After examining its needs and environmental and financial restrictions, a political party must finally decide what specific tech product will be useful. This manual discusses a range of tools, from email to voter files, but not every tool will fit every goal or every party; the right tool depends on the party’s goal, resources available and ICT environment. For this manual’s purposes, party activities fall into three broad categories — outreach, policy development and management — and a tool’s appropriateness depends on which of these areas is relevant to the party’s goal.
Several resources are available to assist parties in determining which tool is the best fit for their needs. This matrix lists some of the categories and subcategories of party activity, and outlines what types of tools can facilitate each. The How Tech Can Help page on this site discusses in more detail each of the main areas of party activity and how technology can be useful. The toolbox page outlines some of the specific tools helpful to a party. Finally, the worksheet on questions to consider when choosing technologies highlights key questions a party should answer before embarking on an ICT program.
Of course, selecting the type of tool is not the final step. Once a party decides what kind of tech tool it wishes to use, it must select a specific product. For example, if a party decides to start a centralized member database, it must decide whether to use a free product like Google Docs, a Microsoft product like Access or a customized (but likely expensive) product. The section on essential considerations and the following worksheets will help parties navigate some of those complicated choices.
Helpful worksheets for tool selection:
- Cost: A series of questions parties should ask themselves to ensure that they are aware of all short- and long-term costs related to a potential tech solution.
- Custom vs. Off The Shelf (OTS) Software: A series of questions to help parties think through the pros and cons of both custom-made software — which is specially developed by a vendor — and off-the-shelf software, which is ready to be used as soon as purchased.
- Proprietary vs. Open Source Technologies: An explanation of the differences between proprietary systems, usually purchased from a vendor and specifically designed to fit the party’s needs, and open source technologies, which are free to use and adapt and are available online.
- Questions to Consider When Choosing Technologies: Questions that help parties plan ahead to avoid common pitfalls and challenges when adopting new technologies.