Build IT and they will come…

Like a moth to flame, I was drawn to Howard Dean’s seminal pronouncement on 5/28:

You need to support Dean because he has said the most important thing that any candidate has ever said:

“I’m not unwilling to change positions based on facts,
  but I am unwilling to change positions based on polls.”

Since then, I’ve found myself drawn to another flame–the fervor of passionate people who want to help anybody besides Bush, preferably Dean, become our next president.

These denizens of the ‘Net think like open source people. Given a problem, they start coding, and collaborating, and spotting bugs, and improving the code base, and welcoming positive suggestions and including new voices, and not paying much attention to the economics of the project, or why something can’t happen.

It sounds a lot like how a society works and nothing like how politics works.

The contributions these guys want to make involves doing real work for real campaigns to accomplish real change. They want to set up wikis, websites and WiFi; not press the flesh and position themselves for political appointments. How can you not do what you can for these guys? So we started imagining, together, how we might help candidates with lots of admirers but who aren’t set up to sell $2,000 hamburgers.

Specifically, we imagine a specialized sets of open resources for campaigns that deserve more help than they can afford. We’re particularly focused on the Dean campaign, but the infrastructure is agnostic. As Jon Lebkowsky said recently:

…the real importance of nodal politics is not in successful support for specific candidates, but in the successful construction of a more democratic model, with increased participation and increased understanding of the process and the issues. We get there by building a network, many connections and many nodes, and distributing quality information over that network, ensuring that there is at every node someone who can facilitate understanding of the messages we’re distributing.

Struggling campaigns deserve to have access to A-teams of geeks covering each area of production and IT, addressing needs common to any campaign:

  1. graphic design (flyers, postcards, websites)
  2. online organizing and communications
  3. working with local parties
  4. html emails
  5. technology advice

The most urgent need is to establish communications & production support for meatspace functions. Here’s where we confront the problem every enterprise struggles with: sharing the knowledge of its individuals with the rest of the team. This is where forums, wikis and other collaborative tools are crucial.

This raises an interesting distinction between a big business and a time-limited campaign, whether military or political. In business, sure there’s a sense of urgency, but it lacks the visceral imperatives of people in mortal danger or a looming election.

Tech mentoring/task completion is a big part of the support picture. Like all of us, campaign staff will only use tech to the extent they’re comfortable with it and trained on it. Experts need to be on call to help complete a task, take over the task, or coach completion if the skills will be required repeatedly.

Anvil Chorus

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. I’m embarrassed and a little amused that I feel like that. Xpertweb’s my hammer, and work is the nail. The more Josh and I (and Mitch and Jock and Jon and Doc and Flemming and others) teased this idea out of its cocoon, I began to see it as a mini-Xpertweb: An open set of resources available to whoever the experts choose to serve. Well that really got me excited!

Tomorrow a few of us will meet to see if we agree that our vision is that the best of geekdom should rally ’round NOW and deliver the Dean campaign into IT Nirvana. It helps that many in the Open Source movement would like to prove they can outperform the big guns at conventional projects AND innovation.

We speak a lot among ourselves of the need to give the campaign an ego-free zone. We know geeks can get in the way of enterprise, but it ain’t happening here. Our adhocracy will focus on the skill sets every enterprise needs but few can afford. Once organized and staffed, the capabilities will be described on websites private to the campaigns – intranets – with forms that campaign staffs can use to describe needs and their deadlines.

Or, as described in below, they can just just pick up the phone and say what they frickin’ need.

Make sure Campaign HQ runs like clockwork. Find Dean-leaning tech-heads who can go up to Burlington and make sure their campaign is running like a swiss watch

JOB 1: Master the IT basics for the campaign ASAP, whether as flunkies reporting to a big-time consultant or as professionals prepared to carry the IT ball for 17 months. Like any Open Source project, this work can follow the sun around the planet.

