Intranets and “Virtual Private Networks”

Intranets are another tool with the potential to connect party workers in remote locations, since they function as a “private internet” for people authorized to access them. Parties can use intranets to pass information to staff and members, store documents, and preserve knowledge. They can also serve as a platform for internal deliberations, particularly when they include collaboration or video conferencing tools.

Having a platform with the ease and accessibility of the internet, and simultaneously the ability to limit the audience, means that parties and campaigns can host online discussion forums in which members can communicate with one another. Intranets are helpful because they increase productivity by fostering internal communications. Online discussion forums can be created to encourage cooperation or debate — while developing party policies, for example, or identifying and solving problems facing the party. Similarly, intranets are an effective resource depository that provide electronic records of documents and discussions amongst party members, allowing for easy reference and sharing between offices, regions or states.

Furthermore, an intranet provides an internal social networking platform that fosters a collaborative environment. Staff have access to documents, resources and expert colleagues, all of which can increase their professional expertise. Moreover, a secure yet accessible internal communication and online collaboration platform acts as a force multiplier for well-organized, grassroots campaigns.

However, intranets face some of the same access and security questions that challenge Google Drive and other “cloud computing” applications: if the internet goes down, intranet access goes with it. And while organizations can create “virtual private networks” (VPN) that are technically secure, they can be vulnerable to access by someone who has stolen or otherwise acquired the correct login credentials.

Depending on a party or campaign’s technology context, intranets may face challenges beyond the security infrastructure as well. Creating and maintaining an intranet could be counterproductive when a party does not have the resources to organize relevant content. Uploading excessive information or maintaining disorganized information can slow down access and confuse users. Furthermore, creating an intranet or VPN requires an individual with technical expertise; such a person could be challenging or expensive to contract with.

At best, an intranet or VPN can simplify decision making, increase productivity, facilitate collaboration, and streamline data management; however, when implemented poorly or without appropriate strategic planning, it can burden limited resources, decrease productivity, and prove a major boondoggle.