2012: Innovate or Stagnate.

My friend and colleague Nancy Scola wrote an interesting piece wondering who will lead Obama’s 2012 new media efforts. Thus far, it seems like 2008’s team is either otherwise engaged or in some cases, not interested. That’s a shame, because I know a lot of talented people who worked on the campaign. But I can’t help think that the 2012 re-election effort needs some fresh thoughts and innovation.

As a keen observer and practitioner in the political new media space, it seems like we’ve stagnated over the past few years. The promise of better organizing and citizen engagement has devolved into list-building and fundraising. Can you name a congressional candidate or political party who did more than that in 2010? Or a consulting firm who innovated on behalf of their clients for the midterm elections? I can’t.

Innovation comes in fits and spurts, so the question is, will 2012 be a year of innovation or just more of the same? Looking back on Obama’s 2008 campaign, I’d like to think it will be the former, but so far, I don’t see evidence of the seeds of the big ideas that will really change our politics for the better.

Of course, it’s early, and it’s also the perfect time to develop the innovations that will change the game and solidify an Obama victory. Ultimately, we are still in the nascent stages of figuring out how online tools can best complement and catalyze real-world political activity. With that in mind, the space is ripe for innovation. Here are a few sources that I find especially inspiring:

Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk on how making the real world more like a game can improve the world around us. Plus, her book. My biggest takeaways from are that games make goals challenging but attainable, and reward players in ways that inspire them to continue playing. Moving that principle into real-world systems can have a big impact on political and community organizing.

Foursquare’s Election 2010 “I Voted” campaign, which guided voters to their polling place and logged check-ins of over 50,000 voters across the country on Election Day.  Not only did Foursquare and their partners provide a useful service to voters, it gathered some great data that we formerly only had from exit polls and anecdotes.

Meetup’s latest iteration of their engagement platform gets people to get together in the real world by prompting “We should meet up and ________.” The platform offers additional smart options as well, such as allowing members to indicate interest in an activity before the formal “Meetup” is finalized, help find venues to meet at, and make/discuss suggestions to improve Meetups. These are important facets to engagement that could be overlooked in a more closed environment, but have become more important as we look for ways to inspire community involvement.

Douglas Rushkoff’s writings, which attempt to lead our public discourse away from being centered around money and corporations to instead focus on our collective and individual well-being. Read Life Incorporated and Program or Be Programmed, plus catch Rushkoff’s blog.

So a successful online organizing and new media operation needs to inspire supporters, play to their strengths, reward them for valuable actions, and help them feel personal and political agency. Can we achieve that in 2012?

2 thoughts on “ 2012: Innovate or Stagnate.

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