Reading: Civic-tech tools and inspirational practices for community mobilisation
GET OUT THE VOTE (GOTV) – Mobilizing voter turnout ahead of elections
GOTV, standing for Get Out The Vote, is a campaigning strategy aimed at encouraging people to get out and vote. It’s one of the most critical moments of an election campaign - turning abstract support into real, tangible votes. Considering the general trend of decreasing voter turnout in most EU countries, it’s no wonder activists are turning to new technologies to find possible solutions to turn voices into votes. But these civic tech tools and examples of GOTV campaigns we provide below can serve you as an inspiration even if you are not looking to boost election turnout and mobilise your friends to vote, but if you are wondering how to mobilise your community to support a policy issue.
Community-based relational organizing is a fairly familiar GOTV campaigning tactic. Traditionally embraced by social movement activists, and party campaigners, this strategy emphasizes peer to peer conversations centered around common values and storytelling, rather than policy debates. It relies on a network of community members who encourage people they know–friends, family, and neighbours–to take action. It’s premise: Research shows people trust information more when it comes from someone you know. In other words, humans use cues from other people to figure out how to vote or whether they should support a social cause – this cognitive mechanism helps us make decisions more effectively. But Relational organizing in the last several years took a new turn with civic tech: leveraging data and technology it scales campaign effectiveness. Activists and campaigners fuse these old-school organizing tactics with new technology to reach existing social networks — friends, family, neighbours — through the communications tools they already use.
There has been an increase of relational organizing apps and platforms, designed to assist campaigners with the process and help them scale up their efforts. Outvote (now Impactive) is a friend-to-friend texting app for political campaigns and advocacy organizations. Outvote partnered on a research with the Data Science Institute at Columbia University during USA 2018 midterm elections. Findings from the study validated “that relational organizing is the single most effective way for campaigns to mobilise voters. A text message from a friend increased likelihood to vote by 8.3 percentage points, far exceeding turnout effects from traditional organizing methods”. So how does OutVote work? Outvote matches the contacts in your phone against the voter file, and can show you who is a regular voter, who is registered/who is not, and who lives in a swing district. Using the app, you can send bulk text messages IS everyone in your contacts list, encouraging them to participate in the election.
Another digital GOTV initiative is the social voting app Vote with Me, which accesses the contact list in the user’s phone, then checks the names against a voting record to find people in swing states who might be persuaded to register and vote for Democratic candidates. It also suggests text message content that might work to persuade a target contact, although the user can personalize the message before sending. New Data Project believes messages from friends are about 20 times more effective than GOTV messages from strangers.
But low turnout on Election Day isn’t always because people don’t want to vote. Often is the lack of information and inability to decide who to vote for the reason why voters don’t come to polling stations. Just to compare: first direct elections to the European Parliament in 1979 had a turnout of 62%. In 2014 it was almost 20% less: hitting 42.6%. There are civic tech tools to help voters identify the ballot choices that best match to their own views and perspectives. Voting advice applications (VAAs) are interactive online tools created to assist voters by matching their policy-preferences with the positions of parties or candidates. To help indecisive or first-time voter, VAA’s use quizzes to line up voters’ opinions with parties' policy positions.
Examples are numerous: in Germany, they use Wahl-O-Mat, in Spain was aquienvoto.org; ahead of 2019 European Parliament elections EUandI VAA was set up to assist EU citizens in making their choice, and then there is also the new multicountry VoteSwiper. Research suggests VAAs are gaining momentum in elections: 10% to 40% of eligible voters in recent major European elections reported having used at least one of these apps. These apps are reinventing democracy through design - they use from Tinder-like polls that ask users to swipe right or left to agree or disagree with statements to more nuanced surveys that deliver more complex results, statistics and discussion. VAAs encourage debate and enhance political education, all with the intent to increase voter turnout. Worth mentioning are also Tactical Voting apps, though they only work in certain electoral systems, such as the UK for example. Tactical Voting is when the voter coordinates vote switching with another person (in a different constituency), to cause or prevent a certain result. Swap My Vote app puts you up with another voter who uses his ballot to vote for your party in a constituency where they could have a better chance of getting elected, and you do the same for them. Have a look at how this looks in practice in this video.
SAVE A HATER
Save a Hater is an online campaign organised by the Spanish NGO Accem, a project funded by the Spanish Government. It is aimed at raising awareness and sensitizing citizens to the need to develop critical thinking in order to fight against the consequences of disinformation, polarisation and hate speech in society in the fight against racism, xenophobia, misogyny and homophobia.
Their challenge is to "save" haters, those people who contaminate social networks with hatred, insults and anger, and have even become a group of self-exclusion, and help them abandon such practices.
They have developed several materials and offer tools such as a self-assessment test, awareness-raising videos and links on the subject. They also include some activities such as conferences and cyber-volunteering samples for which they have been nationally awarded as "inspirational practice".
This chapter was intended to showcase some civic tech tools and inspirational practices for community mobilisation, be it elections, protests or cause campaigning. It is important to keep in mind that these tools do not come without their risks, especially in countries with repressive regimes or where human rights are in decline. You should refer to Module 2 where we discuss in detail appropriate security measures and digital netiquette, both technical and non-technical, for social engagement.