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This is not a diary where I have a lot of information to offer, but rather one where I have a lot of information to request.  I will hope for a spirited discussion.

It recently struck me that while we have now had a cycle and change of netroots campaigning behind us, I have not seen what I had expected to see by this point: a "Lessons Learned" report.  Such reports are commonly generated at the end of a project.  As you can see from the Google search above, the military has a strong devotion to "Lessons Learned" reports, but so do engineers, law firms, government agencies, and any other group that has to do similar things repeatedly and wants to learn from collective experience.

Maybe there's a wonderful Lessons Learned report on Netroots Campaigns out there and I missed it; I don't read MyDD as often as I should.  Maybe people don't want to share information, though that would be uncharacteristic of us.  But, as we're already talking about 2008 netroots candidates now -- hi, Rep. DeFazio! -- we should also be talking about What Works And What Doesn't.  This diary is intended to prompt such a discussion.

Note: honestly, if you have something of value to offer, don't feel you have to read this before leaving your comment.  These are just my own observations and many here will have better ones.

I have only a bit to offer based on my work for Jack Carter this past fall in Nevada's U.S. Senate race.  (Many of you active here then probably already met my alter ego.)  I have not written about my involvement in that campaign mostly because it struck me as, at least implicitly, breaking some trusts.  But I think I can say enough about it to get the ball rolling here.

Lesson Learned #1: It helps to have a rock star in your corner

In our case, we had two rock stars, Jack's Koster daughter Sarah R Carter, who blogged here and on the campaign sight with unceasing good cheer, and Jack's father, of whom you may have heard.  Both did an excellent job of getting out the news to the community and creating a substantial buzz; both were routinely high atop the Rec List.  My sense is that most of that buzz converted to fundraising rather than other benefits, but given how badly we were outspent that was nothing to be sneezed at.  (I don't know the total figures on Web donations.

The problem: few netroots candidates have access to rock stars who can create that sort of buzz.

Lesson Learned #2: It is harder to get people to donate time than money

I started out pretty starry-eyed about what might be accomplished via the net roots, which for me meant pretty much DKos.  And while I made some good contacts and did find some people willing to help, by and large the response was far less than I originally envisioned.  Some of that problem derived from my not getting back to people quickly enough, which in turn derived from my not having clearance to go ahead with certain projects as quickly as I had expected.  What one commenter predicted would turn out to be the "killer app" of blogs turned out to be much less.  I don't know that that was inherent in the system, or due to the mad dash of the 2006 campaign, or due to my own failures to take advantage of what was available.  I only know how things turned out.

I had originally told people that I wanted their involvement in several areas:

  • opposition research
  • issue-oriented research to inform and facilitate campaign position papers
  • media/marketing ideas and approaches
  • generating strategy and tactics, noting especially innovations from other campaigns
  • translation (Spanish and otherwise)
  • polling
  • developing and pursuing legal strategies to preempt and counter voter suppression efforts

I'll devote individual lessons to each, following the next, critical lesson.

Lesson Learned #3: "Half-fish and half-fowl" is no way to leverage the netroots

Now, I don't know what the way to leverage the netroots is, but I can tell you what seems to cause problems.  Our campaign had a traditional organization for the most part, with ties to a lot of traditional Democratic consultants.  (Some of this was a hell of a lot of fun, by the way.  There are worse ways to spend a day than sitting in a room with Jimmy Carter's Press Secretary Jody Powell, writing an Opening and Closing statement for a debate.  As it turned out, they didn't get used, but it was still a fun day.)  Sarah (doing fundraising and blogging) and I (trying to find people to do the above list of tasks) were the campaign's main emissaries to the netroots.  But the integration of the netroots-based efforts on my end with the more traditional approaches on the other end was poor.  Lots of projects were started and fell by the wayside because I wasn't in a position to get approval for them, largely perhaps because I was selling something untested within the campaign.  (This might have turned out differently had Jack not taken ill for three weeks and almost died, but that's the hand we were dealt.)  So for me, one critical lesson learned is that if you're going to do something out of the ordinary, you have to have the campaign hierarchy on board.  Of how many campaigns will that be true?

