By |March 18th, 2013|Innovation|

“A commitment to greater technology and digital resources in all areas referenced above is critical. These are not stand-alone functions but tools that must be used to improve the quality and effectiveness of our voter contact. Much has been written about the Democrats’ advantage in this area. The need to integrate these functions across all levels of both the national Party structure and national campaigns is clear.”

Related to this concern was a strong belief that we must develop a deeper talent pool that understands and can deploy data and technology/digital campaigning in decision-making processes and targeting efforts.”

The RNC released a 100 page post-mortem report early Monday morning detailing both issues with the past election as well as opportunities moving forward, with several categories directly related to how activists and operatives use digital.

1. Messaging

Digital is simply a medium, but requires a very focused message. The Growth & Opportunity Project looked at specific messages going forward that can easily be communicated via online channels. Some of these recommended messages include:

The Grand Old Party should be synonymous with the name “Growth and Opportunity Party.”

The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself. We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.

It is time for Republicans on the federal level to learn from successful Republicans on the state level. It is time to smartly change course, modernize the Party, and learn once again how to appeal to more people, including those who share some but not all of our conservative principles.

The perception that the GOP does not care about people is doing great harm to the Party and its candidates on the federal level, especially in presidential years. It is a major deficiency that must be addressed.

When it comes to social issues, the Party must in fact and deed be inclusive and welcoming. If we are not, we will limit our ability to attract young people and others, including many women, who agree with us on some but not all issues

2. Campaign Mechanics

The Growth & Opportunity Project spends a lot of time on campaign mechanics, and leads with a focus on data and analytics. This presents tremendous opportunity for digitally-minded consultants and activists to encourage candidates to pursue a more technology-focused campaign model.

One interesting innovation is the mention of a “conversion rate” from voter contacts to votes. This is a very useful metric as part of a post-election analysis, and campaigns could probably consider similar conversion rates to use before the election, such as the conversion rate of voter contacts to volunteers or donors.

An important mention in the report is the importance of developing a culture of innovation.

Another consistent theme that emerged from our conversations related to mechanics is the immediate need for the RNC and Republicans to foster what has been referred to as an “environment of intellectual curiosity” and a “culture of data and learning,” and the RNC must lead this effort. We need to be much more purposeful and expansive in our use of research and more sophisticated in how we employ data across all campaign and Party functions.

Perhaps most significant is the report’s focus on technology and digital as “critical” to future success. The report mentions several key areas that are essential to effectively leveraging technology. First, technology needs to be integrated with other teams, including political, finance and communications, in order to really be effective. Second, the report focuses on developing talent at digital and technology. This will require not only recruiting, but creating an environment where millennials can thrive. So the cultural element comes back into play. Third, the report makes clear a need to build a broader community of people both within and outside the RNC who are passionate about digital technology for the purposes of winning elections.

The report also mentions the key word for making digital more effective — budget.

At the end of the day, the report accurately asses the situation: “Our challenge is less of a technology problem and more of a culture problem.” It also accurately points to the solution: “This is a major cultural shift that the RNC is uniquely positioned to initiate.”

3. Data

The report devotes significant attention to data and goes so far to say the Republican Party needs to become a “data-driven Party.” To accomplish that goal, the RNC is focused on several priorities, including collecting better user perspective, building a more user-friendly and accessible data platform, building both internal and external data teams that can turn the data into actionable insights, and educating end users on how to leverage the data more effectively.

The Growth & Opportunity Project also specifically highlights the need to build an innovative Data Analytics Institute that could serve as a resource in much of the same capacity as the Democrats use the Analyst Institute, a union-backed private company that serves as a clearinghouse for campaign best practices and experiments in voter contact.

4. Vendor Selection

The competition amongst GOP digital operatives has been exciting over the past several years as more firms joined the fray, and more campaigns began to invest in the medium. That community was dealt a serious blow when Targeted Victory was hired as the digital vendor for the 2012 Romney campaign, given the firm’s lack of deep subject matter knowledge at the senior level. By specifically calling out Vendor Selection as a key element to reforming how the RNC does business, it signaled an intent to reenergize the startup nature of the GOP tech community.

