Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Developing a Livelist; A proposal

Developing the LiveList
A proposal

This proposal is being jointly submitted by The Urban Labs (MIT CoLab)to initiate the creation of a unique tool for community organizing and voter contact and turnout in low and moderate income communities of color and execute the initial implementation in preparation for the 2012 federal elections. The League of Young Voters has agreed to be our use study.

Contact information: Malia Lazu

Executive Summary

It takes time for a community organizer to build the strong relationships necessary to move a low and moderate income community to action. And it takes time to collect the data that describes the community and drives decision making. Each hour an organizer spends inputting data is an hour not spent talking to the people. The Urban Labs (MIT CoLab) and MIT Center for Civic Media have developed a tool that starts with lowest common denominator technology – cell phones – to create a database that decentralizes data entry, facilitates constant contact and encourages community members to recruit friends and family members to the cause. Instead of spending time behind the computer, organizers are out on the streets, educating people, empowering leaders and incentivizing community action.

The tool is called LiveList™. LiveList is a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system combined with an organizing methodology. LiveList uses text messaging and Facebook profiles to allow community members to build and update their own records within an organizational database that is supplemented by voter and consumer data. Organizers are taught the techniques that enable them to get members on the LiveList and then educate them, encourage them to recruit new members, build community events and get out the vote. Because it relies on text messaging more than internet-based social networks, the LiveList crosses over the digital divide to reach deep within lower income communities. Furthermore, the data that can be collected will be richer and more current than any voter list, building the foundation for future community-building and electoral efforts. As a result, The League of Young Voters (LYV) has agreed to be our test study.

The pages that follow will present an example of the LiveList in action, the architecture of the LiveList and the LYV program plan.

Contact information: Malia Lazu 617 308 8265

A LiveList in Action

The true power in community organizations lie in the people they come in contact with every day. If there is a way organizers can track the people they come in contact with, they will have the ability to remain connected to the hundreds of people they touch every month.

A LiveList for the League of Young Voters

In the context of political campaigns, real time data collection exists (think field lists with bar codes and iPhones) but there is nothing that harnesses the power of technology to engage potential voters from the point of contact with campaign organizers and then both keep them engaged and get them to the polls. This project will create a cutting edge technology to be developed and used by active organizers, tested in an actual campaign. The technology could radicalize how organizers' databases and voter files are created and updated by giving community organizers the tools to get the lists updated in real time by the voters (and potential voters) themselves. Piloting its use in 2011, the tool can be developed and distributed to organizations through out the country to better understand, organize and turn out the most underrepresented communities.

The League of Young Voters has a long history of turning out young voters of color. They play a lead in the 501c3-coordinated table in Wisconsin and represent one of the most extensive local networks in Milwaukee. Meanwhile, The Urban Labs at MIT is at the vanguard of technology, creating unique tools to meet inner-city eligible voters where they are to communicate, organize, build trust and activate. By combining the skills and networks of the LYV with the tools of the Urban Labs, we will work to create the LiveList tool that works with the league’s current database, text messaging and in person events. League organizing can create a self-updating voter file (the LiveList) that will be instrumental for engaging and turning out the young electorate in Milwaukee.

Central to the mission of the League of Young Voters is the fight against voter ID laws that have the effect of suppressing youth turnout. Since the laws require government-issued ID’s in order to place a vote, the LYV has started a “Get on the Bus” campaign to provide transportation to young people who otherwise wouldn’t know about state voting requirements and wouldn’t have transportation to the Department of Motor Vehicles. The Urban Labs is proposing to enhance the “Get on the Bus” effort through development of a LiveList in Milwaukee.

The goals of the program will be to:

1. Develop the technology and train the League stakeholders and organizers on how to deploy LiveList
2. Deploy LiveList through the “Get on The Bus” Campaign in Milwaukee
3. Evaluate the experiment and present a plan on scalability for 2012.

In order to measure success, the Urban Labs is proposing the following metrics:

• Increase the technological capacity of League Staff
• Increased data collection: growth in membership
• Get 50% of current League membership to opt into the LiveList
• Register 80% of targeted voters who opt into LiveList
• Reach out to the LiveList at least once monthly to measure activity.
• Integration of short code for in person events
• Use organizing modules for organizing “Get on the Bus” events

Program Plan:
Below is the plan created in conjunction with all partners to reach achieve the three stated goals of this proposal.

Goal 1: Develop the technology and train the League on LiveList

The LiveList™ will be built through consistent, constant activity. The initial target for the LiveList will be the League's current active membership base. The goal is to move 75% of the current membership base to the LiveList platform. The League has a history of using a short code to survey their membership and provide basic outreach. This experiment will expand the use of the short code to provide keywords for organizers to be able to capture data in real time when they are in the streets. The short code will also be used at in person events to capture attendance and have a consistent dialogue with event attendees. The “Get on the Bus” promotion, registration and bus assignments will be run through the short code platform and all text messages will push people to the “Get on the Bus” Facebook page.

