Friday, 23 April 2010

Learn to let go

Apologies for the lack of original blogging in the last few days, a combination of work and social activities have been demanding my time. Over the weekend I intend to pull togeather a proper review fo Microsoft's new campaign tools, having now spent a bit of time with the technology. For now, I wanted to finish a piece I've had in my drafts for a little while.

Traditional campaigning tends towards a model which is control focussed, with a centralised structure, aimed to mobilising and motivating supporters, organising campaign communications and a myriad other functions. This has evolved and I would recommend that anyone with an interest in campaign organisation check the reading list, particularly the books covering Clinton's campaign and the introduction of the war room structure. Also take a look at Walmart's war room concept if you get a chance.

However, we live in an age of decentralisation, in which innovation comes from unexpected directions and the crowd can often produce answers to problems which are just as useful as the answers produced by skilled individuals and teams. Giving up control is not natural to campaigns, corporations or indeed the majority of us, yet it can produce some excellent results.

Decentralising controls and opening up to a wider community is a strategy which is increasingly used by business, but its day has not yet come totally. Two fine examples of software developments, where dedicated communities of innovators have out thought and out paced traditional organisations, are Linux and Firefox, respectively an operating system and an internet browser. There are dozens of other examples, but I don't want to dwell on them for the moment.

The truism here is that
tools, surrendered appropriately, can be transformed by the online community into more effective forms. Linux and Firefox have both provided the structure within which they want their community to operate, and act as a clearing house for the best ideas, but they do not truly control the process. Of course you need to be able to hold onto the core of your idea, but if the opportunity exists to open yourself up to developers who can help you create a better product then there is strong case to do so.

I'm always interested in the rules and assumptions others operate under, so perhaps its time for one of my own:

Your supporters, taken as a whole, are an untapped force for innovation, which can, under the right circumstances, generate ideas and platforms you may never have thought of, any opportunity to take advantage of this should be taken.
The internet makes this process more effective, but I think its worth noting that this rule does not just apply to internet tools. Usually there will be a need for electronic communication in some form however to access 'the crowd' of your supporters in real time.

Anyone familiar with Boyd will be well abreast of the term 'agility' and this is a core part of the offer of the crowd. They can think the unthinkable, and provide a skillset which the core of the campaign may not have access to. The larger and more motivated the crowd, the faster this will occur, giving you the opportunity to up the tempo of your operation, ideally outpacing any opponent and 'out innovating' them to the point of collapse.

Showing trust in your supporters, by creating an innovative community, will likely strengthen the bond between campaign and supporters, bringing them within the tent. It'll also motivate them to take other ancillary action, in my opinion, since they'll see the direct results of their activity appearing elsewhere.

The process for this could be hugely varied. For a major campaign, with a strong and well used website, you could consider opening up the Application Programming Interface, in the same way that Facebook has with Facebook Connect. Online contests, aimed at generating solutions to specific problems have been widely used in the scientific community, and indeed the mining sector, so why not use the same tools to fix problems in the fields we are trying to address? The UK election campaign is starting to show promise in this area too, as I've discussed elsewhere in this blog.

I'm not saying that this is the be all and end all by any means. A skilled campaign team with a clear strategic goal will always be vital. Or at least I hope so, since I rather enjoy having a job. However, I want to see more campaigns which reach out and down, turning grassroots support into a mobilised community of innovators, who in turn are generating ideas, or new campaign tools, to be deployed by the people organising the campaign.

We're not there yet, but it's coming and I think that resistance comes largely from the traditional structure, rather than any practical problem. Its a scary proposition, but I personally believe its the future.


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