We assume the campaign is at this point a small business with the conversation load of a big one. So for now we assume it needs contact management, data bases, Excel support, outsourced typing, research, writing, graphics, etc. Pros are expected to volunteer to work the systems as required, using best practices, free from FUD and vendor agendas. Security’s huge here, but sharable to the grassroots as required.

Make the flow of ideas open and quick and -actionable-. Need to move ideas from idea-makers to action-doers. Idea processor

The campaign staff, up to and including Dr. Dean, need to be able to shout out an idea and have others vet it and DO it. This allows good ideas to happen chaordically and promptly. After vetting, pricing, resourcing and outlining the project, THEN a go/no-go can be given whether to proceed. The pricing function acknowledges that there are always some costs, but not for staffing and implementation.

People have more ideas when they don’t have to implement them, and that’s the thinking behind Idea Processing.

Friendly Interface for conversations.

We have a forum tool with a user-seductive GUI to add to the volunteers’ kit for collaboration, featuring an XML data store. We hope it will be as useful as a Wiki to the geeks, but more accessible, perhaps even the staff & Dr. Dean can use it as a dashboard interface to monitor the campaign’s production aspects.

Creative graphics people, get some leaders on board

Tomorrow, Josh and I will define the presumed zones of expertise: copy writing, graphics – prepress & web. Media development. This is basically the NYC Creative dream team I had blogged about after the Dean meetup. The categories are probably obvious, but suggestions are needed.

At this point, we want to finger the leaders and project managers in each area – the best we can find. Then they’ll ID the workers and coordinators.

Build the list of talented, vetted, responsible individuals who are ready to do something for the campaign

Rapid response campaign collateral, print to Kinkos (or Everett Studios)

With the creative people in place, digital pencils sharpened, campaign staff can describe requirements, which will then be translated into a task spec by one of our volunteers, then staffed, created, checked by another and sent through pre-press or to the media outlet. For print jobs we’ll provide a print-to-Kinko’s protocol (or email for media placement), so it’s printed in Burlington VT or Burlington IA as needed, and delivered to the client on time and WAY under budget. Josh proposes Everett Studios for higher quality materials.

Support for idea generation: talk to the web, leave notes to be perused, allow the idea makers free reign to pour it out

We propose an 800 voicemail number with people checking it several times an hour. Campaign people can dictate their notes to be parsed into communications, ideas, orders, position drafts, research, whatever. Some materials (after client approval) will be emailed or faxed to volunteers with good penmanship to hand write a letter and envelope, lick a stamp and confirm the posting of it – high tech/high touch.

Provide detailed data to voters based on their specifics; up to the minute statistics aimed at specific situations

Research can make issues come alive. Compelling facts can be on 3×5 cards or as sophisticated as a WiFi-equipped tablet computer/teleprompter in the speaker’s hands, perhaps with a technographer speaking into an ear mike. Obviously this applies to foreign affairs, Bush’s Fiscal Follies, etc.

Allow cross geographic/interest collaboration. Sure-thing blue states can lend resources to battlegrounds. Isolated talent in sure-thing reds can do the same

GREAT idea from Josh and/or Zack: Engage the people in non-swing states to help from afar in crucial must-win states. Let volunteers from Idaho and California help out in Florida or Michigan.

Meet Level, the playing field

IT’s interesting and a little heady to realize that there are far more talented people, fans of particular candidates, waiting to be put to productive use, than there are workers in even the best-funded campaign.

There’s nothing magic in this approach. We’re simply going to expose a set of well-described resources to the campaigns, and let them use those resources as their imaginations allow. Naturally some campaigns will inspire the volunteers more than others. If the resources are useful, responsive, professional and knit together into ad hoc teams that are truly productive, they’ll surely be used. When that pattern is established, a new force will have been added to American politics: Open Resource Elections.

It’s been said that candidates might as have their donors send the money directly to the TV stations, since that’s where it’s going anyway. So money, media and voters are the vital forces in elections. If Open Resource delivers useful work products and collaboration tools to campaigns, Those workers will be a new force, leveling a field which seems more tilted than ever.

10:52:50 PM    

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