Information communication technologies (ICTs) can help political parties improve outreach, data management, administrative processes, fundraising efforts, and internal and external communications. However, incorporating new ICTs is a complex process. The wide range of options available can be difficult to navigate, projects have hidden costs or take longer than expected, and many political parties lack the expertise needed to implement or maintain new tech tools. As a result, many ICT projects fall short of expectations or fail altogether. ICT projects primarily fail because implementers: underestimate the budget for the time and/or resources required to deploy and maintain ICTs; lack the expertise, capacity or motivation to use the ICTs to their potential, especially if it requires staff to change their daily behaviors; or have unrealistic expectations regarding what the ICTs can accomplish. Launching new ICT’s can be an incredibly beneficial project for political parties, but unless care is taken, they can also end up being a drain on staff time, resources and money with minimal return. In short, successful technology projects don’t “just happen”: they are the product of careful planning, good management and clear goals.
Even the simplest, easiest to use ICTs require significant time and financial resources to deploy. For instance free Facebook pages or Twitter accounts require staff time to manage, to consistently find and post interesting content, and engage target audiences. Further, those staff must be trained in social media and basic PR best practices, as there are many instances of social media faux pas embarrassing political parties and political leaders. More complex projects may carry significant up-front costs, and even more long term expenses as software needs to be updated, staff trained and infrastructure maintained. Understanding the long term implications and cost of a tech program can help ensure a party has the required resources available. Additionally, targeting clear, specific and measurable goals are all critical components of successful ICT deployments.
Many organizations, including political parties, overestimate the capacity of ICT tools to improve performance shortcomings. For instance, a political party struggling to connect with voters at the local level may turn to social media in an attempt to reach more people. However, the party’s outreach struggles may actually be the result of a failure to understand citizen concerns at the branch level or a breakdown of internal communications between the branches and headquarters. In either of these cases social media tools alone are unlikely to provide a complete solution. New ICTs can be a powerful tool for disseminating messages, but if those messages don’t resonate with the public, then the party needs to work on connecting with their constituents before engaging in social media advertising. Additionally, it may be tempting for political parties to view ICTs as a solution to complex, deep-rooted problems when it may be more productive to address deeper organizational or ideological issues first. For instance, if branch office leaders are unwilling to share member lists with the national headquarters because of power dynamics or lack of trust, then a new high tech member database is unlikely to help.
Careful preliminary analysis, strategic goal setting, planning and management can help to prevent many of these common problems. This website is an attempt to gather best practices for the deployment of new technologies in a single place, presenting a strategic approach to choosing new technology projects.
The section “How technology can help” discusses the possible applications of new ICTs in three core areas of party organizing: outreach; policy development; and management. This section provides a broad overview of how new ICTs can help parties to better perform their key functions and is an ideal starting point for parties beginning to explore new ICTs, and the types of tools that may help. The chapter on “core concepts” discusses key ideas in political party technology, including databases, and the most basic political organizing and security tools. The preliminary analysis section outlines the types of analysis and decisions that should be conducted prior to deploying new ICTs including: problem analysis; goal setting; what types of technology can help; and selecting specific tools. Finally the toolbox discusses various types of tech tools, key considerations, benefits and possible pitfalls of each. In addition, the website includes case studies from around the world that explore political parties’ successful, and less successful ICT projects, with more to be added in the future.