Politics and Research: To Run a Campaign, You Can't Have One without the Other; Are You Up to Speed on All the New Ways to Gather Political Intelligence? Here's a Guide to Elections 2.0

By Abram, Stephen | Information Outlook, August 2007 | Go to article overview

Politics and Research: To Run a Campaign, You Can't Have One without the Other; Are You Up to Speed on All the New Ways to Gather Political Intelligence? Here's a Guide to Elections 2.0


Abram, Stephen, Information Outlook


I recall a situation, very early in my career, actually my first job. I was working as head librarian for one of the largest accounting and consulting firms in the world (when they were the Big Eight). I was called, for the very first time, up to the office of the chairman. He was a quite substantial figure and quite well known and respected in Canada. His office was the opposite of the modern clean lines of the rest of the office--antique desk, paneled office and no fluorescents. I went to meet the tall, white-haired partner with some trepidation. Whatever research could he want? He normally sent his secretary or other minions for his information needs. So off I went to the "executive" floor.

It turns out that he had advance knowledge of a coming election in Canada. (For you U.S. folks, Canada is on a parliamentary system and an election can occur at any time as long as our Queen agrees through her representative in Canada, the Governor General. Thankfully, elections are legally limited to something like 35 days from the dropping of the writ, with strict financing and donation rules.)

I was sworn to secrecy and then told my services had been volunteered to assist with the campaign fundraising. Luckily, I wasn't too conflicted since he was working for the party I supported. (The firm across the street was for the other guys.) Anyway, I was given some assignments to create mailing lists and target donor lists. It was interesting and, oh, so secret. The best news is that he became a great library supporter.

I have since discovered my experience is quite common. Talk to a few fellow SLA members at a conference and you'll find many have been dragooned this way. I don't regret the research. Indeed, I loved it and was quite engaged. It wasn't the titillating secrecy aspect. I'd done loads of highly confidential work and secret projects with government policy or with the mergers and acquisitions group. It was the nature of understanding influence and how the political machine works.

Either way, I am still fascinated by the political process. And I know many of our members work in political organizations, supporting the local, state, or national political process. Others and are just involved people and informed voters. What's interesting today is the shift that's happened in political influence--driven largely by the new range of Web 2.0 tools as an opportunity to communicate with the citizenry and involve, motivate, and engage them.

To keep you up to date on the key electronic tools being used by politicos everywhere, I thought I'd use this month's column to list the main tools that you'll need to be aware of in case you are asked, as I was, or volunteer to do political research.

What is supplementing the traditional tools for politics, like brochures, websites, ads direct mail, flyers, billboards, and lawn signs?

Here's a modest list. (I haven't included URLs since they're easy to find and I've blogged about many of these at Stephen's Lighthouse.) Most of these, as you've already seen, have had an effect on U.S. elections and have figured prominently in many other jurisdictions.

YouTube

* Every candidate in Canada and the U.S. in the last two years has had some form of YouTube video. Sometimes they're planned and produced and sometimes they just happen, driven by the competition or the amateur audience and citizen journalists.

* Have you learned how to track and discover this content source? If it has influence, you have to discover it and respond in time, or the river of public opinion moves on.

Second Life

* IBM has 400 (!) employees working on environments for this site. Companies, libraries, and charities are having early successes here.

* I am told that every U.S. presidential candidate has a presence here. Indeed, John McCain's Second Life site was vandalized by a feces-spewing robot.

* Could you have discovered events and speeches here as seamlessly as you do for blogs and mainstream news? …

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