Part 1: Greater Democracy – History of Demtech

Originally, I was going to write an post called, “Did Kerry take away any of the Dean lessons?” which was, from my initial thrust of Jock’s post at Greater Democracy, going to be a clarification of a couple of stories from the Kerry Campaign, including the specifics of DemTech, DemComm and the ideas behind Peer-to-Peer Campaigning. After writing a bit, I realized that my reply was better as a three-part post – explaining some of the myths and realities of the groups mentioned and efforts underway at the Kerry Campaign for engaging online community. To that end, may I clear up the story of DemTech:

Origins of DemTech
Originally, when I joined the Kerry Campaign, and we were in the doldrums, I noted that the technology infrastructure for most campaigns was sorely lacking (including ours) – leveraging consultants and very closed solutions to offer hosting and activism services for the candidates. Additionally, the database solutions (dominated by NGP) for fundraising, volunteer management and voter databases were large, complex data structures that would be a cumbersome project to tackle when and if we needed to merge databases with the eventual winner. To handle the systems, we were using people who were not as technical aqs we might require – and all of our appeals for technical support were met with indifference.

As many IT managers involved in mergers know, managing difference data sources and trying to merge them with limited technical resources and budgetary constraints can be a Herculean project that can be an incredible time suck. With a Presidential Campaign running at 100 mph, it would be much better if all of the primary candidates would work together to ensure that their technology infrastructure was compatable.

Reaching out to the primary campaigns
After we relaunched the Kerry Website in November of 2003 (with the help of JR and Brian), I created the demtech eGroup and reached out to all of the technical individuals in the other campaigns to suggest that we have a back-channel group where technical knowledge could be shared for the eventual merging of teams. Of all of the campaigns, the only ones that really connected at the time was Nicco (from Dean) and Turo (from Kucinich). All of us were quite focused on the tasks at hand, but the channel gave Turo a way to see if we could help him out of a problem.

Before this effort, there was also an eGroup called Tech4Dean which (from my understanding) was working on corralling the IT energy that supported the Dean Campaign into projects for the campaign (as did the Clark Campaign with Clark TechCorps). The challenge we faced was that the campaign was so busy with so many efforts, that the DeanTech group could not get the appropriate focus. But from this model, I revised the mission of the demtech group – attempting to capitalize on the centering of the efforts on behalf of the 2004 election. From the original “charter” letter on the demtech wiki:

…the idea for DemTech was a “safe space” for the campaign tech staffers to meet and exchange ideas (as shown on the original intro). It seems today that DemTech is a space for some of the leaders of the volunteer community who are interested in both process and technology to deliver and develop solutions for the Democratic Party for local, state and national efforts….

…DemTech can become a clearinghouse for the tech groups online. The goal is to create a team that focuses on a set of priorities (e.g. field management, voter outreach, social networking solutions, news clipping, etcera) that builds teams that focuses on development of solutions.

As mentioned earlier, the greatest challenge was the unifying effort of trying to build a project (three months to the Convention, eight months to the election) which did not have access to the customer (Field Director, Communications Director, etcera) or the customer was focused on other, more pressing problems (“Who is thinking of field in each state when the Convention is only XX months away!!!”). One of the group’s greatest challenges was that we had incredible energy, but little in the way of guidance from the campaign (I remember one of our calls where I was frustrated being unable to give strong product guidance to our team). We realized we might be too early to the party, but found one effort that we knew could be beneficial – how to build an effective online community. Thus was borne the idea of DemComm.

Tags: demtech, Kerry Campaign, online organizing, eCampaigning, Greater Democracy

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