Connected Campaign Conundrum

Doc and I did not discuss this coincidence. I wrote most of the following rumination on December 18. Along the same lines, in Read On, Doc said yesterday:

I’m a believer in connected democracy. I think smart electorates get smarter than most politicians, and most political organizations. I also think we need politicians and political organizations that understand, organize and take advantage of connected citizens.

Looking back at the 2004 election campaigns, I see Connected Democracy 0.15b. Early beta stuff. Interesting tests and demonstrations of connections and conversations and organization at work, but nothing close to what we need, or will have, eventually.

We live in interesting times. As the Cluetrainers have taught us:

A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.

Translated into Politicalese:

A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to produce democracy with blinding speed. As a direct result, the “governed” are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most governments.

I believe there’s a discovery process at work whereby people will learn that we can join together to effect political change by governing directly, early and often. The key is for candidates to focus on governance, not politics, and to make the voters’ collective will both broad-based and explicit.

Setting the Bar

We always fall short of our goals. This causes some of us to lower the bar and others to raise it. If you want to achieve great things, you need to make sure your goals are towering but that you’re comfortable with falling short of them.

If you aspire to elected office, you can follow the herd and aspire to winning 50% of the voters + 1, or you can start governing early. Governing early gives you a chance to do the heavy lifting in public, rather than just describing what you’ll do for people if they trust you. When you govern early, you take control of the conversation so that winning the vote becomes a milestone, not the end of the effort. Your viral community can start to make a difference during the election, because it’s the only time the incumbents are listening. Voting becomes a way for your partners, the voters, to make your and their governance directly applicable to the bureaucrats and the political toadies.

A web-based community is a great way to aggregate and express the will of its participants. If you aggregate enough willful participants, you can aggregate yourself right into office.

Count the Votes Early, and Start Governing Now. Politics the Web Way.

Rather than quaking in fear that their web site won’t be sufficient to defeat the Big Bad Incumbent, politicians should be relishing how their web services can uniquely deliver the miracle the Dean campaign hinted at. The almost accidental triumph of the Dean campaign was to register voters as members of the campaign’s web services. It seemed only natural–most web sites seek to know who’s visiting. But from a political viewpoint, it was huge, though it didn’t go far enough. In meatspace, supporters evolve from citizenship through registration to going to the polls to pulling the right lever. I suggest that the great untapped vein of political gold is hosting those evolutions, explicitly, within the candidate’s online community.

If the Dean campaign was rev. 0.15b, Counting the Votes Early and often should get us up to at least a public beta. Here’s how I see the flow of voter aggregation robust enough to hijack most elections:

  1. Attract people to register at the site.
  2. Connect them with each other
    ( just as you connect with me by clicking that little envelope icon on this page)
  3. Give them a personal page to state the values that matter most.
  4. Ask them to declare their commitment to vote for this candidate on Election Day.
  5. Every 30 days, have them ratify their commitment to vote.
  6. Pay an accountant to maintain an audited report tallying the committed votes.
  7. Get each committed voter to attract her social network to also commit.

When the right candidate coincides with the right set of web services, the feature set of Politics 1.0 will be set. I think it will look something like this (PDF version):

Are Americans ready to break the bonds of Broadcast Politics?

More specifically:

Is the Internet-connected population a sufficient constituency for building a Connected Campaign? Could such a campaign defeat the most sophisticated, expensive effort that a well-heeled broadcast politician might mount?

Last summer, a potential candidate asked me:

“Is it possible to remove ego as the primary attribute of a campaign , and instead conduct a campaign online and word-of-mouth so powerfully that even the opponent’s ads work against the opponent’s appeal?”

Not only is the answer yes, it’s probably inevitable. If Dean was at 0.15b (and Kerry at 0.09b), how could an unequipped politician, incapable of demonstrating explicit trust, stand up to Version 1.0?

So far, web communities have been more passionate about iPods and Linux than they have been about governance. That’s probably because there are so few web communities concerned with the the process of governing; most rant about the governors, which is a waste of breath.

A Political Sure Thing – On Line and Out Reach

I’ve come to an outrageous conclusion: Some day soon, an underdog candidate’s engagement and collaboration services will grow a viral community of interest to deliver an avalanche of votes as impressive and unexpectedly as an e-voting windfall. Further, the subtext of this people-powered takeover of politics will be that it encourages ego-suppressed candidates interested in good governance, not a politician-who-would-be-king and his courtiers.

How will the voters know that a candidate’s ego is in remission? They’ll recognize an authentic voice expressed in blog posts and comments and podcasts which project an authentic personality into the agora of public esteem, rather than using ad copywriters to project an ego into the ether of non-reality TV. Blogging is a personal skill that’s prime to become a requisite for politicians, because it can be as good a megaphone for them as it is for ordinary citizens who are using blogs to project themselves in the universal struggle for acknowledgement, armed only with their inimitable reasonableness, curiosity, candor and irony.

All those attributes are anathema in politics today, but fashions change, including the skills that elevate one to public office. 150 years ago, you had to be an orator to be President. You
may have noticed that’s no longer the case, plus ça change, plus c’est la même-chose. The thing that’s staying the same is the affection of the voters for anyone who comes across to them as authentic, interested and responsive. Broadcast politics and Lee Atwater’s ghost have, for the moment, made Bush seem like such a person; never has the kleptocracy had it so good. Radio and TV overwhelmed politics by allowing rulers to control the news cycle and now we have the backyard fence effect that blogging can bestow on anybody. A blogger is like someone you talk to over the back fence: after a while, the mask falls away and you’re left with an impression that coincides pretty well with who they are.