Lesson Learned #4: Diminishing returns

My first call to battle for Carter campaign volunteers got 73 comments.  My second got 19.  My third, 10.  There's a lesson there about going to the well too often.  For many campaigns with less intrinsic interest, I'm not sure if they even get that decent first swipe.

Lesson Learned #5: Opposition research: a partial success story

If there was a bright spot in "leveraging the netroots" as more than a piggy bank, it was in opposition research.  A number of people -- I don't want to embarrass anyone by overlooking them, so please shout out if you'd like public acknowledgment -- stepped up and delivered some useful material.  (We didn't get the big break in the Abramoff scandal, as I'd hoped, and my efforts to push dengre's consistently excellent work as a major campaign theme came to naught -- everyone had their own issues and I wasn't able to interest people enough in this one.  Admittedly, the story was complex and our opponent, John Ensign, had given back donations that he'd received, although I always felt that there was more to see there.)  One Koster created a great database of Ensign contributions which I used extensively; others provided detailed help in their own areas of expertise.  I also got some great rapid response help after our first debate and this diary led to my being e-mailed some great suggestions for questions to ask Ensign in the debate that allowed a fair amount of space for that.  (I don't recall if we used any, largely because the moderator screwed up the debate format.)  So, making use of the creativity and knowledge of people in the netroots: worth my time.

Lesson Learned #6: Beware of the hobbyhorses

The second item listed above is "issue-oriented research to inform and facilitate campaign position papers."  This was a more limited success.  The problems were that (1) everyone wanted to do this, and (2) they wanted to stress their own, usually quite meritorious, issues to the exclusion of the ones where we needed the most help.  I wonder whether what needs to be created is some sort of an "invisible college of the air" where positions papers of potential interest to many campaigns could be generated, kept, and sent off to campaigns as needed.  I spent a lot of time apologizing to people that we weren't able to make more of their work.  Not a real success here.

Lesson Learned #7: Media strategies and strategies from other campaigns

We didn't get much help here.  In fact, the best thing I saw on this was something that we put out for the benefit of other campaigns.  One exception: one person put a lot of effort into producing a lovely videogame making fun of Ensign.  But the state party didn't put in on their website, apparently being more interested in state races and the close Congressional races.  There really should be some better way of sharing this information, although perhaps DKos just isn't the venue for it.  (Swing State?  MyDD?)  Beyond this, there is early spadework to be done (that had to be done well before I arrived on the campaign, in fact) about understanding the district -- even knowing what to look for -- that wasn't done.  This is an area in which the mavens in the netroots can have an effect now, by helping people understand how to analyze a district and prepare to run a campaign.

Lesson Learned #8: Translation

Not much help here, but that was largely due to limitations on the campaign's being able to make use of what volunteers I found.  In areas where translation would be useful, this would be a good program to set up, to serve many campaigns, well in advance of the last three months of an election.

Lesson Learned #9: Polling

My biggest disappointment in the campaign was that I wasn't able to set up a volunteer polling effort, as I'd hoped.  I was not able to make contacts in the local university communities, as I'd hoped, and then the campaign decided to go pro, despite the extra cost.  Near the end, when they decided that it would be good to supplement with volunteer polling, it was impossible to get the (overlooked and by now otherwise committed) volunteers into shape.  But there also weren't as many volunteers as I'd hoped in the first place.  We could use some work on this, if we want to be able to provide a service to campaigns.  This is a serious volunteer contribution, if netroots activists (and our friends in social science and stats graduate programs) would like to take it on.

