NDI launched a new website to serve as a resource for political parties that want to use technology to improve the way they function. “Technology: A Planning Guide for Political Parties” gives advice on common pitfalls political parties experience and potential pathways for success when implementing technology projects. The website also gives real-life examples through a set of case studies to help political parties learn from the experiences of other political parties and campaigns.
The case study Online Primary to Increase Participation Fails to Connect looks at how the European Green Party (EGP) announced an open online primary election ahead of the 2014 European elections. The online primary gave citizens three months to electronically vote for two of the four nominated candidates running for the European Parliament. According to Reinhard Bütikofer, co-chair of the EGP and member of the European Parliament, by implementing the online primary, the party “wanted to reduce the growing gap between citizens and political institutions.”
The EGP was hoping to mobilize 100,000 EU citizens to vote in the primaries, but as the elections came and went only 22,000 people participated. The low voter turnout underscored that the success of a new technology projects depend on more than just functional technology. It also requires deep contextual analysis, and strategic planning to assess user interest and clarify the level of marketing needed to encourage participation.
Understanding the long- and short-term costs of technology projects is also essential. As political parties increasingly use information communication technologies (ICTs) to interact with citizens, fundraise, coordinate internal and external communication, and maintain databases, budgets will have to be adjusted to reflect maintenance costs and staff time.
NDI’s technology guide includes step-by-step instructions on how parties can think through what ICT projects can achieve and how they can best utilize them. It also includes worksheets to help parties better understand the decisions they may have to make including: custom versus off-the-shelf software, basic voter file requirements, how to calculate the real long- and short-term costs of an ICT project and more.
The website is meant to benefit political parties that operate in a variety of environments. Parties in high-tech areas can use the site to identify how a social media presence could extend party outreach to new platforms, and to attract new supporters and strengthen the relationships with existing ones. In this context, as citizen use of social media and other new technologies continues to increase, so are expectations for parties to engage on these new platforms. Parties in low-tech environments can use the guide to learn how to balance newer tech-based initiatives with more effective use of existing approaches. Parties in countries with limited communications infrastructure, for example, may choose to focus on radio, SMS and targeted social media outreach to urban centers, over designing a cutting-edge grassroots-organizing smartphone application.
Published on November 18, 2015