Quick hits

This page is a pretty rough collection of ideas for improving the progressive tech ecosystem. Think you can improve on some of these ideas, or help flesh them out? Please join us or send us a pull request!

  • Campaign Real Estate Service

    Finding a good office space in the midst of a campaign can be pretty difficult. Resourcing it with furniture, internet access, office supplies, etc., is an additional headache. Is it possible to create a service that simplifies this problem as much as possible, offering turn-key “spin-up/spin-down” services for campaigns? Can such a service turn these offices around to community organizing groups during “off” cycles for an additional boost?

  • Digital metrics for progress

    Digital metrics are not great - stats like number of likes, followers, replies, etc., do not always convey nuance in a given conversation. For example, it’s possible to have a Facebook post with lots of comments - which are all really negative or depict some very strong emotions. Moreover, it’s difficult to aggregate stats across a variety of social media sites and campaigns. Is it possible to create some kind of ready-made “dashboard” which enables us to see at a glance how a given conversation is moving, who is “winning” an issue and who is “losing”, what kind of messages resonate and which don’t?

    There’s a ton of prior art here, so part of this idea may already be sovled! Credit to Beth Becker’s interview on Great Battlefield for this idea.

  • Grassroots investments

    Sites like Mainvest and Republic Funds use new SEC rules to allow very small-dollar investments towards profitable enterprises. While groups like Republic do sometimes use these investment avenues towards social progress enterprises, there is no real focus on progressive tech in this space. At the same time, there is certainly a culture of small-dollar giving in the progressive movement. Can this culture be used to fund investments in progressive tech? Could sites like ActBlue even be repurposed towards such causes with relative ease?

  • Movement SSO

    The explosion of new tech tools in the past several years has created something of an interesting problem: campaign staffers now have to juggle tons of different logins. There’s a relatively ready-made solution to this problem in the technology world: single-sign on providers via OAuth. There are even vendors like Auth0 which specialize in providing single-sign on as a service. Could such a service be made available to the progressive movement and integrated easily into the plethora of campaign tools made available in the past few years?

    EveryAction already has such a solution in the form of ActionID, but there is relatively little documentation about it. There are a handful of actors in the space who have adopted it, but it’s far from universal. It’s possible that EveryAction is not the ideal vendor for such a service - competitors like Political Data, Inc. understandably may not want to push their users toward this service. Do we need some kind of “neutral” third party to make such a service available?

  • Organizing Flywheel

    There is a persistent problem in progressive organizing - we do not invest in organizing year-round, and we do not invest in organizing “everywhere”. Because a lot of organizing money tends to become available toward the end of the presidential cycle, we tend to “show up” a few months before the general election, and only in a handful of swing states.

    One way to tackle this problem is to create an “organizing flywheel”: some kind of mechanism for creating financially sustainable organizing. The way this flywheel might work is that it takes some amount of initial up-front investment, e.g. to hire an organizer or run a series of events. The primary goals of such an investment would be twofold: a. score some “quick wins” for the community being organized, and create the beginnings of an organizing committee which works together towards those wins; and b. create some kind of business model which financially sustains the organizing committee and/or organizer even after the initial investment has disappeared.

    If we could reliably produce such a flywheel, then we could stop the cycle of showing up once every four years. Instead, we could show up somewhat early in the swing states one cycle, and let the resulting organizations move forward after the cycle is over; by the time the next cycle starts, these organizations could be strong enough that we could “move on” to another set of swing states. Eventually we could create a somewhat universal network of local organizations that power progressive organizing year-round.

    Credit to some great episodes of the Great Battlefield, especially Micah Sifry and Eitan Hersh.

  • Progressive org chart as a service

    Which organizations are progressive? How do they work together (whether as formal “chapters” / “tables” or informal collaborations)?

    Which ballot measures are progressive? What about non-partisan candidates, as exist in some municipalities? How do we know which ones are progressives?

    Who are all the candidates for elected office in the US? Which ones won their races and how well did they do? Are there some good prospects who could be recruited to be candidates, but haven’t been asked?

    These problems affect lots of progressive tech startups, especially those which seek to serve under-served campaigns. How can we make these kinds of determinations at scale?

    Some of these issues have been addressed, and certainly some party committees attempt to solve the recruitment issue in their own way. There are also plenty of outside groups which do recruitment. But could we persist this data in some kind of machine-readable, archival format that could serve as a resource for future progressive tech startups?