Lesson Learned #10: Legal strategies

I'd love to see something like this put together well in advance.  There is no reason that netroots activist-lawyers can't have boilerplate complaints written up for all states, into which the necessary facts could be spliced.  There are turf issues: this is the DNC's baby for the most part.  But while I talked to some good people in this project, I wasn't very impressed with the execution.  The netroots can educate people about vote suppression problems, and we didn't do it.  Could we put together some sort of training material, and distribute it well ahead of the next election?  We need to do more than complain; we need to act.

That is, I think, enough for me to get the ball rolling: what did you learn in your campaign that can help others be more effective in theirs?

Originally posted to Major Danby on Tue Apr 10, 2007 at 08:23 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I rarely look forward to reading comments (13+ / 0-)

    to one of my diaries more than I look forward to reading comments to this one.  I hope and expect to learn a thing or two.  Thanks for what lessons you have to share.

    My apologies to students who took my U.S. Government class in the 90s: evidently the Constitution doesn't limit Presidential power after all. Who knew?

    by Major Danby on Tue Apr 10, 2007 at 08:16:52 PM PDT

  •  Oh, jeez, (9+ / 0-)

    this is such an important topic and I'm so exhausted right now I won't do it justice.  

    Ok, a few points.  Local blogging.  When I got interested in Paul Hodes, I wrote a couple diaries, but then someone made the point to me that a local blog was the way to go.  I started mine with no expectation of being read by anyone, but it worked out.  I'd crosspost what seemed to be my most interesting stuff here, and my sense is that you're right that most of the time that paid off most in terms of donors, not volunteers.  But hey, that's good too.

    As far as volunteers, what was much more significant was that keener started a Drinking Liberally chapter and got a bunch of his friends to do at least some volunteering for various campaigns.  So to the extent that Drinking Liberally is netroots-related, that was a big thing.

    On one or two cases, we local bloggers in NH-02 helped push a story into the traditional media to one degree or another.  That was nice.

    Taking it from a few angles: don't just try to push your candidate, or just try to take down the other guy.  Do both, and try to think of other things.  I did a lot of volunteering for Hodes and I tried occasionally to give some sense of the personalities involved and the overall dynamic and what volunteering was like.  Don't know if that accomplished much, but I hope it made it a little more interesting.

  •  Follow Up (6+ / 0-)

    When people do volunteer for a campaign, immediate follow up is key. Follow up is when you seal the deal and should include assignment information.

    In our 2004 swing state mobilization, we had 500+ volunteer express interest in making calls to voters in other states. We had a crew of 3, then 5, then 7 calling each person who volunteered, within 24 hours of hearing from them. They were called, thanked and scheduled for specific dates, times and locations. They were told the name of the event host and asked if they had their own cell phone.

    Follow up meant that most people were impressed, showed up, and then became regulars in our effort. We've written a report and I'm happy to send an e-file to anyone who would like it.

    •  Being organized is the key to volunteer success (4+ / 0-)

      I've seen a few campaigns and organizations over the last couple of years that have a very disorganized volunteer management system.

      This means people who are quite willing to volunteer are forgotten or see disorganization when they do volunteer are get turned off. Most importantly these people then don't bring their friends in to volunteer who then don't bring their friends get the picture.

      I think one of the reasons is because many people who staff campaigns for the day-to-day operational needs don't have a lot of work experience.  The organizational, prioritizing, and other general skills that provide a foundation for making someone successful in a job just haven't been fully developed yet.

      Having said that about organization, my best experience volunteering probably came from the least organized  volunteer coordination. That was for the Dean campaign.  There were many   groups who self-organized and didn't have to wait around for someone to tell them what, or what not, to do.

