Readers interested in IF’s initiative to broaden its reach by contributing to an online discussion platform will be happy to learn that the core organization with which it has been working, now named “USATalk” (www.USATalk.org ), is making significant organizational and operational progress and has concluded a highly successful first pilot project. USATalk has shifted its strategy away from a focus on building an integrated online platform to one that would knit together existing oranizations’ tools. The hope is that this federated approach will more nimbly scale up the effort while simultaneously retaining its capacity to innovate. USATalk’s concept of the end-use “product”, meanwhile, remains largely unchanged: an online platform that would in one place incorporate information, discussion, “testing”, and selection functions, as well as data gathering and analysis for continual refinement.
Meanwhile, USATalk has added a number of highly skilled communications and computer experts to its core team—including the co-founder of Wikipedia, Larry Sanger—and established informal partnerships with Ballotpedia (an online voter information site) and ProCon (an online issues information site). Team members continue to value IF’s discussion expertise and have begun to explore the potential usefulness of IF’s discussion guidebooks.
Working with Ballotpedia, during the summer of 2017 IF used brief video sessions to generate questions for school board candidates in the September 2017 DesMoines, Iowa election. Candidates’ responses were posted on partner Ballotpedia’s website. Ballotpedia, which employs more than 40 writers nationwide, reports that candidates’ response rate and responses were superior to any previously obtained and that the organization is considering using the approach on a much wider basis.
USATalk’s main priorities in the immediate future, beyond solidifying its own organizational structure, are to: begin searching for philanthropic funding; continue researching, selecting, and adding partner organizations; and replicating the Ballotpedia project, perhaps for the 2019 Chicago municipal elections.