The State of the Union of Political Tech 2019

Trump Is Not Above The Law Protest, New York City

Resistance and Innovation: 2018 Year In Review

2018 was a year of sustained progressive resistance against Trump’s toxic agenda, culminating in a midterm election with record turnout that ended GOP control of the House. This resistance was fueled by the energy and attention of millions of Americans who personally felt the threat of the Trump administration. Technology channeled this energy into action and impact.

Multi-channel

To effectively mobilize, you need to really listen to the Americans who share your values, and meet them where they are on the platforms they use. Historically, progressive organizing’s digital toolset has been email-centric: if a group wanted to communicate, mobilize, or fundraise, this has meant communicating mostly in words, and mostly over email. A progressive organization’s fundraising and engagement power had historically been a function of the size of its email list.

Tech Platforms Force Big Tradeoffs

Throughout the course of the tech industry’s history, we’ve seen a pattern where every 2–5 years the core building blocks of a particular type of infrastructure jump up a meta level in power and functionality, and the key problems everyone previously had to solve became libraries or tools that then became the new building blocks for the next wave of innovation.

The Tech Industry Showed Up

Trump’s election in 2016 surprised and scared millions of Americans, including the previously ambivalent tech industry. In 2017 and 2018 this renewed interest in politics led to a steady surge of tech money, resources, vendors, and industry veterans into the political tech space. The tech industry loves to chase big ambitious problems, and a democracy under threat is a really big, interesting problem to solve. The big question is whether the tech industry will adjust quickly enough to the constraints of the political tech world to have a lasting impact.

What this means for political nonprofits

With a surge of new tech product offerings, 2019 could be the year when nonprofits and campaigns can finally make real build vs buy decisions on key tools and platforms. This will be mostly good for nonprofits and campaigns, but will come with a set of tradeoffs to carefully navigate.

New progressive and progressive tech coalition models

Progressive nonprofits will always have limited resources, but new coalition and collaboration models can help nonprofits pool resources, find economies of scale, and make us stronger together. In 2019 we’ll see tech coops, tech volunteer communities, and tech-powered coalitions pool resources to do more powerful work together.

  1. How to effectively harness the energy of many tech volunteers with only a few spare hours a week? Context switching between software projects in for-profit jobs is a known hard problem. Can volunteer coalitions come up with better onboarding and task management processes to be able to make real use of sporadic volunteer time?
  2. How do volunteer networks do not just effective technical work, but also effective product management work, to ensure we’re collectively solving the right problems at the right times?

Summary

In 2019 we face significant opportunity: more tech tools, energy, vendors, money, real choices on tech platforms and systems. We have more viable communication platforms, and more ways to meet members where they are on the platforms they use.

  • How can we scale messaging across platforms with limited resources?
  • How can we engage safely and with accountability on the big “tech platforms”?
  • When and how should we experiment with new tools?
  • How can we efficiently integrate multiple systems together?