      Formerly of Los Angeles, now in the FL Panhandle(Lower Alabama) I blog at

      by Thom K in LA on Wed Apr 11, 2007 at 03:19:35 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Excellent start to a big topic (5+ / 0-)

    The netroots phenomenon is still in its infancy, but "lessons learned" would help to regroup and improve upon what has been achieved.  I believe part of that would be the unstructured ways people have used this medium:

    • Alerts on suspicious or outrageous activities vis a vis electioneering, campaign tricks, backroom shenanagans exposed to the light of day, etc.
    • Organizing interest groups around issues such as Energize America
    • Criticizing campaigns attempting to use the medium in ways which showed they didn't "get it" -- thereby illuminated what "getting it" meant (e.g., Lieberman's site meltdown, attempts to use the netroots as a dumping ground for paper brochures instead of new ways to communicate, etc.)
    • Spawning new sites with varying takes on the power and innovations in Daily Kos and linking to them through blogrolls, in diaries and in comments
    • Pulling threads from various media, from video to newspapers, together to illustrate points in-depth or funnel actions such as freeping polls or flooding those in power with messages letting them know the actions we want them to capitalize upon quickly and not miss opportunities to act when that actions would make a difference
    • Making the fax paus of conservative sites and pundits obvious fast, and vetting "evidence" presented, debunking spin quickly and effectively

    These unstructured, but natural, ways to use the medium of Daily Kos have been amazing to see emerge and diversify and gain in power.  The biggest challenge ahead is to make it so diaries and their conversation threads don't fade away before they have a chance to be seen and to inform as many people as possible, and to invite fuller participation.  There is simply so much going on here, and ideas moving by so fast, that a lot of good ideas and innovations don't find the traction they could get if we could index and find and track them better.

    The challenges ahead are to refine the tools and innovate new ones to empower people to fully exploit the community's breadth and depth of experience and insight to maximize our individual impact on the body politic.

  •  I think I'm too tired (4+ / 0-)

    to focus on this excellent topic.  Any one of your items could be a diary in itself and provoke discussion.  

    Part of my problem in focusing is that despite avid reading of dKos and big participation in campaigns the last two elections -- there didn't seem to be much linkage between the two activities for me. None of the Missouri campaigns were ever supported by the netroots so we just did our own thing. I tried to comment a lot if people wrote diaries about Missouri campaigns, but in general those diaries were pretty much ignored.

    And I gave money to netroots candidates in other states and of course in the presidential election.  But I didn't give them time since I was already giving in non-netroots campaigns in my own state. And the pres. campaign on the ground action came through the state.

    The only time the internet and on the ground action has ever coincided for me was during Howard Dean's campaign.  Which is how I came to blogging in the first place.  But it never came together again.  This isn't a complaint -- just an observation.

    "So go forth in love and peace -- be kind to dogs -- and vote Democratic." Tom Eagleton

    by maryb2004 on Tue Apr 10, 2007 at 09:30:43 PM PDT

  •  As other's have said, there's almost (5+ / 0-)

    too much to deal with here, good stuff though it is. Here's some input from the other side:

    '06 went okay in our neck of the woods. (Portland, Oregon)  But '04 was a mess.  Too many netroots groups canvassing, mainly.  My hubby and I are precinct captains, and we were kicking people off our porch!  Kindly and gently, of course.  

    No fewer than 15 groups knocked on our door.  Issue after issue after candidate after petition.  Some multiple times.  We put up with it.  Most people were irked as hell.

    So bear that in mind.  Your candidate is fantastic.  Your cause is important.  Your need for someone's money or time or signature is of the highest priority.  And so is every other one that steps up to someone's door.

    You'd better have a damned good way to stand out.  And you'd better understand that people are fed up before you even ring the doorbell.

    It's official, James Inhofe is a dumbass.

    by CJB on Tue Apr 10, 2007 at 09:57:56 PM PDT

  •  Provocative Subject (6+ / 0-)

    Are campaigns geographically specific?  If so, my comments may not be very relevant.

