Political Change Agents

How to Engage Citizens

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Jeremy Heimans
Founder, Purpose
His consultancy launches social-minded campaigns, teams up with existing organizations, and occasionally incubates companies.

Rosario Dawson & Maria Teresa Kumar
Founders, Voto Latino
With mobile tech and grassroots savvy, Dawson and Kumar encourage participation from a growing constituency

Marci Harris
Founder, Popvox
Harris's startup makes congressional bills easy to understand and track, and connects constituents with members of Congress

How can small changes drive results?

"You need to change long-term attitudes and reduce barriers to taking action. For example, to change the behavior of big banks, we want to build demand for credit unions and local banks. So we need to make it more attractive for people to switch, like encouraging local banks to add more features."

Dawson: "Whenever we do voter registration, we ask, 'Why haven't you voted before?' The response is often, 'No one's asked us.' It's not about telling people what to do--it's about sharing what they can do." Kumar: "By simply sending young Latinos texts on Election Day, participation increased close to 8%."

"There's a real need for online civic identity. People have personal lives with Facebook, professional lives with LinkedIn, etc. Popvox provides people with an online civic identity, where they can tag and track legislation and stay informed."

In what way can you humanize politics?

"If you're trying to build a 21st-century movement, you really need amazing narrative storytelling to popularize the issue. Then you also need great user-experience design-- a navigable website, an easy-to-share video--to help ensure that your work goes viral."

Kumar: "We did a telenovela spoof so people could see themselves in it. It was very over the top. Rosario was about to get married to Wilmer Valderrama, but she learned he wasn't registered to vote." Dawson: "My sister tells me, 'Did you know that he's not registered?!' and I'm like, 'I don't even know you!' to Wilmer."

"We try to connect regular citizens to humans in Washington, D.C. There are Congressional offices calling people to say, 'Hey, I got the message you submitted on Popvox, and I want to ask you about what you think.' Popvox is the first aggregator of constituents' input."

How can tech be better leveraged in politics?

"Tech is unlocking in people a sense of their own power. We released a video for a gay-marriage campaign in Australia a week before the governing party voted on whether to include gay marriage in its platform, and encouraged people to donate to get the video on TV before the vote. It worked."

Kumar: "We have to spend a lot of our time getting people to register to vote, which we do with technology, but what should be happening is secretaries of state should allow everyone to register online."

"Technology is often effective for elections but not for actual policy work after people have taken office. Legislative issues are complex, and people aren't going to spend every hour of the day reading policy papers. Our challenge is creating an interface that makes staying informed more accessible."