Sociotechnology plan for Getting People Out to Vote

Sociotechnical systems is a term in organizational development that acknowledges the collaboration between people and technology in the workplace. The term is also indicative of the social aspects of people and society and the technical aspects of organizational structure and processes. This is a the sociotechnical plan for an innovation (for a real a issue).

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Abstract:

According to the US Census Bureau (2016), there are approximately 227 Million eligible voters in the U.S. However; the Bipartisan Policy Center stated that in 2012 the voter turnout was 57.5%. This helps establish a need for Getting Out to Vote (GOTV) efforts. Regardless of any party’s political views, ideologies, and platforms, each party should improve their Get Out to Vote (GOTV) initiatives, which help convert citizens into active voters on election day (Garecht, 2006). Fortunately, technology and big data could be used to leverage the GOTV strategies to allow for mass social contact that is tailored to the voter and yet still cheaper than door-to-door canvassing. The purpose of this sociotechnical plan for GOTV is to build a bi-partisan mobile application that serves the needs of the citizens and politicians to increase poll attendance rate and ensuring a more democratic process.

Introduction:

Democracy in any nation is at its best when everyone participates.  Regardless of any party’s political views, ideologies, and platforms, each party should improve their Get Out to Vote (GOTV) initiatives, which help convert citizens into active voters on election day (Garecht, 2006). GOTV initiatives are meant to get voter who doesn’t usually vote to get out and vote on election day or those who intend to vote to follow through (Bash, 2016; Stanford Business, 2012).  According to the Institution for Social and Policy Studies (ISPS) (2016), a large number of studies have found that personalized methods, like door-to-door canvassing for GOTV, is the best and most robust method currently out there. However, mass email, mailers, or robocalls isn’t, because it lacks dynamic and authentic interaction.  Nearing the last few days of the election, voters or would-be voter already have picked who they would vote for and which way to vote on certain initiatives (Bash, 2016).  So it is not a matter of convincing people but having a high voter turnout.

A good goal for any political party’s GOTV initiative is to obtain 10% of the voters needed to win the election (Garecht, 2006). Door-to-door canvassing is very cost prohibited, but they are cost efficient whereas mass social contact is not cost efficient even though it is cheaper (Gerber, Green, & Larimer, 2008; ISPS, 2016). Green et al. (2008) stated that door-to-door canvassing costs approximately 10x more than mass social contact per vote.  Even though the costs are huge when doing door-to-door canvassing, the Republican National Committee for 2016 projects to have knocked on 17 million doors for their efforts, compared to 11.5 million in 2012’s elections (Bash, 2016).  Fortunately, technology and big data could be used to leverage the GOTV strategies to allow for mass social contact that is tailored to the voter and yet still cheaper than door-to-door canvassing.  Currently, Social media, email, online ads, and websites are used for GOTV (Fuller, 2012).

Scope: 

The current and next generation voters will be highly social and technologically advance, leveraging social media and other digital tools to learn about the issues from each candidate and become social media influencers (Horizons Report, 2016c). Therefore, as a feature, social media could be used as a way to develop personal learning networks and personal learning on the issues and initiatives (Horizons Report, 2016c; Horizons Report, 2016e). Twitter has been used by students to discover information, publishing, and sharing ideas, while at the same time exploring different perspectives on the same topic to promote cultural and scientific progress (Horizons Report, 2016a).

Walk book, an app is being used by the Republican National Committee to aid in their GOTV efforts, which shows voter’s living location, their party affiliation, and how reliable they are as a voter (Bash, 2016). The walking book mobile app, also allows for door-to-door canvassing personnel to have dynamic discussions through dynamic scripting which handles a ton of different scenarios and responses to their questions.  Data is then collected and returned to the Republican National Committee for further analysis and future updates.

Another feature of Social media technologies, is that as these technologies continue to evolve beyond 2016, these tools can be used for crowdsourcing, establishing an identity, networking, etc. (Horizons Report, 2016b; Horizons Report, 2016e).  Establishing identities can work for the political campaign, but leveraging established voter social media identities could help create that more tailored response to their values and what is at stake in the election.  The limitation comes from joining all these data sources containing huge amounts of unstructured data into one system, to not only decipher a voter’s propensity to vote but their political leaning (Fuller, 2012).