One additional recommendation that could be added to the Growth & Opportunity Project’s report would be the development of a Code of Ethics for RNC vendors that requires vendors to the RNC and RNC-supported campaigns to disclose all revenue sources related to their contract. For instance, consultants will often recommend vendors from whom they receive a commission. This is standard business practice in all industries, but that fact should be disclosed to the candidate or department making the expenditure before a contract is signed.

5. Other Areas

Several other areas of the report also relate to digital operations and specifically the need to integrate digital within every team at the RNC. Some specific examples include:

  • Training staff and campaign managers in the use of data and analytics.
  • Creating experiments and tests to evaluate various voter contact methods.
  • Integrating technology into voter registration efforts.
  • Integrating data with polling to provide more accurate measures of voter sentiment.
  • A stronger emphasis on data-driven media buying.
  • Better communications between state parties and the RNC, which should include some level of private intranet/social network for collaboration.

Summary

The Growth & Opportunity Project report has successfully identified the critical points to leveraging technology, data, and digital media effectively. While it mentions the need to develop specific applications, they are not the focus. The focus is on developing a culture that supports innovation, experimentation, and data-driven decision making. If the RNC is able to encourage a culture that supports these principles, it will always be ready to integrate the latest technology by being able to put emerging apps and concepts through a filter to determine that they will impact elections.

This report, which the RNC already appears to be implementing, will be a positive roadmap for the GOP to regain its position as the voice of the American people.

Recommendations

The full list of the RNC’s digital recommendations is below:

1. The RNC should recruit and hire a chief technology and digital officer for the RNC by May 1, 2013, whose experience and background sends a strong and immediate signal that we are serious about growing our digital and tech operations and data integration. The chief technology and digital officer should identify, recruit and hire a working group of data scientists, tech and digital advocates to build a structure that can eventually be deployed during the 2014 midterm elections and the 2016 presidential race to provide a 21st century digital, data and tech operation for our candidates.

2. The RNC should begin the search for expanded technology and digital teams that can be deployed across every division of the RNC — fundraising, political, communications, and so on to integrate the work of those divisions and increase the potential to use technology and digital in an efficient and effective manner. Technology and digital should be treated as two separate but related functions in this process. The search for members of these teams should be expanded beyond the traditional political sphere and include individuals with significant professional experience in web development and marketing programs. Integration across all areas/offices/divisions is critical for success.

3. The RNC should create in-house staff training programs for digital recruits to ensure the cultivation of mid-level tech/digital leaders who can effectively administer large programs within the digital team, like email, social content, fundraising, and digital field organizing.

4. The chief technology and digital officer should have regular “working group” meetings with representatives from different campaign committees, elected leadership, vendors, and party tech leaders on the GOP side who have an interest in participating in the debate/discussion about how best to build the structure needed to grow our tech and digital efforts. The RNC should help seed some efforts, but also be willing to tap into the best of what emerges organically from other entities. And the RNC should strive to be an active member of a thriving digital community — talking, encouraging, prodding where necessary — but supporting competition in the marketplace to ensure that the best ideas rise to the top.

5. The development of “political technology” products that are user-friendly for volunteers is essential. We need tools that easily allow voter registration, the request for an absentee ballot, managing of walk-lists online, and so on. These tools can be developed in-house with the digital team or developed by working with vendors, and the committee would need to determine how to legally transfer and/or share these tools with candidates.

6. As with voter contact, test technology by harnessing competition to create innovative results. Conduct tests in real-world conditions to develop best practices for digital contact and/or persuasion.

7. As with data, digital training is critical. The Republican Party needs a new training institute that can benefit all Party committees, state parties, campaigns, and outside groups. This could be established in the form of a 501(c) 4 group to train and develop political/digital talent. Groups are already undertaking this effort, and we applaud their initiative.

8. Establish an RNC fellows program to recruit data, digital, and tech “fellows” from college campuses, targeting potential graduates in fields such as computer science and mathematics.

9. Develop Digital Campaign Colleges and network events in high-tech cities such as San Francisco, Austin, New York, Denver, and so on to foster and build stronger relationships within the tech community.

What Do You Think?

Are these the right next steps for the RNC to build a best-in-class technology capacity? Leave your thoughts in the comments below (thanks to RNC Chief of Staff Mike Shields who has already chimed in!) or directly on the Growth & Opportunity Project website at http://growthopp.gop.com/feedback.aspx.

The Report

Growth Opportunity Project