Goal 2: Deploy LiveList through the “Get on The Bus” Campaign in Milwaukee.

The League of Young Voters will engage their constituency by organizing events to help young people get ID's.  Organizing a citywide education campaign they are reaching people in schools, churches and on the streets.  The goal is to get people to sign up to get an ID.  The League will support them in getting their paperwork in order and raise money for the cost. 

League organizers will use the short code as a registration tool and push people to their facebook site.  By getting individuals to opt in they will be able to deepen their dialogue with a majority of people they touch.  This will expand their list and help organizers track their relationship building.

Goal 3: Evaluate the experiment and present a plan on scalability for 2012

We will explore the following areas in our evaluation.
1. Was it effective in mining more data consistently?
2. Was the tool helpful in mobilizations and deepening relationships?
3. Was there an increase in community participation?
4. What does it take to use this tool effectively?

We will deliver the following outcomes towards this goal:
1. Conduct debrief retreat
2. Create a formal report
3. Create a deck on what it will take to bring this to scale


High levels of transience and low levels of technology penetration make middle and especially low income eligible voters difficult to reach, track and activate. This proposal will allow for a cutting edge technology created for hard to reach populations to be used by active organizers and tested in an actual campaign. The technology developed will democratize how voter files are created and updated by giving community organizers the tools for real time data capturing and community-generated membership expansion while being dependent on technology no less accessible than a mobile phone. Cross referencing with the VAN will allow organizers ongoing registration tracking as they touch their communities in diverse ways. By experimenting in 2011, a tool could be developed and distributed to organizations through out the country to increase data collection and engagement with eligible voters in the most underrepresented communities.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Putting the New Year in Perspective

As I tried to get a Top Ten list ready for the New Year I could not find the motivation. We have had some moments that make great stories but as a whole they amount to… angry politics, lying husbands and corporate greed.  Nothing new for a new year.  

While I love the Chilean miner story, I haven’t lost sight of the fact they almost died because of the disregard mining has for labor.  Sandra Bullock would have preferred an honest husband and the Tea Party success of 2010 seems to be foreshadowing of our country losing the freedoms we have gained in the last 30 years.  I was falling into a horribly cynical mood.

I turned on the television and saw Ben Jealous announcing the release of the Scott sisters who were doing life sentences for an $11 robbery.  In part because our community raised its voice, these women will celebrate the New Year with their family after being imprisoned for 16 years. This New Year is going to be one of the greatest of their lives.  

I found my voice in their story.  I found perspective on a new year.  Yes, it is just another year, but it can be one of freedom if we work for it.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

nursing a 3 billion dollar hang over

 Here's some thoughts I am taking away from the past two years and the 2010 election:

Kudos to the organizations doing the street level electoral work.  The League of Young Voters who have been holding down great national work for several cycles.  Rock the Vote, always making sure young people are represented in the national debate and State Voices, an amazing model of coordinated voter work. And the sample ballot headquarters Vote Sanity!

never a good look 

When voters of color and young people vote, Democrats win. To not ensure these specific demographics are continually engaged is a massive oversight of Democrats.  Looking at ways to adapt successful voter models in diverse communities is key(see kudos section).  To paraphrase King “Sad is a people who are ignored by one party and taken advantage of by the other.”  Here are a couple of excerpts from a piece by Jonathan Chait in The New Republic” that sum up two different cultures struggling for America and why base engagement is critical.

“The non-white share of the electorate fell from 24% in 2008 to 19% in 2010. But the age gap is the real tidal shift. In 2008, Republicans won voters over 65 years old by 8 points, but were crushed among voters under 30 by more than 30 points. The under 30 vote outnumbered the over 65 vote.
In 2010, Democrats still crushed Republicans among the under 30 vote, albeit by just 20 points. But the over 65 vote went Republican by a massive 20 point margin. What’s more, in today’s election, senior citizens constituted more than twice as high a share of the electorate compared to voters under 30. In 2008, the young were 18% of the electorate, and the old were 16% of the electorate. In 2010, the young were 10% of the electorate, and the old were 24% of the electorate.”

"Because President Obama rode a wave in 2008 that was unusually dependent on sporadic voters like the young and minorities, who tend not to turn out during midterm elections. He swept in a lot of House candidates who are going to have trouble winning a midterm election with a disproportionately old and white electorate."