    I did work for Eric Massa's campaign in NY's 29th district and it's my belief that what defeated Eric was the earlier gerrymandering of the district by Republicans.  While NYC votes Democratic, most of western NY (which is sometimes called, erroneously, "Upstate" NY) votes Republican.  Louise Slaughter is the obvious exception...although they sure tried to upset her by changing her district a few years ago.  Didn't work.  Everybody loves Louise and thus she has high name recognition all over.

    Eric had a huge district to cover--literally north to south and southeast. And his was a new face in politics.  The north includes Rochester in Monroe County and the southern part is primarily rural.  The campaign thought the Republican Monroe County should be the area of concentration.  The rural southern district, including Corning where Eric lives, seems in retrospect to have not received enough attention.  And this is where Eric lost.  But Rochester and environs came out strong and gave him their vote.  He won the north.  The internet/Massa website was a big part of the reason.  But I think rural voters need to see the candidate, as internet use may not be as high there.

    Result: We must now suffer through two more years of "Shotgun" Randy Kuhl who is joined at the hip to George Bush.

    My conclusion: Learn where your strength lies early on, even if it appears to be counterintuitive.  If too much time and money are spent there, the danger is neglecting the area that seems safe.  Work the local presses for all you're worth and email them frequently with any story that concerns the candidate and his/her position on issues. I wish now I had bought a few more lunches for reporters, and I will next time around.

    Massa in '08!      

    To God: Please stop talking to George Bush. Too much is being lost in translation.

    by miriam on Tue Apr 10, 2007 at 10:01:17 PM PDT

  •  For an outsider looking in, this is great (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Major Danby


  •  One source to look for: Roots Camp (5+ / 0-)

    There actual is a group that did a fair bit of "lessons learned" type stuff after the 2006 election.  It's a sort of floating seminar called "RootsCamp", and it was held in different cities across the country from late November through the end of the year.  It still may be going on:

    I went to one of the first sessions, the one in San Francisco a week or so after the election.  But there have also been sessions in:

    1. San Francisco, CA. Nov 11-12
    2. New York City. Nov 18
    3. Bloomington, IN. Nov 17 and 18
    4. Washington, DC. Dec 2-3
    5. Columbus, OH. Jan. 27
    6. Denver, CO. Feb 10

    I recommend looking throught the wiki about some of the sessions.  Your list of 10 is an excellent start. You'll also find some really interesting ideas from presenters at the various sessions.

  •  Several vague thoughts here (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SarahLee, KiaRioGrl79, Major Danby

    Late, should be in bed, but good question.

    Energy and Integrity.

    Dr. Philip Zimbardo identified these two qualities at the top of Americans' lists of how they choose candidates.

    I noticed I did more for candidates who had these qualities, and whose supporters did--esp. when asking for more money and explaining why.

    More lead time would be sooooooooo helpful so one could plan better for volunteering time and/or spread the effort out over a longer period.

    Expert advice. If special skills were offered to campaigns early enough perhaps....I found myself called upon for advice when it was too late--website already designed, photos taken, wardrobes chosen....

    One candidate who almost won was in serious need of a fashion make-over--nothing drastic, but fine-tuning so as not to look droopy and 'hidden'.

    Less reliance on phoning voters late in the campaign. Seemed counter productive.

    If everybody had a better idea of the flow chart, as in project management, of what is necessary--Mmmmmm! Niiiice.

  •  Polite diary format suggestion (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SarahLee, peace voter, Major Danby

    I won't have time to click on all the links to see what you're talking about, so if you included a wee bit more in the diary itself it would help.

    For example,
    that the killer app was supposed to be political campaigns.......

    and about volunteers--that you put up a diary in Spanish and a poll to get volunteers in other languages (forgive my wretched quick summary)......

    VOLUNTEERS FOR TRANSLATION DON'T HAVE TO SPEAK THE LANGUAGE...they just have to be able to get the job done--if they can find and persuade a fluent speaker to translate, that's what you should ask for.

    Volunteers for English proofreading, editing, and style.........?

    [My inner stickler raises its hands]

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