Technology Salon

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a discussion at the intersection of technology and development

How New Outreach Tools Increased Public Participation in USA Elections

ict4d domestic elections

Our recent virtual San Francisco Bay Area Technology Salon examined how recent efforts helped create the greatest ever voter turnout in the November US election. How Did New Outreach Tools Increase Public Participation and Combat Misinformation in USA Elections? featured insights from discussion leads leveraging technology in a variety of ways to increase the efficacy of their advocacy efforts.

Discussion leads included:

Communications technology applications are now interwoven within our democracy and present new problems and opportunities. Social media firms act as information filters and arbiters of truth, most recently highlighted in Netflix’s popular show, “Social Dilemma.” To their credit, Facebook and Twitter have taken action to try and curb conspiracy theories and the deliberate spread of misinformation. Is this enough?

Even with the pandemic in full swing, Resistbot and Swing Left leveraged technology in new and innovative ways to enable more people to advocate for particular causes and demand accurate information in the US election.

#WalktheVote and South Asians or Biden used technology to make organizing within your own community and family easier. Together, their tools helped citizens participate in more ways than ever, including using their own technology to reach fellow voters in every battleground state and taking steps to curb nefarious inaccuracies.

4 Lessons Learned with Outreach Tools

1. Make it Easy for Volunteers

  • Simplifying the process of volunteering is a core focus of organizations such as Swing Left, Resistbot, and South Asians for Biden. Their efforts helped jump start the volunteer and outreach experience in as few steps as possible, and linked them to advocacy efforts that they were personally passionate about.
  • Many people still want to have the ability to self-organize in their communities, yet there are few well known open source websites or organizations that act as clearing houses where people can find the resources they need, such as tool kits, onboarding templates, and tech support, to be effective on their own.
  • Nonetheless, there was an attempt by groups like #WeWalktheVote and South Asians for Biden to do less organizing themselves, and instead provide tech tools and media assets to the public at-large to organize on their own.

2. Tailor a Volunteer’s Experience

  • Some people are not comfortable with phone banking, while others love it. Some people prefer texting when it is convenient for them, while others like letter writing with others virtually writing alongside them. Some want to work on the presidential race, while others want to try and flip a swing state legislature. Swing Left and Resistbot excelled at creating positive volunteer experiences by providing multiple ways to support the causes people cared most about.

3. High Tech, High Touch

  • New technologies are enabling more advocacy organizations than ever to organize, but it often comes at the expense of “over-outreach” when potential voters are contacted over and over again by different organizations with similar goals. Greater coordination between mission aligned organizations will make outreach efforts more effective.
  • While new technologies are allowing more people to be reached through a greater variety of methods, the most effective way to persuade people to support your cause or to register and vote continues to be through in-person connection and conversation.

4. Messaging and Desired Outcomes

  • Technology use among advocacy organizations continues to be behind in reaching potential voters in their preferred language. Volunteers regularly found that outreach was hindered by the fact that voters with a non-English language preference were often not matched up with a volunteer with that language proficiency. Bright spots on this front were in Florida though where there is a significant Spanish speaking population and organizations seemed better prepared.
  • Voters were more likely to be receptive to advocacy messaging when it was concise and directed them to a call to action. For example, proved to be a highly effective and welcome tool to be shared with potential voters. “My 30 Days” provided volunteers with a specific way to engage in advocacy during the month running up to the election.

Resources to Connect with Upcoming Efforts

This write-up was written by Joshua Reiman and the Technology Salon was produced by Inveneo. Thanks to Vodafone Americas Foundation for sponsoring Technology Salons in the SF Bay Area.

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