Let’s Improve DPVA – Tech Edition

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    ( – promoted by lowkell)

    I’ve received quite a few inquiries in the days since I launched the petition demanding change from DPVA. People have asked me specifically “what would you do differently?” Many people have presented many different ideas here in the last week, but since I’m an expert on political tech, I’ll present my thoughts on what DPVA can do to tech-wise to clean up their act. Hopefully this will generate some useful discussion that we can telegraph to the Central Committee ahead of their meeting. I’d encourage others to do the same in their areas of expertise.

    1. The one that’s easy to say, but hard to do – raise more money to provide more tech resources. We have a Tech Director who is maxed out providing VAN tech support to campaigns and therefore has no bandwidth to be proactive on anything else. We could do so much more for committees and candidates if we only had one other person working full time. The times when we’ve had two people working at DPVA, we’ve been more successful, especially with our online operations. There’s a direct correlation there.

    2. We waste our money on stupid online baubles and website makeovers that accomplish nothing because they have no goals other than to line vendor’s pockets. I’m not even criticizing the current website – it’s attractive and functional. But DPVA has a history of revamping its online presence without putting any actual content behind it. We should be focusing on GOTV tech improvements like the folks innovating in Fairfax. They’re buying used iPod Touches so their canvassers can run MiniVan instead of carrying paper. That’s what we need to be doing state-wide.

    3. We have no webmaster, and haven’t for at least 5 years. So we have no original online content, advocacy, or directed message. We’ll never be able to have a coherent externally-facing narrative without a chief messenger. And a press person isn’t the same as an new media director – a remedial campaign mistake that we don’t need to reproduce at the state level.

    4. The DPVA actively shuns the Netroots community. And it’s current Chair was personally responsible, during the ’09 primary, for destroying the only concerted effort to coordinate that community with DPVA.

    5. The DPVA lacks real tech leadership. The last several tech chairs have not provided the necessary leadership, direction, or new ideas. This is not to demean them personally – it’s quite possible that they weren’t given the mandate to do so, and if that’s the case, it just reemphasizes points made here in the last few days. But when the Tech Chair is setting up and managing the wireless router at Central meetings rather than setting statewide tech policy, we have a problem of leadership.

    6. We have a private online group where the Tech Directors for the biggest committees discuss tech innovation. I organized it, yet that’s the kind of thing I’d expect from DPVA. We had to start the discussion ourselves because the DPVA doesn’t care. Meanwhile there are people around the state, mostly in Hampton Roads and Nova, doing truly innovative things that aren’t being shared.

    7. This may sound too in-the-weeds, but it’s probably the #1 issue facing nascent Dem campaigns in VA. The situation with our statewide VAN contract and the way DPVA works with candidates is ridiculous, over-expensive, and untenable in the long-term as more candidates start becoming more technically savvy. Just to us VAN with DPVA’s voter data costs $400 as an Arlington County candidate, for example, and $1500 for a senate district. We have to bring those prices down. We also only update our voter data once a quarter which makes it very hard for active campaigns to make use of that data. Arlington County Dems buy their own data to make up for that.

    8. You want to involve youth? Foster tech! Youth involvement online is exceptionally high. You tap into that, and you’ll see an uptick in youth involvement.

    These are my initial thoughts, and I think all of these points are glaringly obvious to anyone paying attention. As an expert in this field, despite throwing myself at DPVA regularly, I’ve never been consulted on any of this. And why would they ask? I’ve never received my gilded invite to Central that allows magic access to our state-wide decision makers. Where’s the Tech Caucus? Where’s the Tech Steering Committee? Where’s anything other than our DPVA Tech Director working his butt off trying to hold things together while the party leadership casts about without direction?

    This state of affairs needs to be rectified. People like to argue that the marginal benefit in financing political tech is minimal. But in Virginia, we know that’s not true. Look at Deeds’ AG loss, Webb’s senate win, and Edd Houck’s loss a few weeks ago. When things are this close, this purple, everything we do counts.

