportunity for growth, but only a few platforms have really cut through and dedicated to building or adjusting their products to the specific needs in Europe.
Of course, this raises some concerns as well. We definitely want to be mindful of the fact that some of the tools we use for organising weren’t actually built for civic engagement or activism and continue to be built by companies not in the organising tech industry. It would be great if we could count on more collaborative tools that are as useful as Google Docs, for example, but built for campaigners.
In any case, we believe there’s a huge opportunity here to connect resources and strategies to where campaigners really are. It's clear we need to dedicate more energy in trying to help campaigners successfully use the tools they have at their disposal.
With that goal in mind, we gathered the following recommendations and resources for progressive European campaigners:
It’s not only about tools.
Using Whatsapp groups + Google Docs to deploy a frontloading phase of a massive distributed day of action could sound a bit rudimentary, but there’s a lot of potential for this to work if we know how.
Here at Tectonica, we love the motto: "Tech follows methods", meaning first define how you are going to win and let that inspire your tech strategy and your tools choices. We also need to pivot the focus from "what tech we use” to "how we use tech".
From this point, for each tool we want to:
1.- Invest time in planning strategies to unfold through the tool. Foresee supporters' adoption and responses to your strategies of use and predefined actions to take in those different scenarios. State management procedures and needs, and plan specific actions to foment cooperation, contribution, recruitment, or any other outcome you are interested in.
2.- Be attentive to the Activist/Supporter Experience you deliver. Make sure that the user journey you are presenting aligns with the purposes of your campaign and indeed facilitate its success (read more about this idea here).
3.- Develop a holistic view of your digital ecosystem. Plan what specific function the tool is going to have and how it is going to integrate with the rest of the used technologies.
Although our tech stack (Web, CRM, Collaboration Tools, Social Media, and really, all the tools we use) is integrated by a lot of different elements, it should be lived as one whole unified experience on the user end. All tools cover integration needs nowadays, check how well they do before you choose them and before you give them a role in the final schema.
Take tools to the edge - Fill the gaps
No matter which tool we use, if we want to succeed as digital organisers, we need to master their use and try to go above and beyond, not just to invigorate the campaign, but also to assure the best use of the resources available.
The following recommendations may seem somewhat rudimentary, but we tend to forget them:
1.- Know the tool. Excel on its use and go big with it. Read the tool documentation. Find unknown but practical uses.
We all know how to use Google Docs but maybe we haven’t heard about these practical functionalities below to facilitate collaboration:
- Email collaborators from the doc
- Publish files as web pages
- Point people to a specific section of your document
- Turn your document into a template for other people’s ongoing use
These are just examples, but there are plenty of interesting things that we can do with google tools.
2.- Check for auxiliary tools / Extensions / Plugins that could enforce and complement your tech stack. Not all the people are familiar with this, but there are a lot of interesting options to explore in the Chrome Web Store and in the Gooogle Workspace Marketplace. Below there are some interesting examples:
- Google Keep
- Doc Builder
- Search and Navigate
- Doc Secrets
- Lucidchart Diagrams
- WordPress.com for Google Docs
- Get alerts on new changes via email
- Fillable Document
- Similar list for Google Spreadsheet
3.- Inspire an intricate culture of copy and share within your team. Use standards and templates - which can be taken from other campaigns. Proactively look for success cases and best practices, and build relationships with other campaigners to share knowledge and resources. There is a huge need for more networking among progressive campaigners - especially in Europe.
4.- Use tech to help you scale. Scaling the reaches of a campaign and its success is a matter of being able to build more relationships with more supporters. And this is directly connected to your capacity of personalising an increasing number of connections and human interactions preferably. Besides building a strong cause it’s the ability to build an effective community - which ultimately is what drives a campaign to victory.
With that said, there are two main strategies we recommend for scaling:
- Capitalise on the power of your supporters and lean the campaign into distributed organising practices.
We are not going to dive into this one too much, but from a technological perspective you could complement your tech stack with other tools specific for distributed organising, like Control Shift Labs, or you could even include these practices thinking of creative uses of the technology that you already utilise.
- Use automation to gain efficiency and unleash resources and powerful opportunities.
Any organisation’s toolset is getting more and more complex, and difficult to manage. Designing a layer of automation and integration on top of our tool schema has become mandatory. There is no chance you can deliver a winning unified experience to supporters without the proper internal data synchronization, and the automation of some parts of different workflows. Even if we set Google Suite, Email and Social Media as our main digital spaces for campaigning, there’s still a huge opportunity for improvement using automation.
In that regard, we highly recommend the harmonised use of tools like Zapier, IFFT, Google Apps Scripts, UI Path, etc., and we hope to see further development in this area.
The possibilities are endless as this is an area where the creative capacity of campaigners will make all the difference. To present some examples, you could:
- Make sure that when somebody joins the campaign they are contacted almost immediately by a real person. You can do this by automating the sending of a first email from a personal account within a couple of hours of their signing up.
- Facilitate donations “in honour of” and “in memory of” someone important to the donor by automating the sending of an email to the honoree or to the family of the celebrated person.
- Similarly, you could address automated communication for a system to gift someone membership to your organisation.
- Tag people in your CRM based on actions they take on other tools used.
- Add new Facebook Lead Ads leads to rows on Google Sheets or to your CRM.
- Add events to Google Calendar from new Google Forms responses to assign actions to take for following up signups.
- Send email via Gmail for new Google Forms submissions based on the responses of the form to connect supporters with the next actions to take and keep them moving forward in the engagement ladder.
This list goes on and on. There is a lot of room for growth when it comes to progressive efforts and our relationship with technology, regardless of the tools that appear more aligned with the strategy of our campaigns.
To recap, the main purpose of this article is to help build a smart approach to tech culture among progressive digital campaigners. Emphasising the importance of following a logic path from the campaign strategy to tech choices and committing with the mastering of the tools we choose. The separation between online and offline organising is vanishing and is not going to come back, therefore, we better rock it building our tech stack!
We would love to hear about what tech you use and how you use it. Feel free to email me to firstname.lastname@example.org and definitely don't hesitate to let us know if you have any questions. We are looking forward to talking with you!
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