Sunday, February 26, 2006

Zanby at New Organizing Institute

I spent the weekend in Washington DC presenting Zanby at Zack Exley's New Organizing Institute. Ben Shaffer, President of one of Zanby's partners, Media Mezcla, invited me to participate. Media Mezcla makes a nice application called Campaign Engine. It's aimed at medium to small campaigns and non profits who need a lot of functionality for a reasonable price. I like Campaign Engine...It's quick, simple and powerful. We are working on an API so that campaigns and organizations can more fully support organic groups through Zanby.

The New Organizing Institute is a very interesting concept. There are roughly 50 people here from all over the country studying online organizing. The group is split into teams of 7-10, each running a demo campaign for a ficticional candidate. Each night the teams have a series of assignments which they must complete in order to advance to the next stage in the campaign. Tonight's task was to get the campaign website up and running.

Each team was assigned a technology vendor with the idea that they had been hired by the campaign to create the candidate's web presence. All the vendors volunteered to come out and ran the gamut in size, complexity and cost of solution. Get Active, Democracy in Action, NGP and an independent named Aldon Hynes, who is helping George Stefano mount a challenge to Joe Lieberman in Connecticut, all attended.

For me it was a great opportunity to explore the idea of organic groups as a campaign strategy. Zanby, and services like it for that matter, fall under the broad category of "casting a wide net." I believe the small group is a fundamental building block of grassroots organizing. One host and one set of members can emerge from something as simple as a conversation over a fence. That small neighborhood group can connect with other groups, who then can connect with the organization.

As soon as people discover they have a shared agenda, the likelyhood of coordinated action is dramatically increased. In broad strokes, this is how interest-driven communities are created. Providing volunteers and activists with the ability to self-organize around the agenda they share with a candidate simply makes sense. Giving organizations the ability to reach those people by, for example, the ability to upload and distribute documents based on region or create and publish events to group calendars simply makes sense. At the same time, campaigns can gain some reporting capabilities on what is happening in group families and creates a nice outreach channel for very little impact on time and resources.



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