The DatAdat model of rethinking political participation in the Digital Era

As the beginning of everything is your first interaction with the voter, we could call this the point when they are a blip on your radar that you want to magnify to an extent where you can understand them, become immersed in a meaningful dialogue with them, and then mobilize them to work together on attaining your mutual goals.

The latter, i.e. a mutual interest, is most likely what will draw the voter in an engagement with you in the first place. The first point of contact for a new person on your radar could be either what we call a landing page, a website operated by you where you disseminate specific proposals (e.g. a signature collection, a petition, a survey, a consultation, your platform, etc.) or a Facebook ad, where the voter sees a statement, a meme or something that they agree with, and clicking on it they find themselves engaged with “you” in messenger.

Let’s take a brief look at how these are different and how they are the same, too. On a landing page, the engagement is limited to the voter sharing their opinion in some form, by signing a petition, taking a stance on some issue, or even writing something down. But it is not interactive. This form of engagement is vital in terms of conveying the politician’s views and allows for some degree of feedback from the voter (your landing page conveys your own views to at least some extent, and it offers the visitor the possibility of expressing their agreement or, in some instances, to voice their own views on the subject). Still, it is not interactive, it doesn’t create a back and forth where information is quickly exchanged. In a sense, this is classical voter engagement using new platforms, but there is nothing innovative per se about the way in which we can interact with voters.

Interactivity is the core of the other main source of engagement, namely when the voter enters into a conversation with our bot on Messenger, usually by clicking on an ad with some political or policy-related message that they find appealing or interesting. The bot is your digital ambassador in a way, a “permanent representative” in the digisphere who disseminates your views, perspectives and messages on a wide array of issues, all the while also asking for the voters’ views, engaging with them, gauging their perspective and soliciting their input on a wide variety of issues.

This turns the voters into stakeholders in the political/policy conversation. They are no longer mere passive recipients of policy stances, worldviews and whatever else politicians choose to share with them, but can become part of the policy formation process.

But is this actual engagement or is it pretense? We can’t answer that question, or rather the answer is that it’s up to you. What politicians and political organizations receive as a result of the digital technology is a revolutionary way of engaging with their electorate. Even with the best of intentions, politicians were very limited in their ability to engage with voters one-on-one, to give them individual feedback and to take their individual views into consideration in designing the politicians’ broader approach to politics or their specific policy responses. Many of these limitations remain in place, they are delineated by the limits of human comprehension, of the ability to receive, process and apply information. But important physical barriers and cognitive barriers have crumbled.

Digital technologies make it significantly easier for voters to engage with politicians on a wide variety of channels and, more importantly, in a wide variety of intensities. This allows for the integration into the political-communicative process of a larger segment of individuals than previously, when any type of political activity, from writing letters to attendings hustings/townhall meetings or constituency surgeries, required greater effort on the part of the politically interested individuals.

Now, while all these traditional methods of engaging with politicians still remain in place, voters have a wide selection of other tools to choose from, from the extremely facile (e.g. Facebook reactions) to the slightly more energy-demanding (e.g. Tweets) to those that are close to the traditional methods in terms of intensity (e.g. writing e-mails).

Still, while this makes it physically considerable easier for politicians to interact with a far larger number of voters than hitherto, a vital bottleneck in terms of engagement with the voters remains the human resource capacity that is tied up in processing information and reacting to the vast amount of new data that politicians and political organizations thus receive.

This is where DatAdat’s database builder system provides relief in a variety of ways, for it helps you and your staff to substantially reduce the man-hours needed to manage interactions with voters and to process the incoming information. Most of these processes can be automated to a significant extent, allowing fewer number of people to successfully manage meaningful engagements with a large number of voters.

Our Messenger bot is the most vital element in terms of engagement, though it is complemented by all sorts of “traditional” means of communication, such as the use of mailing lists, Facebook messages, etc. After engagement, however, understanding moves into the foreground, and this is when our insight tool comes into play.

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