The voters that brought Obama to "The Dance" are not sporadic voters, they are a different type of voter and they have their own culture of voting. People in poverty and those who tend to be the base of Democratic platform have Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to get through before they can be politically active.  There are many successful models that have created active communities and critical citizens, these models meet the voter where they are and engages them on their terms all year round.  The bottom line is yesterday it was realized... the Democrats have spent the last two years buying drinks for the wrong girl…she was never going to go home with them. 

lists stay alive when the relationship stays alive
  Keep The List Alive; Keep The Voters Involved!

 In 2008, a failed administration and economy, people of color and young voters helped usher in a tsunami of hopeful change this country desperately needed.  Two things happened with the victories of 2008 that we should learn from and reflect on.
First, the conservative Americans who had an enthusiasm gap in 2008 realized how different “their” America could become and began circling the wagons.  Secondly, the enthusiasm of 2008 could not be captured by the infrastructure on the left and there was little relationship with new voters who have no personal tradition of civic engagement.
The administration made a mistake by not actively pursuing a ground strategy while fighting in Congress.  The Administration had the best list of who their supporters were and if they had kept that list alive, maybe even asking local organizations to help keep the list alive, they would have kept the voters who put them in office engaged in the bloody struggle policy and the economy have been.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

In it for the long haul...why enthusiasm doesn't always matter.

This week my family celebrated my grandparents 59th wedding anniversary. When I called them to wish them a happy anniversary my grandmother said “Thank you honey” and then she added loud enough to make sure my grandfather heard her “59 years, and 49 or so of them have been wonderful.”

My grandmother had summed up what it takes to make a long term relationship work...Accept the relationship and your partner will not be wonderful all the time. Her joke expressed the compassion my grandparents have for one another.

I asked what her and grandpa did to make it work for 59 years? “I never expected him to be some knight in shining armor and he always put his family in the center,” she responded “you don’t walk away… you talk.”

My grandparents had honest expectations of each other, they figured out how to put their shared values at the center and talked about what they needed that ultimately built a relationship that carried them through their enthusiasm gaps. I think we could learn a lot about how to build consistent civic engagement by looking at long term relationships like my grandparents.

We should equate campaigns to dating. We all know how “the beginning” phase works in dating. You begin dating, you have so many things in common, you overlook “small differences”. You make time for long dinners and longer conversation. You see all the values you share and so many reasons why you’d be better together; and it happens. You choose to live your life together. Now you have to go to work and pay the bills and build a home together. The relationship gets real and it gets hard.

Both, political parties (their candidates) and the voters have failed democracy over the past two years. Voters expected a knight in shining armor and are shocked they didn’t get one. Candidates have failed to put their “family” at the center of their fight and are mad that voters feel left out and not excited.
So here we are, at the real part of the relationship… is the vision of the future enough? Are you going to walk? Or stay and make sure you get your needs met?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

organizing is not campaigning, and high numbers does not mean effective organizing

Last night I had a very interesting conversation with a friend of mine who is  creating a tech start up catalyzing local civic engagement.  My friend is engaging in conversations with many companies much larger than themselves to find resources to expand their model nationally.  The offers this start up is getting are exciting and come with the expectation of being in hundreds of cities quickly.  Scaling this local organizing effort fast is the way they will be able to continue to fund doing this work.
In talking with my friend about organizing models to use to scale its organizing I realized we were looking for an answer that doesn’t exists.  There is no quick way to organize a community and you don’t need millions of people to have a successful organizing effort.  Organizations should take this decision to scale quickly very seriously; the how they do it will determine their true impact in society.  But it also begs the question, why must one thing be in hundreds of cities quickly and has that led to us being more effective in pushing our policies?
Is our culture so mass marketed that we must recreate the momentum and look of Obama 08 regardless of what the momentum gets us? Of the millions of people who participated in Organizing For America, very few of them are active in supporting the work it takes to get to hopeful change.   They we’re easily discouraged because the relationship was not deep enough to withstand the disappointment of the expectations they had of Obama.  
Scale and impact are not interchangeable when your goal is organizing.  It’s a choice.  So often organizations sacrifice organizing to be able to hit numbers.  The problem is in doing so; you also sacrifice your relevance to people.   This kills any deeper growth because your communities may not be as with you as you think… Easy come easy go…
If civic organizations can hold the space for organizing when campaigns do come into town they can be absorbed by the on going community efforts and feed into the on going business of hope and change.  Campaigning is not organizing...McDonalds does provide food products to millions of Americans but nobody pretends it’s the same as a home cooked meal.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Crowdsourcing a Campiagn

For the past four years Doritos has hosted Crash the Super Bowl, a contest for consumer generated ad’s. Doritos gets thousands of ad's and picks six finalists.  The top three are picked by the public.  The top three get aired during the Super Bowl.

