As reported in a recent newsletter, this past summer IF collaborated with Ballotpedia on USATalk’s first real-world pilot project—a fall 2017 voter information initiative in Des Moines, Iowa. That project, was a resounding success. We have now had time to digest its key lessons.
The first of these lessons was that we should waste no time in replicating the Des Moines project on a larger scale (see picture, above). The second, even larger, lesson was that USATalk should change its strategy from building an integrated online civic platform from scratch to knitting together the tools member organizations have already developed. The third lesson was that there exists synergy between project and organizational scale: bigger projects can help attract new network members, while a broader network makes it easier to tackle bigger projects.
Over the past month, USATalk has begun to act on all three of these lessons.
For weeks, IF, Ballotpedia, and USATalk team member Sorin Adam Matei have been working on a voter information project for the fall 2019 municipal elections in Chicago. Building on the Des Moines experience, the Chicago project will scale up the numbers of discussion participants and sessions by several orders of magnitude. The goals, however, are the same: providing citizens, especially those who aren’t always heard from, with a real voice and ensuring ready access to candidates’ responses to citizens’ considered views.
In recent weeks, USATalk has also dedicated itself to building an integrated online civic network. This work has included energetic outreach to other civic organizations that is expected to culminate in a virtual conference in early January 2018 of approximately 10 potential member organizations. The virtual conference will provide potential members an opportunity to coalesce around the USATalk vision and begin planning a face-to-face founding meeting.
Finally, USATalk has grown increasingly sensitive to the potential synergies between project and organizational scaling. The Chicago project, in particular, seems to be moving other civic organizations from a general interest in USATalk’s work to a positive willingness to join the network.