mjs_72dpiIt’s not often that innovators look to politics and government for the newest ideas in technology, digital engagement, and media. But, as Michael Slaby, former Chief Technology Officer for Obama For America, shared at Seaport Common earlier this fall, innovators and social impact entrepreneurs can learn a lot from political strategy, elections, and grassroots organizing. In honor of election season (finally) coming to a close, it’s a great time to start thinking about how lessons in politics can be applied in the entrepreneurship and innovation community.

Slaby has walked an unconventional path, from a double major in creative writing and biochemistry to politics (helping secure President Obama’s 2008 and 2012 victories) to founding a startup committed to bringing technology solutions to social impact organizations. Here are a few takeaways from his talk:

Digital engagement is not a subset of communications strategy — it is its own strategy.

Slaby joined Obama for America in 2007 working on the New Media team, when social media was hardly on the horizon as a viable communications tool. But instead of folding digital into a wider communications strategy, the team focused on digital engagement as a separate avenue to engage an entirely new electorate in a unique manner — encouraging this electorate to build relationships, engage with the campaign, and organize on a grassroots level.

Innovation is not a goal. Novelty is not an outcome.

When Slaby talks about the utilization of social media during the 2008 campaign, he says, “We weren’t trying to be innovative. We were trying to win an election.” Innovation wasn’t the goal of their strategy — and neither was winning the election. The real work of the campaign began the day after the election. According to Slaby, elections are just a small piece of the broader social impact agenda, and successful campaigns create the space for that community to do their best work.

Social impact must be measured in terms of outcomes, not outputs.

Political leaders, nonprofits, and government are all looking for the best ways to measure their impact — not just in terms of what they’re doing, but how their work affects the world. Collecting data on those indicators and metrics is more difficult than simply measuring organizational outputs, but true impact must be measured within the context of human progress. The true measure of social impact lies in human condition metrics So how do we get there?

Social impact organizations needs access to the tools that help large companies successfully engage communities.

Slaby believes that we need to institutionalize the community-building tools that large companies utilize and make them accessible to social impact organizations. And that’s where Timshel comes in. Timshel is a startup that builds platforms so that the same tools that build communities around global brands and corporations can help build communities around a cause, a movement, or a social impact initiative.


Follow Michael here.