January 28th, 2009
At a New Organizing Institute presentation this morning, former Obama new media director Joe Rospars (last seen in these pages talking about the importance of good content to the campaign’s work) made a really significant point — his department was NOT a part of the campaign’s tech team. Instead, it was coequal with communications, field/grassroots, finance, etc., and was in fact just as much a client of the technology folks as, say, the press team was.
His remark jumped out at me because it’s true so rarely. More often, online organizers and online advocacy staff are put in the technology box rather than allowed to be communicators — for instance, at my old environmental job, people often came to me with their computer problems, when I’m a writer/designer and in no way a real techie (trust me). And online communicators are often the last people consulted when messaging and outreach strategy are being planned, when they should be a part of the process from the beginning.
This also gets at a deeper issue in the online advocacy world — that political people often think of the internet as technology, when really it’s communications. Often, the problems political groups encounter in online outreach have nothing to do with hardware, software or websites, and everything to do with institutional systems and institutional structures. In other words, it’s not the tools, it’s the people and how they’re organized and directed to USE the tools.
The Obama campaign used the internet as well as they did not because they employed tools that were particularly new (database-driven field organizing, email fundraising, online video and social networking have all been around for years) but because they worked out human systems to put those tools to work effectively. A critical part? That the internet people were NOT put in an online technology box — they were integrated into the general structure of the entire campaign. Until candidates and advocacy groups realize that online communications is about communications and not really about technology, they’ll continue to miss the internet’s real potential for politics.
Update: SOME Republicans are listening, too…thanks for the shout-out, Jon.