Purpose: 

According to the US Census Bureau (2016), there are approximately 227 Million eligible voters in the U.S. However; the Bipartisan Policy Center stated that in 2012 the voter turnout was 57.5%. This helps establish a need for GOTV efforts. When more people go out to vote, their voices get heard.  Even, in states that are heavily democratic or republican, a higher turnout can increase the chance of the political candidate to be more centrist in their policies to remain elected in the future (ThinkTank, 2016; vlogbrothers, 2014). The lower the voter turnout, the higher the chance the actual voice of the people are not heard of.  Vlogbrother’s best said: “If you aren’t voting, no one hears your voice, so they have no reason to represent you!”. Also, elections are not usually about the top ticket vote, but all the down ballot stuff as well, like local city, county, and state level public offices and ballot initiatives (ThinkTank, 2016). The purpose of this sociotechnical plan for GOTV is to build a bi-partisan mobile application that serves the needs of the citizens and politicians to increase poll attendance rate and ensuring a more democratic process.

Supporting forces: 

Social: When using scripts that state that voter turnout will be high, helps increase voter turnout, because the people start identifying voting as something they must do as part of their identity because others are doing it as well (Stanford Business, 2012). Also, in today’s world, social media has become a way for people to be connected to their social network at all times, and there is a real fear of missing out (FOMO) if they are not as responsive to their social media tools (Horizons Report, 2016d). Other social aspects have been derived from behavioral science, like adding simple set of questions like

  • “What time are you voting?”
  • “Where are you voting?”
  • if there is early voting “What day will you be voting?”
  • “How will you get there?”
  • “Where would you be coming from?”

Has shown to double voter commitment and turnout, when focused on people who don’t organically think of these questions (Stanford Business, 2012). Helping, voters determine answers to these questions help with their personal logistics and show how easy it is for them to vote.  This was one of the key deciding factors between Barak Obama’s versus Hillary Clinton’s GOTV 2008 Democratic Primary campaign (Rigoglioso, 2012).  Also, if there is a way to have those logistic questions posted on their social media platform, they become social champions to vote but are also now socially held accountable to vote.  Finally, VotingBecause.com is a social platform for voters to share why they are voting in the election, making them more socially accountable to vote (Sutton, 2016).

Technological: Currently platforms like YouTube are using their resources and their particular platform to help their users get out to vote (Alcorn, 2016). The USA Today Network has worked together to launch a one stop shop, VotingBecause.com, which helps voters easily read about the issues and candidates in the election and even register to vote (Sutton, 2016).

Economical:  According to a Pew Survey (2015), 68% of US adults own a smartphone, while 86% of all young adults (ages 18-20) own a smartphone. In a different Pew Survey (2015a), showed that 65% of adults use social media, up from the 7% in 2005. Therefore, a huge voting block has a social media account and a smartphone (Levitan, 2015b) for which technology can be leveraged at a cheaper cost than door-to-door canvassing.

Challenging forces: 

Social: Unfortunately, this FOMO leads to people feeling burnt out or exhaustive. Therefore users of social media need to balance their time on it (Horizons Report, 2016d). Facts and rumors are both all posing as information in social media, and deciphering which is which is exhausting (Levitan, 2015). Therefore, for this innovation to become a reality, any information shared via social media should come from an independent and trusted source.

Legal: In most states, it is illegal to take a photograph of a polling place, which would make it hard for people to show their civic duty accomplishment on social platforms without getting into legal issues (Fallen, 2016). This may decrease people’s want to share and feel connected, which eventually could also impact the likelihood of decreasing personal and social accountability in voting.

Technological: Building a comprehensive database of the typical low propensity voter, so that a campaign can create personal messages and personal conversations with those voters (Fuller, 2012). A good database would include a Phone number, address, voting propensity, voting record, street address, email address, issues of importance, etc. (Fuller, 2012). Security is also an issue, the one stop shop mobile application solution must take into account each person’s right to access certain types of data, to still ensure anonymity of voting records of civilians.

Ethics: Collecting huge amounts of data from social media and tying that to personal yet public voting record could cause harm, given that political beliefs are of a private manner.  If the data is not used primarily for GOTV initiatives to get everyone’s voice heard in the political system, then it shouldn’t be collected.  Data could be used unethically by some to suppress the vote as well. Therefore this must be conducted by an independent (non-partisan) group.

