Over on MyDD, there is an interesting discussion about the latest straw poll. PsiFighter37 comments about the organizational structures:
The interesting dynamic to observe between the two would be the interaction between the campaigns and the netroots. Edwards’ grassroots outreach appears to be largely organized in a top-down fashion. …
Many … seem to be put off by the Obama’s lack of active interaction within the netroots. Nevertheless, if one takes a look at Obama’s website, it is a highly decentralized, bottom-up organization.
I comment that while I prefer Edwards positions, my preference for a bottom-up type organization. Psi agrees and goes on to say
that the bottom-up directive works well mainly in the initial stages of boosting a campaign’s base of supporters and volunteers. When it comes time to hit the streets and knock on doors, there definitely needs to be instructions from the top.
I think this is important to note. There is a constant, and constantly shifting, struggle between the top-down and the bottom-up in any campaign. I think Trippi captured the dynamic pretty well in his post, back in May 2003, The Perfect Storm.
The other thing that is needed — is a campaign organization that gets it — or at least tries to get it. One of the other reasons I think this has not happened before is that every political campaign I have ever been in is built on a top-down military structure — there is a general at the top of the campaign — and all orders flow down — with almost no interaction. This is a disaster. This kind of structure will suffocate the storm not fuel it. Campaigns abhor chaos — and to most campaigns built on the old top-down model — that is what the net represents — chaos.
I should note that this is about campaign structure, and not the technology tools a campaign has available. It is about how people in the campaign communicate with one another and with supporters. Having the best tools doesn’t necessarily mean using them most effectively.
But to get back to the ‘constantly changing’ aspect, I believe that the nature of the interaction between supporters and campaign staff needs to evolve over time as the campaign progresses. I do think that both the Dean campaign and the Lamont campaign didn’t handle this evolution as well as they needed to. I wrote a little bit about this in Managing Transitions on my blog.
I am a big fan of emerging self organizations, but I wonder how far that can go. Does Dunbar’s Number limit how far self organization can go? My gut feeling is that it does.
So, how will all of these things play out in the race between Obama and Edwards? It is hard to say. As I’ve noted, I find myself closer to Edwards positions, which I think is a very important base. I wish Edwards organization was more bottom up. Yet the lack of a good bottom up structure might help in transitions later on.
Perhaps the bigger issue is the nature of the information flow between campaigns and supporters. This goes back to the old discussions we’ve always had on Greater Democracy. For a generation, we’ve had campaigns that have been very top down in communication style. The campaign sends out a message. It will come in the form of a press release, a thirty second spot, or a soundbite from a candidate. It is one way, it is broadcast. Campaigns need to move to a post-broadcast, networked campaign, social media style. (Too borrow phrases from various friends about what campaigns of the twenty first century should be called).
It seems as if supporters of both Edwards and Obama are wishing the campaign communications were much more multilateral. It will be interesting to see how the campaigns evolve. Anyway you look at things, it will be an interesting campaign season.