What Problem are We Trying to Solve?

Gaining a clear idea of the problem at hand is critical: ICTs provide tools to solve specific problems. Clearly defining the problem will help a political party select appropriate technologies and provide a basis for the goal-setting process to come. One common technique for identifying organizational problems is a strengths, opportunities, weaknesses and threats (SWOT) analysis. There are different ways to conduct a SWOT analysis and there are many public domain resources that outline how to do so, including:

Identifying the problem to be solved not only addresses weaknesses; it can also prompt capitalization on strengths or investment in new opportunities. For instance, a party with strong outreach capabilities may identify an underserved segment of the population; it may subsequently seek to develop policies addressing the group’s concerns to develop support among its members. In this case, the problem might be that no political party adequately represents segment “x” of the population. In this example, the party neither addresses nor rectifies a weakness in its practices or capabilities, but rather takes advantage of an opportunity to harness its strengths and capitalize on a newly identified opportunity.

After a thorough SWOT analysis, a party should have a list of potential problems to be solved. Only specific problems are useful. For example, “We do not communicate well enough with our members” is not a specific problem. Member communication is complex and involves the management of contacts, messaging and message dissemination. However, a party that is struggling with member communications might determine that it can improve by consolidating its member lists into a single database, rather than a series of individual files held at branch offices. This would allow the party to centralize its communications to ensure that its entire membership receives the same message and that it has standardized practices for gathering and tracking feedback. In this case, the problem the party is looking to solve might be, “We communicate inconsistently with members because our contact lists are decentralized and not maintained in a standardized format.”

4464894557_44ea65ef4f_zIdeally, this assessment should be part of a broader strategic planning process, where party staff and activists come together to carve out a vision for the party’s future. More information on strategic planning can be found in the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) Manual on Strategic Planning for Political Parties. Of course, parties may not always have months to commit to an extensive strategic planning process. However, if it is not part of a broader organizational assessment, the results of the SWOT analysis should feed directly into the goal-setting and planning process. Solving the problems identified through the SWOT analysis should remain at the center of the technology strategy. As they proceed through the process, political parties should always be asking, how does this contribute to solving our initial problem?

Broadly speaking, party activities are divided into three areas: outreach, policy development and management. The segment below briefly summarizes each. Although these categories do overlap — for instance, member outreach might feed into the policy development process — these categories help a party develop targeted questions to address during its SWOT analysis. The questions are not intended to be exhaustive, but should help a party develop its own set of questions. The how tech can help page discusses outreach, policy development and management in more detail, as well as the types of ICTs that help a party improve its operations in each area.

Outreach: A party constantly communicates with members, supporters, voters and constituents. At election time, it broadcasts campaign messages via mass and social media, at events, and during door-to-door canvasses. At other times, it recruits new members, communicates policy positions and/or legislative successes to members, supporters and potential donors, and updates members on important party news. But a party should conduct all of this outreach with feedback in mind. Outreach must be a two-way street; a party should have its finger on the pulse of what matters to citizens and supporters, in order to act on their preferences. Feedback mechanisms allow a party to keep abreast of citizen concerns and to better understand:

  • To what extent is the electorate aware of the party?
  • To what extent is the electorate aware of the party’s proposed policies?
  • How are citizen preferences communicated within the party?
  • Does the party act on citizen feedback? If so, how?
  • Who within the population is not being reached or is unable to give feedback (e.g., women, youth or racial minorities)?

For more information, see the outreach section in how tech can help.

9818699444_e67c60217f_zPolicy Development: A political party competes with others for office based on its policy positions and then competes to implement those policies once in office. Once it has identified voters’ key concerns and problems, it must use its expertise to develop policies addressing those concerns and problems. The party must consider:

  • What mechanisms it uses to determine member/citizen policy concerns;
  • How to better incorporate member or citizen feedback in identifying which policy areas to address;
  • How to better incorporate member feedback in the process of developing the policy itself and mechanisms for best gathering that feedback;
  • Whether all members have an equal chance to contribute to the feedback process or whether members from certain regions are over- or underrepresented;
  • Whether the process equitably represents marginalized populations, including women, people with disabilities, ethnic and religious minorities, LGBTI communities, and youth;
  • Who develops policy proposals;
  • If civil society groups, academics or other topical experts should be consulted;
  • Who makes the final decision to adopt a policy position and the process that person or group goes through; and
  • Will the policies benefit all members equally (e.g., women, youth, ethnic minorities, or urban/rural populations)? If not, how can that be changed?

For more information, see the policy development section in how tech can help.

Administration: A party must have strong management and should clearly structure its internal administration. Components might include the management of paid staff and members; accounting and financial compliance; fundraising; decision-making processes; knowledge management; and training and communication with party staff, activists and members. Targeted questions a party can ask about administration during a SWOT analysis include:

  • Who is responsible for managing the party’s day-to-day activities?
  • What is the role of the party’s branch offices? Who manages them and to what extent does information flow freely between the national office and the regional ones?
  • Who administers the party’s finances? Is the party in full compliance with all national and regional rules? Are expenses tracked to prevent waste or fraud, and if so by whom?
  • Does the party provide training to encourage and develop promising talent within the party structure?
  • Are women included in the party management structure? If yes, how? If not, why not? How can the party provide more support to allow women to be a part of the management structure?

For more information, please see the management section in How Tech Can Help.

Key Takeaways

What problem are we trying to solve?

Technology tools help solve specific problems, so a party must clearly define a problem before selecting tools. Performing a SWOT analysis is a good way to identify specific problems. In turn, a party can incorporate those problems into a strategic planning process to set and plan the accomplishment of party goals. To develop targeted questions to address during its SWOT analysis, a party should consider the three main areas of party activities: outreach, policy development and management.