Technology for Persistent Democracy

Sarah Sullivan
NDP Annotations
Published in
3 min readMay 29, 2018

In 2016, we learned the hard way that many of our assumptions were wrong — dangerously wrong. And we wanted to help, fast. Committed to reexamining what we thought we knew, the New Data Project was born.

NDP Ouroboros. Design by Stephanie Nguyen

When we started up, we drew inspiration for our logo from the Ouroboros — the iconic image of a snake eating its own tail. It’s a symbol of constant reflection, continued renewal, and rebirth. All qualities a healthy democracy must have.

We spent the early months of 2017 surveying the landscape. We came up with two important gaps. Those gaps became our first areas of focus: sentiment analysis and supporter engagement. From there, we set out to improve measurement techniques and create more meaningful ways for nonprofits, causes, and campaigns to engage supporters.

To do it, we’d have to pair strong technical talent with leaders from politics and government. And we’d have to apply rigorous qualitative and quantitative methods to make sure we were letting science drive decisions and to avoid traps of the past.

Today, the New Data Project is a team spanning both coasts with experts in engineering, product, design, and UX research. And we’ve got folks who’ve been around the block in politics. A year in, we’ve learned a lot.

NDP staff in May 2018. From left to right: Christopher Scott, Sarah Sullivan, Jordan Kiang, Jenny Smith, Will Friedman, Kim Rachmeler, Mikey Dickerson, Jeremy Kallman, Sara Al Mughairy.

Our work has brought us to the field in Pennsylvania and Arizona — talking with voters and understanding their needs. It’s made us critically examine the data powering campaigns and organizations and reconsider what tactics are actually working. It’s led us to experts on civic engagement and inspired us to create a new model for mapping engagement. It’s challenged us to dig deep into the science and practice of relational organizing.

Everything we’ve learned has informed VoteWithMe — a new, free app that helps you reach out to your friends who are most in need of a reminder to vote. We tested it in multiple elections — conducting random controlled trials to measure effectiveness as well as user research to learn from voters directly.

Now, we’re sharing some of what we learned.

In that spirit of reflection and renewal, we want to contribute what we’ve found back to the ecosystem. Some of what we’ve learned is intuitive. Lots is surprising. Hopefully you’ll find it interesting. Follow our new publication, NDP Annotations, to keep up with us over the coming months!

In the current climate, causes and campaigns too often lack the time, expertise, and flexibility to work beyond immediate deadlines. The New Data Project (NDP) is a new 501(c)(4) organization built to address this gap by testing new approaches, looking beyond the current cycle, and serving as an advanced technology research lab for progressives.

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Sarah Sullivan
NDP Annotations

Mostly interested in healing of all kinds. Formerly: NDP, @USDigitalService, and Obama White House.