Colin Delany Advocacy, Data February 26, 2013

Can Data Mining Change the Way K Street Lobbies Congress?

Guest article! We normally don’t run many pieces submitted by vendors here at Epolitics.com, but the article below looks at a fascinating development in government relations — the use of data mining to identify organizations’ members who have real-world relationships with lawmakers. The company involved (RAP Index) was recently profiled in a Politico article that made it into our last Quick Hits roundup, and for more, check out the piece below and see what you think. Can RAP Index provide a real alternative to mass-emailing Congress? My suspicion: The two techniques can live nicely side-by-side, just as social media and email advocacy have coexisted and cooperated with traditional lobby work for years now.

RAP Index: Using Data Mining to Change the Legislative-Contact Paradigm

Technological innovation and adoption over the last three decades has made it easier for organizations to disseminate their messages to customers, elected leaders, the media, and others. However, the ability of technology to facilitate the delivery of rote, cookie-cutter messages en masse, has itself created an obstacle to organizations’ messages being heard and truly taken to heart. Tools designed to cut through the noise often simply add to it. Information overload can lead to real frustration or even disengagement as we struggle to identify and prioritize what is most important among the clutter.

The problem is particularly severe in politics and greatly hinders advocates’ ability to influence lawmakers on behalf of their constituents. Most try to address it by casting a wide net and hoping they catch a few fish.

At RAP Index, we have developed a way to circumvent the noise machine by using technology to enable our customers to identify, build, and appropriately leverage relationships to improve advocacy efforts. We believe that quality trumps quantity, always. And we believe that personal contact — especially from someone a decision-maker knows — consistently trumps a bevy of form letters from random individuals the decision-maker has never met.

RAP Index is a web-based software solution created by issue advocates for issue advocates. The service uses advanced data mining tools to identify actionable relationships between organization stakeholders and a universe of over 18,000 elected officials at the local, state and federal level. It also provides valuable insights into stakeholder sentiment on issues, familiarity with organizational messaging, and community reach through volunteerism and service in organizations. Above all, RAP Index is a tool for helping advocates make their voices heard.

Our customer base is diverse, ranging from local businesses up to major national advocacy organizations, but one of our best-known customers is the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). Shortly after becoming a RAP Index client, more than six thousand relationships had been identified by NFIB. That’s huge.
Suddenly the scope of what’s possible for the NFIB had expanded.

Together with RAP Index, it began to build its message around its relationships, not the other way around. It achieved focus and was able to concentrate on four key aspects of advocacy: targeting members, identifying event participants, identifying potential spokespeople, and capturing sentiment data. On issues like healthcare, taxes on business, and more, the NFIB was able to connect with decision-makers on a more intimate level, better leverage the enthusiasm and ability of their members, and gather useful information that will dramatically impact future advocacy efforts. Identifying the best messengers and the best way of disseminating their message became exponentially easier, offering the NFIB a huge boost to every other aspect of their advocacy work.

The work RAP Index is doing is part of a larger trend toward greater use of technology and data in the political and public affairs arena. For campaigns and advocacy groups, a sophisticated tech and data operation isn’t a luxury anymore. It’s a necessity. Unless they know who they know, organizations miss a huge opportunity to get their messages in front of their targeted decision-maker — whether that be an average voter in Ohio, or the senior Senator from Ohio.

As our founder and Chief Advocacy Innovator Chip Felkel told Politico’s Byron Tau:

“With all the technology, with all the noise, it still, at the end of the day, comes down to relationships […] We have a way to use technology to then leverage those relationships effectively as messengers on behalf of an issue.”

Felkel said that as advocacy groups have enthusiastically embraced technologies like email, they’ve lost sight of the personal touch and real-life relationships that makes for successful lobbying.

“We’ve allowed technology to make it faceless — which is not necessarily effective,” he said, about grass-roots lobbying and advocacy.

The next great wave of tech won’t be about amplifying voices, but about filtering them. It will be about identifying what’s valuable and shutting out what isn’t. At RAP Index, we are all about enabling organizations to meet that challenge and ensure their messages do not get lost in the clutter.

Fascinating stuff — if you give it a try, I’d love to run case studies. – cpd

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