The method is straightforward: Create web-hosted, viral, issues-based, self-funding communities so engaged in re-designing governance that they share a foregone conclusion that they will vote to install their own power. The goal is to motivate unprecedented numbers of people to stand for hours in the rain if they must, to vote for the team that represents a movement about them, not the candidate. Based on small donations, publicly audited, we’ll know the stink has gone off politics, and we’ll learn that a community-based online campaign can’t be outspent.

No politician has been bold enough to really listen to the voters because none of them, including Howard Dean, really get it. I went to the mat with Dean’s policy “experts” to allow supporters to make explicit policy recommendations, but they refused to have the candidate be subject to detailed voter preferences. (Similarly, Dean was uninterested in a Soldiers for Dean web site because it he didn’t think it would generate donations. D’oh!)

The voters have never been allowed into the game of high-stakes politics because the candidates’ trusted advisors would rather rule in defeat than be a smaller part of a larger movement.

So the trick is to host an online deliberative body (often called a government) of, by and for the people. As soon as they realize they have access to decision-making that’s truly not politics as usual, they’ll jump in and recruit their neighbors, one begetting five, begetting 25, etc. When those thousands–the most connected and committed–reach out one more circle, into meatspace, the election is locked up.

The people will do it, starting small, if we give them the community-building tools, if we listen to their interests, if we document their connected campaign’s passion for their views and if we document the growth of their circles of committed voters.

It sounds straightforward because it is. It sounds impossible because no candidate has really listened to the people.

Postscript: The Elements of Connected Power

There are three elements to winning a Net-centric campaign:

  1. The Core Message
  2. Engaging the voters
  3. Explicit, interdependent commitments among the voters

Dean’s Triumph: 1. Message & 2. Engagement

The Howard Dean campaign taught us that:

  1. The right message, amplified online, can attract support as never before.
  2. People will engage each other online to express their passion in the real world.

Dean’s Failure: 3. Not linking up the committed voters

The Dean campaign failed to make explicit the vital connections:

a] between the campaign and the voters
b] among the voters themselves

The intent was there, but no one got around to building the linked-up “$10 Campaign” that Jim Moore and Joe Trippi were so excited about in October (Oops!). As a result, the Dean effort was an impressive extension of broadcast politics, but perhaps no more meaningful than the introduction of direct mail fundraising.

A candidate can’t and won’t shake the hands of a million voters but he can speak to them with his authentic voice and touch them as never before. And then they will reach out to, and recruit, each other.

If, for instance, NYC elected a connected mayor, it would be because someone masters the third element and forges explicit commitments among voters, who then collaborate to support the campaign: commitments which Get Out The Vote (GOTV) as successfully as the old system of ward bosses and precinct captains who really knew where the votes stood, long before election day..

Think about it:

Why should a Connected Campaign in 2005 have less data on
real votes in real precincts than Tammany Hall had in 1880?

The way to build and extend a community of committed voters is to inspire the most active voters to get their teeth into meaningful activity beyond campaigning: voters so motivated that they go way beyond the GOTV strategies of most campaigns. These activists are willing to commit their votes early and publicly and to affirm them when asked. They’re also willing to infect their friends with their enthusiasm.

The result is an auditable pool of committed votes expanding at web speed to more than the last majority, and to do it months before the election. With that out of the way, the winners-in-fact can concentrate on governing with a real mandate, not mudling through with 50.001% of the vote.

Crossing the Chasm

This must be a campaign irrevocably committed to online activism driving real world activity. Unlike Howard Dean, the leaders of the Connected Campaign need the self-discipline to stay the course and not succumb to traditional politics as soon as their real power becomes palpable. Geoffrey Moore’s seminal book, Crossing the Chasm, taught us that an enterprise must often abandon all it knows and embrace new behaviors to reach promising heights looming across an unfamiliar passage.

The Connected Campaign must trust totally in the linking power of the grassroots to accumulate, support and deliver 1,500,000 committed votes. Like any other business, the acquisition of those votes must happen in an orderly way over the course of the campaign, not as a nail-biting miracle received passively on election night. That means that we count our votes early and often as we accumulate them and–literally–depict our power online for all to see, as it grows like a weed in plain sight.

It’s Not the Internet, Stupid!

Every campaign’s message must be about real-world communities, not abstract Metcalfian “networks”; about people, not the Internet. The loudest voices in the Dean campaign were tech savvy, most connected to other techies–a weakness the Kerry campaign capitalized on by concentrating on each state’s old-fashioned Democratic apparatus. The Connected Campaign must downplay the Internet as a phenomenon, but use it as naturally to deliver the votes as a kid rides a bike to deliver papers. Fortunately, a lot of regular folks take the Net for granted, use it spontaneously, and don’t need to rant about the Net to use the Net.

The Digital Divide and the 80-20 Rule

Techies are smart people who like computers but the rest of us are not, so we must assume that 80% of our base is not connected. The best argument against Net-centric politics is that most voters are citizens, not techies. Even if we exchange digital photos with relatives, we think the Internet is an advanced TV with too many
controls and private channels. But the right tools in the hands of the most-connected activists equips them to reach out to many others, perhaps five times as many, whether or not those five are online.

Like outbound sales reps, our most-connected 20% can use our online outreach tools to connect with the people around us: neighbor, paperperson, bus driver and grocery clerk, to deliver the majority of the votes that will transform politics forever. That will be the perfect storm Joe Trippi dreamed of.

2:09:44 PM    

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