Methods:

Social media is constantly evolving thus the use of Delphi Technique from a political think tank, political scientists, sociologist, social behaviorist, and actual GOTV managers would be needed on an ongoing basis (Horizons Report, 2016b; Horizons Report, 2016e; Stanford Business, 2012). Dalkey and Helmer (1963), described that the Delphi project was a way to use expert opinion, with the hopes of getting the strongest consensus of a group of experts.  Pulat (2014) states that ideas are listed, and prioritized by a weighted point system to help reduce the number of possible solutions with no communication between the experts or of the results during the process until the very end.  However, Dalkey and Helmer (1963) described the process as repeated interviewing or questioning individual experts while avoiding confrontation of other experts.  Experts must be drawn from different groups on the research spectrum: theoretical to the application as well as different academic fields to help build the best consensus on the methodology to leverage social media on GOTV efforts. Finally, one could consider conducting the Delphi Technique either in a one roof model where everyone gathers in one physical place to meet face-to-face or the without walls model where members only communicate through technological means (Whittenhauer, n.d.).

Models:

To build this socio-technical system to leverage unstructured social media data with voter registration data in GOTV efforts, one must consider the different levels in designing a socio-technical system as seen in Figure 1 (Sommerville, 2013).  Each of the levels plays an important role in facilitating the entire socio-technical plan and must be heavily detailed, with backup systems.  Backup systems and a disaster recovery plan are needed to avoid the same fate that Mitt Romney’s GOTV 2012 program ORCA suffered, where thousands of Romney volunteers were left with a data blackout (Haberman & Burns, 2012). But, it is important to note that a good socio-technical GOTV plan would include all the different levels because all these different levels in the socio-technical system feed into each other and overlap in certain domains (Sommerville, 2013).

2

Figure 1. The socio-technical Architecture with seven levels. (Source: Adapted from the Sommerville, 2013).

But, elections are bound at fixed points in time, and they must come to an end.  Thus, this allows for the socio-technical GOTV plan to have a work breakdown structure.  The resulting work breakdown structure could be multiplied or divided based on the lead time or the importance of the election candidacy or initiative (Garecht, 2002; Progressive Technology Project, 2006):

  • As soon as possible:
    • Create a GOTV plan, strategy, methodology, based on the methodologies created through the Delphi method, with a wide range of experts.
    • Assign one person as a chairman for GOTV.
    • Sign up volunteers for GOTV efforts, remembering that they are not there to convince anyone who to vote for, just to get them to vote.
  • 90-60 days before the election:
    • Gather all data from all the data sources and create one system that ties it together.
    • Identify phase: Have predictive data analytics begin running algorithms to decipher which voter has a lower than average propensity to vote on election day and allow the algorithm to triage voters.
      • Add people who attend political events, staff members, volunteers, and they should already have a higher propensity to vote.
    • When applicable have GOTV staff file absentee ballots.
  • 30 days before the election:
    • Begin implementation of the GOTV Plan.
    • Updating databases, registration information, voter addresses, etc.
    • Identify phase: Keep rerunning the predictive data analytics model.
    • Motivation Phase: Getting people to vote, by making it easy for them to vote, and establishing social accountability via their social media accounts.
    • When applicable have GOTV staff file absentee ballots.
  • Ten days to 1 week before the election:
    • New volunteers come in at this time, to help, and in the GOTV plan, there should be training and roles given to them so that they can be of most use.
    • Identification + Motivation Phase: Contact each person on that list to remind them of their civic duty, motivate them, and remind them where their polling place is and what time they stated would be best for them to vote.
    • Motivation Phase: Using social media advertising tools to drop ads on people located on these low propensity voter lists as derived from predictive data analytics. Even sending text and email reminders of their polling places and times of operation, would help make the voting process easier for these voters.
    • When applicable have GOTV staff file absentee ballots.
  • Election day:
    • Have voter log into a system to say that they have voted, or scan their social media to see who has voted to cross out their names from those who have yet to vote that day. The aim is to get 100% conversion rate of the inactive voter to active voter.

Understanding that this work breakdown structure deals with the intersection of technology and people is key to making it work effectively.

Analytical Plan:

The aim of this socio-technical GOTV plan is to have 100% conversion rates of inactive to active voters.  However, this is quite impossible for larger campaigns and big elections (Progressive Technology Project, 2006).  But, to analyze the effectiveness, of the socio-technical GOTV plan is to cross reference the data that the predictive data analytics has created for low propensity voters, to the voters reached through various technological or social media means, to the voters who voted and that match the GOTV list.

