Planning for Success: Change.gov

Immediately after Obama won the US presidential election, the Change.gov site went up. In addition to a brilliant idea that supports Obama's platform, it demonstrates what all campaigning organisation should do: plan and prepare for success.

Now that Obama is the US president-elect, his team have launched the Change.gov site to continue the spirit of his campaign: involving US citizens in informing his plans and transforming the USA. While it is a natural continuation of his message and campaign, it is relatively unique not only for its ambitions, but also for the success planning that obviously went into it.

To launched Change.gov so rapidly, the Obama Campaign would have had to divert people and budget from the campaign to conceptualise, design and build the site so that when the campaign was won, it could instantly issue instructions to register the Change.gov domain name and point it at the website that had been built for it. Following launch,

Change.gov would have needed a promotion plan to direct people to the site. Strangely, as 10 Nov. 2008, no promotion for the Change.gov sits has been sent to those subscribed to the Obama campaign email updates. Perhaps this is planned once the Change.gov site has more content or perhaps it is an oversight.

Since Change.gov has just launched, it is a bit early to see the longer term effects of this initiative, but from the basic fact that success planning was undertaken and implemented, it should be interesting to continue to watch it unfold.

Success Planning by Campaigning Organisations

Success planning is so rare in campaigning that I know of one good example: PETA's fast-food campaign. Using a strategy I'll call 'domino campaigning', PETA focused on one fast-food chain at a time and demanded they adopt animal-welfare standards in their supply chains. McDonald's was first (Oct 1999) with the McCruelty campaign and once this was won (Sep 2000) , PETA immediately switched to focus on Burger King with their Murder King campaign.

When I say immediately, I mean PETA:

  1. Responded to the McCruelty campaign wiin with a call for Burger King to follow McDonald's example
  2. Had the Murder King website up the same day as the McDonalds win
  3. They had media stunts and other activities ready from day 1

PETA won the Murder King Campaign (June 2001) and then focused on:

The stunning success of this campaign was likely partly due to the fact that all the momentum that was built for each target could immediately be re-focused on the next target.

Missed Opportunity

Missed opportunities for success plans are more common in with campaigning organisations than are success plans themselves. One example I have direct experience of is the success of Oxfam's Nestle-focused action in Dec 2002. The short version of the issue was that Nestle was demanding $6 million USD (£3.7 million GBP) from the Ethiopian Government at a time when there was a Famine that threatened to be worse than that in the 1980s.

Oxfam was asking Nestle to cancel it's claim so the money could be diverted to famine relief. Thirty-ish days later, Nestle agreed to cancel its claim if they money went to an independent famine relief organisation (Red Cross). Oxfam, and thus the poor in Ethiopia, won.

However the action was only symbolic of a much bigger issue: the debt corporations around the world claimed least-developed countries owned them.

This bigger issue Oxfam chose not to take on due to other campaigning plans. However a few independent-minded campaigners in Wales had other plans. Oxfam and Friends of the Earth campaigners in Wales did some investigation and found out that Wales-based company Big Food Group (which owns Iceland chain of supermarkets) was claiming £12 million GBP from Guyana.

They wrote a letter to the Iceland Managing Director within a month of the Nestle win, stating the facts of the claim and the request to cancel it. On May 17 the story was reported in the press and by May 18, Big Foods Group has canceled the claim. The claim was likely dropped with the aim of preventing it from escalating into the level of brand-damage the Nestle-focused action had generated.

While this action appeared to the target like good planning, it was really down to the initiative of a few people. Has there been a success plan in place for dealing with corporate claims from the lest developed countries, it is quite likely much more could have been achieved.

Planning for Success

It is quite normal that for campaigning organisations (unlike political campaigns), you never know exactly when, or even if, a win is forthcoming. However this does not negate the need for success planning: it just means you need to always be 1-2 steps ahead of the current focus.

Humanitarian organisations already do this since they never know when, where or how big the next disaster will be. Thus campaigners (often from humanitarian organisations) can do it too as PETA have shown.

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by Duane Raymond published Nov 10, 2008,
   
Matthew Cain
Matthew Cain

I don't think the radical overhaul of whitehouse.gov is necessarily beneficial to citizens in the short term:

http://bacatu.blogspot.com/2009/01/websites-show-obama-not-all-change-is.html

  • Jan 20, 2009 05:39 PM
Anonymous

You definately raise a key oversight of those putting the new whitehouse.gov site in place.

Given it is the executive branch of the US government, to simply switch the old with a new and break what some are reporting to be many thousands of links in the process is not just bad practice, but negligent.

When I recently re-developed this site and I made sure I found and mapped all old content to new locations if I wanted it to continue to exist. So it is disappointing and untransparent for those behind the new whitehouse.gov site to miss this essential task given the resources they would have had available.

Of course, one can still find most of the old content on archive.org and search engine caches, but that isn't the point.

In regards to the article above, the main point wasn't really about change.gov but was actually about the inportance of continuity planning which is often neglected for online campaigning.

  • Jan 21, 2009 03:06 PM