Obama: Technology Meets Psychology
If Obama loses the election tomorrow, which now appears inconceivable, it will not be because of inferior grassroots organizing.We’ve read tons about the Obama campaign’s adroit use of the internet to marshall money and people power.But as this excellent article in Wired points out, the real magic in Obama’s approach has been to integrate state-of-the-art use of technology with super-sophisticated organizational approaches.Says Wired:“Previous political campaigns have tapped the internet in innovative ways — Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential run, and Ron Paul’s bid for this year’s Republican nomination, to name two. But Obama is the first to successfully integrate technology with a revamped model of political organization that stresses volunteer participation and feedback on a massive scale, erecting a vast, intricate machine set to fuel an unprecedented get-out-the-vote drive in the final days before Tuesday’s election.”Noting that huge resources have gone into professional organizing in the Obama campaign, Wired goes on to describe how an individual volunteer in Florida has used the available online tools to “do her own thing” with unprecedented effectiveness:“Scanlon (the volunteer) logs her activities on myBo (myBarackObama.com), which awards points for various volunteer activities. The point system helps other would-be supporters figure out who they can hook up with locally if they want to get more involved in the campaign, says Hughes. (Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook, who left that company to help Obama with his online organizational efforts.)“If you go to your local group in your small town, you can immediately find out who’s the most active person, and who just joined the group for the sake of joining the group,” Hughes says. “And that gives you, the individual Obama supporter, much more information. You can measure your own activity against others, and you can contact the most active people within the groups.”In other words, even self-motivated “freelancers” operating outside the orbit of professional organizers in the campaign get plugged in and reinforced in a very sophisticated manner. In fact, the people-organizing tactics used by the Obama campaign are taken from organizational theories — grounded in social and interpersonal psychology — developed by a Harvard team in 2006-7 that studied ways to rejuvenate the Sierra Club’s grassroots organizing.The result of this marriage of state-of-the-art technology and best insights from psychology is a field operation that has mobilized 1.5 million volunteers in battleground states … volunteers armed with vast amounts of up-to-date voter data. The candidate is surely the energizer; but this marriage has been the mobilizer.Whatever you think of Obama’s politics, his campaign has set the new gold standard for mobilizing people to volunteer and give. Plenty of lessons for cause groups to absorb.Chris Hughes, you deserve a raise … and probably a vacation!TomP.S. Have you taken our Vital Signs survey? We’re polling Agitator readers on your fundraising expectations for the balance of 2008. We’re publishing the results on Friday the 7th. If you want to be included, take the survey by COB Wednesday. Just eight questions.