There is potential of winning up to $5million prize money if the ad scores in the top three spots the Ad Meter and additional advertising meters. The cost of the incentive is well worth it. As Rudy Wilson, vice president of Frito Lay highlights in a press release announcing the finalists.

“Time and time again our fans have proven they have the creativity and talent to match up against the best in the advertising business, and we couldn’t be more thrilled for this year’s Crash the Super Bowl winners.”

These commercials could not be conceived in an advertising agency, they are expressions of the relationship the consumer has with the product, and it works. The Crash the SuperBowl campaign generated more than one billion media impressions and over $35 million in ad equivalency with roughly one half of the impressions coming from non-traditional media outlets.

Business trends of crowdsourcing are very exciting for the world of politics. Crowdsourcing is a way to tap into the collective intelligence of people. It allows you to get the involvement of your target audience and create buy in through their participation. There are some great business models like are worth exploring. The basic idea of “threadless” is that customers vote on the T shirt design they feel should be produced. The incentive of seeing your shirt be mass produced and sold, promotes the designer to get people involved in the website so they will vote for their design.

This concept is easily translatable for a political campaign that has a base of support to involved. Do it right and it will lead to an authentic way to resource aspects of your campaign and the added value of deepening relationships with your potential voters and people in their networks who have the potential of being a voter at least, and at most an active supporter of your campaign. Saying you are committed to voters does not go far enough in ensuring they are included. Here are some steps to including more voters in a more meaningful way.

Try this:
Have your base help create your message:
Having a contest around posters, t-shirts and commercials for your campaign could give you a lot of creative content and promotion for your campaign. Offering the winner a chance to see their product mass-produced and organizing a high profile PR campaign event to unveil the winner should enough incentive your community will need to create authentic messages.

Having worked on a lot of local campaigns that do not have the money of Doritos or the excitement of a presidential election I caution you to keep your perspective. Smaller campaigns want to evaluate how this could be applied.  The most important questions to ask yourself are 1) do we have a community that will want to get involved in the contest 2) Do we have the means to reach them and 3) is our prize enough to motivate.  Do not organize a contest for making commercials if you're community or your campaign do not have resources to develop and distribute a commercial.

A poster contest is a great one, you can get kids, families and local artists involved and your campaign should be able to produce and distribute them... if not you got bigger problems in your campaign than excitement.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Being a champion not a rock star candidate

There is only one way to counter the effects of organized money… organized people.   The true keeper of this country’s democracy is its people whether they decide to participate in the vote or not.   The ability to raise money is still considered the number one factor in being able to win an election, but recently we have seen campaigns backed by informal citizen groups show the potential of a people powered campaign. If you have actual relationships with people in your district you can create a campaign that is fueled by sweat and shoe leather rather than money and consultants.  A people powered campaign may not look as slick as a well funded campaign.  But being authentic and inclusive of your district will pay in creating a viable campaign.

Developing a people powered campaign is not as easy as you may think.  No matter how good you think you message is or how good you look in a suit people are tired of “politics” and leery of wasting time on a candidate who will not be accountable.  In order to get your supporters to take time to support your campaign, offer diverse points of entry into your campaign that are easy to sign up for and do.  Allow space for a community of volunteers to emerge to support the needs of the campaign. 
Winning a campaign with a movement requires more than a tactical or message shift; it requires a philosophical shift in placing how you win a campaign in the hands of the people.  I hope to offer both tactical models campaigns can adopt to harness the power of a movement and win a campaign.
Create a voter-centered campaign, not a candidate campaign:
Shifting elements of your field campaign structure to be more fluid will allow the input of your supports to be tapped.   Finding ways to decentralize your campaign allows your campaign to grow additional legs to help move it forward. Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom, author of Starfish and Spider, a great book on decentralized structures explains the benefits like this “ A decentralized organization stands on five legs.  As with the starfish it can loose a leg or two and still survive.  But when you have all legs working together it can really take off.”
I am not suggesting that you decentralize your campaign all together, although I believe that is where campaigns are evolving.  It is advantageous to begin to shift the traditional roles in a campaign to allow for a democratization of campaign leadership.   
Removing yourself as the motivational apex of the entire campaign will create space for voters to become surrogates for your campaign. From your communication methodology to campaign materials find ways for potential voters to participate in your campaign.
Riffing off of Brafman and Bekstrom “A champion is relentless in promoting a new idea…there is nothing subtle about a champion” and a catalyst is a person who initiates circles (member of the group) and then fades into the background” These suggested definitions of how to view the role of leadership inherently works with its membership. Don’t see the candidate and campaign managers as the head of your campaign, to the candidate being a champion of your policies and your manager being a catalyst of the campaign and field.

The question is can you be a champion and not a rock star?