    • notlarrysabato

      Who doesn’t talk to the blogs or other new media.  Smart.

    • CraigFifer

      Thank you to Dave and the other commenters, for taking the time to consider these issues.

      I think the original post raises many good points, and I take full responsibility for not being more active on some of these issues.  The DPVA staff — especially IT director Brenner Tobe — works tirelessly to provide an efficient, effective, and professional organization.  The volunteer chair and officers try to support the staff’s expertise, although we also need to lead vision and policy discussions.  I will put a new emphasis on this for myself going forward, and I will discuss the specific points in this post with staff.

      I would be happy to discuss anything in further detail, either prior to, at, or after the meetings on Dec. 2 and 3 in Hampton.  There will also be a session on the afternoon of Dec. 3, for staff and officers to receive input from party members.  Please email me at ( craig AT fifer DOT net ) if you’d like to chat.

      Best wishes to everyone for a happy holiday weekend!

      -Craig Fifer

      DPVA Vice Chair for Technology and Communications

    • Dave

      I’d like to hear people’s thoughts and suggestions when it comes to the points made above.

      While I respect Lowell’s thoughts here, the main point of what I wrote above is definitely not to call out DPVA leadership for not blogging. In fact, I don’t think that’s even all that important. Blogging isn’t the same as engaging with the Netroots community. And blogging shouldn’t be conflated with “getting it” on new media and social media. I certainly don’t blog that much. I’d simply like to see DPVA actively working with the bloggers in VA.

      Also, this diary isn’t meant to “call out” Craig Fifer. In fact, that’s why I didn’t address him by name above. However, since he’s here, Craig, I really appreciate your engaging on this post and even creating a username. Ben’s derision aside, I appreciate that you took the time to do so. I’d really like to hear your thoughts on the ideas laid out above. But more to the point, I’d like to know what DPVA is doing to address them. They’re all specific and actionable.

      Do us a favor and let’s talk about it here. If you and I take the conversation offline, we deprive the rest of the community of their valuable input – and that’s been the whole point of everything I’ve been saying this last week.

    • listlady

      Since I can’t be at the next DPVA meeting, here are a few modest thoughts:

      Re Dave’s point #7: Despite his heroic efforts and great expertise, Brenner Tobe can’t solve most of the shortcomings of VAN; he doesn’t control it. (How I wish he did.) Even before the NGP-VAN merger, a friendly party leader encouraged me to take my complaints about infrequent updating and clunky householding to DPVA. My issues got no traction there at all, perhaps because I’m just an amateur using ancient software to keep local lists. Now that we’re dealing with NGPVAN, with its global ambitions, local users’ perspectives and practical ideas are even less likely to be heard. DPVA could help by collecting users’ concerns and presenting them forcefully to the DNC and the VANmasters as vital elements of the effort to keep VA blue in 2012.

      On the larger point, AnonymousIsAWoman and others are absolutely right: the tools for political outreach and mobilization have gotten so diverse and fast-changing that everyone can learn something and has expertise to share. Occasional panels at party confabs aren’t enough. At minimum DPVA should find out what local parties and groups are doing well, and set up a clearinghouse where we can learn from each other. Oh, and beef up DPVA’s capacities too.

    • hereinva

      Lets say you are a Dem and just moved to Virginia November 15, 2011 (condolences aside) and want to get “geared up” for 2012…so you go to the DPVA website and see…OMG wheres OBAMA 2012? Nothing on the front page..theres stuff about 2011…stuff about committee meetings, quarterly meetings…ugh.

      Go to the “Your Party” tab…there is a  pull down list of lists with listings of persons and personnel.

      The website is functional- it offers information, but there is no sizzle..it looks and “feels” more like a wake. For a newcomer,there is little motivation offered to get involved with the Party via the website. The website should entice/encourage participation as well as inform..while keeping 10 steps ahead of the competition.