Advocacy Tech – Civic Tech Field Guide
Search

Advocacy Tech

Advocacy Tech

Civic tech isn’t neutral. It’s about shifting power – from the many to the few, and from the over-represented to the disenfranchised. Democracy depends on healthy political organizing and space for dissent from those currently enjoying power. We’re interested in tech that can involve more people, at deeper levels.

Organize campaigns


A campaign is how we gather people to shift power. Technology has changed how campaigns operate, for the better (it’s never been easier or cheaper to reach and organize large numbers of people) and the worse (private data has been used to profile voters, and technology is accused of facilitating shallower relationships between supporters).

  • Canvassing – One of the key modalities in organizing a campaign is talking to other people. Canvassing apps help organize and optimize that work.
  • Organize events – Digital tools for getting people together.
  • Direct action tech facilitates activists taking action to protest in person.
  • Manage volunteers – Large organizing campaigns have inspired new software products that facilitate onboarding, managing, and leading large networks of volunteers.
  • Email campaign tools – Email is still the main driver of key actions, from petitions to fundraising to volunteer signups. This section includes tools for sending email campaigns that promote civic action.
  • SMS tools take advantage of the relatively high open rate and intimacy of text messaging to reach people with information and calls to action.
    • Peer to peer SMS tools allow campaigns to coordinate and semi-automate one-to-one text outreach campaigns. Although they operate in a legal gray-zone, depending where campaigns acquired their target data, peer to peer texting offers the added benefit of conversational replies from an actual human.
  • Call campaign tools allow campaigns to call through supporter and potential supporter lists, and can also connect supporters through to targets, such as their representatives’ legislative offices.
  • Petitions – Online petition platforms symbolize many of the pros and cons of digital organizing: they can be used to amass huge amounts of support around an issue, but have been criticized as a tactic when groups use them to collect email addresses, rather than deliver change. Some online petitions are never delivered, and congressional staff are skeptical of the tactic.
  • Boycott or buycott – Tech that helps people direct their money away from socially and environmentally destructive companies, or toward good ones. For example, scanner apps that link bar codes to producers’ campaign donations, environmental footprints, or other proxies of note.
  • Fundraising technologies and strategies promise to reinvent donation collection, volunteer tracking, and employer-matching funds.
  • Official campaign apps allow supporters to take a range of actions and coordinate directly with the campaign. (Here, we present a small selection).
  • Distributed campaign platforms provide the digital infrastructure to organize many places at once.
  • Story-based campaigns leverage the power of personal stories to advocate a position (see our Narrative Technology section for more).

Watchdogging and transparency


Technologies that seek to provide greater visibility to the activities of governments, corporations, or individuals in power and allow others to monitor them.

  • Freedom of Information tools simplify the interface for filing freedom of information requests.
  • Budget explorers help citizens understand where government funds — and their tax contributions — go. They’re usually visual, and sometimes interactive, helping people become more literate in the budget-setting and expenditures process.
  • Promise trackers leverage tech to enunciate political promises (often made during the campaign period) and then audit the degree to which the politician or party has or hasn’t fulfilled these promises while governing.
  • Whistleblowing tech helps encourage and protect people who take great risks to expose illegal and unjust behavior to the press and/or the public.
  • Social and financial connections tools track and expose the entanglement and interconnection of elites.
  • Report cards and audits provide systematic analyses of the status quo: is it working? How well?

 

Activism aggregators


How can you help? Where can you take action? These sites and wizards connect your desire to make an impact to active channels for participation. Many of them were launched to keep track of widespread resistance actions following the US 2016 election.

Learn more

Advocacy Tech Readings

Campaign reading

Watchdogging and Transparency reading

  • In The Future of Promise Tracking Jordan Urban and Adam Feldman, co-founders of govtracker.co.uk, explain what promise trackers are and how to build a meaningful one. (2018)
  • Which Promises Actually Matter? Election Pledge Centrality and Promissory Representation is a published research paper that finds that simply evaluating elected officials on the fulfillment of every miscellaneous promise made while campaigning isn’t helpful, because voters weigh certain promises as more central to the campaign than others. The authors suggest weighting promise centrality when evaluating the campaign’s fidelity. By Jonathan Mellon, Christopher Prosser, Jordan Urban, and Adam Feldman. (2018)