Another way to evaluate the effectiveness of the socio-technical GOTV plan is to see how closely did the real results matched to the milestones identified in the work breakdown structure.  Daily figures should be captured along with narratives to supplement the numerical data to create lessons learned, to eventually be fed back to the experts who devised the methodology to conduct further future developments.  The Delphi Technique can be reiterated with the new data to build a better socio-technical GOTV plan in the future.

Anticipated Results:

As voter turnout increases, no matter which political party wins, the views will be more centrist rather than polarizing, because each of the voter’s voices was heard (ThinkTank, 2016; vlogbrothers, 2014).  Another result from this socio-technical GOTV plan is that the voter is now empowered to make a data-driven decision from the national level and down ballot due to the information presented in these GOTV plans (Alcorn, 2016; Sutton, 2016). This in turn will help create a positive use of social media as a tool to enhance learning and develop personal learning network (Horizons Report, 2016c; Horizons Report, 2016e). Finally, an unintended social impact of this GOTV plan is creating more civically minded citizens that are active in politics at all levels who are willing to be influencers discovering, creating, publishing and sharing ideas (Horizons Report, 2016a, Horizons Report, 2016c, ThinkTank, 2016).

Conclusion:

According to the US Census Bureau (2016), there are approximately 227 Million eligible voters in the U.S. However; the Bipartisan Policy Center stated that in 2012 the voter turnout was 57.5%. This voter turnout rate is horrible, and the Vlogbrother’s said: “If you aren’t voting, no one hears your voice, so they have no reason to represent you!”. This helps establish a need for GOTV efforts. When more people go out to vote, their voices get heard.  Also, elections are not usually about the top ticket vote, but all the down ballot stuff as well, like local city, county, and state level public offices and ballot initiatives (ThinkTank, 2016).

According to a Pew Survey (2015), 68% of US adults own a smartphone, while 86% of all young adults (ages 18-20) own a smartphone. In a different Pew Survey (2015a), showed that 65% of adults use social media, up from the 7% in 2005. Therefore, a huge voting block has a social media account and a smartphone (Levitan, 2015b) for which technology can be leveraged at a cheaper cost than door-to-door canvassing. Green et al. (2008) stated that door-to-door canvassing costs approximately 10x more than mass social contact per vote.  Currently, Social media, email, online ads, and websites are used for GOTV (Fuller, 2012). Fortunately, technology and big data could be used to leverage the GOTV strategies to allow for mass social contact that is tailored to the voter and yet still cheaper than door-to-door canvassing.

The Diffusion of Innovation (DOI) theory is concerned with the why, what, how, and rate of innovation dissemination and adoption between entities, which are carried out through different communication channels over a period (Bass, 1969; Robertson, 1967; Rogers, 1962; Rogers 2010). Entities need to make a binary decision that can fluctuate in time between whether or not to adopt an innovation (Herrera, Armelini, & Salvaj, 2015). Rogers (1962) first proposed, that the timing of the adoption rates of innovation between entities follows a normal frequency distribution: innovators (2.5%), early adopters (13.5%), early majorities (34%), late majority (34%), and laggards (16%). The cumulative frequency distribution mimics an S-curve (Bass, 1969; Robertson, 1967; Rogers, 1962). However, Bass (1969) claimed that Rogers’ frequency distribution was arbitrarily assigned, and therefore he reclassified both innovators and early adopters as innovators and everyone else as imitators, to create a simplified numerical DoI model.

Imitators are more deliberate, conservative, and traditional learners, who learn from innovators, whereas innovators are more venturesome (Bass, 1969; Rogers, 2010). Innovators have a lower threshold of resistance to adopting an innovation than imitators since the innovator’s adoption rates are driven by the adopters’ perception of the innovation’s usefulness (Rogers, 2010; Sang-Gun, Trimi, & Kim, 2013).  Therefore, an innovator will adopt the implications of this socio-technological GOTV plan, record their findings and when a certain amount of data is collected, and this innovation has been implemented much time over, will it finally get adopted by the imitators.  Once a significant amount of imitators has adopted these measures, we can then begin to see U.S. voter turnout reach the 80% or higher mark.

Areas of Future Research:

For further the GOTV low propensity voter prediction and more accurate predictive data analytics algorithms are needed. Thus more research is needed.  Different types of predictive data analytics can produce different results, whether the algorithm is using supervised or unsupervised machine learning techniques. Other efforts needed in the future is preprocessing the unstructured social media data and connecting it to voter registration data.

References