Introduction


In the 2018 midterms, DigiDems embedded over 80 technical workers in a wide variety of campaigns across the country—congressionals, gubernatorial and state-wides. This has led to a wealth of knowledge, generated from the ground up, uncovering the most pressing gaps in the campaign ecosystem. This is a synthesis of the spaces where our organizers observed a need that did not have a suitable solution.

Our DigiDems organizers were instructed to add value by identifying spaces where they could use technology to help their campaigns win. Most worked in field, finance, or social media—a skew which informs our perspective.

These observations were synthesized from:

  • a series of individual interviews with each Digidem

  • retrospective documents that prompted our DigiDems to reflect on their experiences

  • a conference after the election where knowledge was shared and captured

  • common themes found in the questions asked in the online forum

  • a GitLab repository that houses the tech tools that were built in response to gaps in their campaigns

By nature of where our DigiDems existed on their campaigns and their bottom-up perspective, this is not an exhaustive list of opportunities in the political tech space. For example, there are certainly opportunities in advertising, operations, opposition research and more, yet our observations from the ground do not speak to these gaps. 

We’ve noticed the difference between a good and a great tool tends to be these characteristics:

  • Flexible and Customizable: Each campaign is unique and must retain enough control over the tool to be able to tailor it to their needs.

  • Well-Documented and User Friendly: Time is one of the most valuable resources on a campaign, and a tool that is hard to understand immediately will likely be discarded.

  • Built with Strong Version Control: Many people may be given access to a tool without a strong understanding of how to use it. Being able to undo mistakes is essential.

  • Scalable: As a campaign builds, stress placed on tools will gradually increase until GOTV. Tools must be able to accommodate all phases of the campaign cycle, and can not break or slow down when they are needed the most.

  • Integrated: A new tool must communicate with the existing softwares that are widely used or risk being a burden for the campaign to piece into their workflows.

  • Secure by Default: Security best-practices are enabled and enforced by default. These include security-key based 2FA for user accounts; data encryption at rest and in transit; role based tiered access to data; user auditing; ability to back-out maliciously input data (troll-removal).

Field


Maps


One is hard-pressed to find a field office that does not have at least a few maps posted on its walls. From dividing turf amongst organizers to visualizing district penetration to locating ballots left to chase, a field program currently relies on tools that are either too technical for the average staffer or come with minimal functionality. Relevant shapefiles are difficult to locate and work with, and real-time sync with Google Sheets or VAN is non-existent. Campaign staff rely on Google Maps or, when a more technical staffer is on the team, Carto. However, there is no tool that works, straight out of the box, for campaigns to easily visualize the data they need on a map.

New tools that simplify the process of creating insightful maps for the average staffer are an underexplored frontier.

Communications


Campaign Contact

A campaign fields questions from voters across many mediums—through social media, in person, by email, etc. Often repetitive in nature, answering these questions often involves copy and pasting a talking point from a prepared document. However, due to the volume of requests, this task can monopolize staffers’ time.

Tools that allow for quicker ways of communicating talking points by enabling easier answering of frequently asked questions, while filtering those that need a personalized answer would help campaigns engage with more people and ensure a high response rate. Furthermore, some analysis of which issues are the most asked about and therefore more important to voters may help in surfacing which talking points need attention.

Research


While the shape of the following problems were surfaced by our research, the depth of the problem and the possible solutions were not elucidated by our organizers’ experiences on the ground. Further research is needed in these areas to clarify the scope of the need.

Donor Prospecting

Fundraising is the foundational brick supporting campaign operations. A candidate’s call time is typically one of the most managed and time-consuming activities in their schedule. Prospecting new donors is a tedious and inefficient process, generally done manually by finance staffers. 

Data-driven approaches to predicting who will donate, how much, and the best contact method can dramatically save time and increase fundraising. For example, it would be more efficient to text small donors, but cannibalizing time from high-dollar prospects that need a phone call must be avoided. Existing tools also tend to be expensive for the average campaign.

Media Analysis

Campaigns need better ways of digesting online public opinion, media coverage, and current events so that they can respond appropriately and in real-time.