  • Personalized voter guide

    Often at election time, questions arise like, “who should I vote for?” This problem is particularly keen when it comes to local offices or “sleepy” primaries. It’s cumbersome and difficult to put together voter guides. For voters, it’s often difficult to find and read such voter guides. It would be great if voters could turn to their friends and trusted community leaders/organizations to see essentially their endorsements, and to create a kind of personalized voter guide based on pre-existing trust network. For ex, “I’m going to vote for Jane for Sherriff because my friend Joe thinks she’s great.”

    Others have tried riffs on this idea - Dan Ancona had a “social ballot” concept a few weeks ago - but they simply did not have enough investment or were too “frictiony” to gain wide adoption. With sufficient resourcing and UX investment this concept could become a powerful mechanism to raise involvement in local elections.

  • Progressive financial news

    The world of financial news is heavily skewed towards a conservative economic worldview. This worldview tends to bemoan high taxes and unionization as almost axiomatically bad. For better or worse, the progressive movement includes a fair number of well-to-do individuals - esepcially white-collar professionals in technology, medicine, and law. When those folks look for information about how to invest their money, they are essentially bombarded with conservative talking points dressed up as sound investment advice.

    Progressives need to balance this ecosystem with an alternative set of financial news and opinions. When companies unionize, when taxes are made more fair, etc. - these news sites need to provide the context that gives investors confidence in such developments, and makes them see them as on-balance good.

    There is some prior art here in the socially responsible investment world, and funds like the DEMZ ETF. These are great starts, but they tend to be focused on individuals who are already planning to use their investment dollars towards progressive causes. There’s a still wider cut of people who don’t think about investment dollars in this way and need solid financial advice. This avenue of work could readily prove to be a profitable “product” offered by progressive economic think tanks like The Groundwork Collaborative.

    Credit to Great Battlefield podcasts from Lindsay Owens and Abigail Wuest/Jason Britton for these ideas.

  • Progressive open source program

    How do we readily create an open source program for campaign tech, so that it doesn’t disappear after a program is over? How do we capture the enthusiasm of technologists who may not know much about the inner workings of campaigns, but just want to help out, especially during high-profile / high-mobilization elections? How do we sustainably fund a community organizer who can keep an open source community engaged and supported both during and after a campaign? How do we create campaign tech projects that are geared towards being long-lasting from the outset?

    What do we do about the problem of “leaking” our tech by making it open source - how do we avoid conservatives from gaining access to these tools and using them against us? How do we open source the “data” we use safely - can we make sandboxes available at scale to developers who just want to get their feet wet without wading into turf wars? How do we readily determine whether new contributors to open source projects are in fact progressives who want to help - and not a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”?

    Even if we don’t open source our tools, how do we create more “jagged edges” so that we can readily extend them to suit the purposes of one campaign or another? For example, can we create an ecosystem of readily supported Chrome extensions which can be scripted against popular tools, and also safeguarded so that they don’t slam servers or behave maliciously (without intention)? Can we create “hooks”, a la ActionTag, to make it easy for sufficiently-sophisticated campaigns to tailor progressive tools to their use?

    There is some prior art here, but not much! MoveOn has had great success open-sourcing its peer-to-peer text messaging program, Spoke. The Movement Coop’s data management tool Parsons is another great example of an open source project. Unfortunately, there are not many others in the progressive space! As a result, we cannot readily bring technologists into our space with ease.

  • Progressive patent pool

    Would it be possible to create a pool of patents on progressive technology, in order to protectively license our tools so that conservatives can’t use them? Could such a pool be inadvertantly used to stifle progress?

    This conversation arose out of an episode in 2019, when VoterCircle patented its software and some in the progressive space grew concerned that the patent might be used against them. In a Great Battlefield podcast, Sangeeth Peruri explained that the patent would instead be used only to ensure that such technology could not be used by conservatives. There was some subsequent interest increating a “pool” for the progressive space, but it’s unclear where this effort went or if it was in fact abandoned. Would it be a good idea, or is it right to leave it alone?

  • Social Media for Campaigns

    How can we create small social media networks for campaign professionals and volunteers? How can we make it easy for staff to readily communicate with one another and/or their volunteers? These problems affect all kinds of campaigns, and solving them helps enable things like distributed canvassing and peer-to-peer canvassing.

    Also - how do we stay in touch after a campaign is over? How do we retain email addresses once “jane@barackobama.com” has been decommissioned because the campaign is over? How can campaigns quickly find high-quality professionals who might be able to help them out?

    There is some prior art here - National Field attempted to create just such a tool in the aftermath of the Obama campaign. However, the tool suffered from lack of adoption and has since been shuttered. It was also not really “Slack-enabled”. What can we do to upgrade such tools and make it easy to communicate within a campaign, with the latest suite of tools available?

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