Advocacy professionals in corporate, trade and non-profit organizations compete amongst each other in an adversarial environment where time and attention are scarce resources.
To keep up with demand, individuals and organizations rely on a growing list of technology vendors to get their message in front of Congress, advocates, regulators, and even corporate heads or other key influencers.
In turn, tech vendors court in-house professionals by contrasting their products with rivals and showcasing successful case studies. This process can be messy, but it’s necessary to keep everyone hungry and looking to the next frontier or new innovation. Without this fierce competition, stagnation would be acceptable, which was the case for many years.
Now, it’s the duty and responsibility of the advocacy community to develop some self-policing mechanisms to ensure that the authenticity of constituent communication prevails.
This is a shared responsibility between practitioners, vendors, and consultants. When it comes to innovation and its intersection with ethics, these efforts should be transparent.
Vendors should not beta test new tools on clients without their express consent. The advocacy community isn’t a sandbox environment, and any party shouldn’t put the process in jeopardy by conducting lab tests in the open market.
Find a client that’s willing to try something new and proceed with a test case, but don’t turn on new tools without proper vetting and acknowledgement that the tool hasn’t reached widespread adoption.
Systems shouldn’t report messages that aren’t in fact received and processed. The guiding principle should be an authentic constituent communication getting into the hands of the appropriate entity without undue constraints or barriers.
On the sales side, vendors must keep product demonstrations in that sandbox environment. Calling, emailing or tweeting a member in a live environment during a product demo is problematic. It’s an inauthentic communication as the motivation is to make a sale rather than influence an actual policy outcome. Live testing like this during a demo makes a mockery of those people that actually work on those issues day in and day out, spending considerable resources representing their viewpoints or that of their organization.
Again, the guiding principle should be an authentic constituent communication getting into the hands of the appropriate entity without undue constraints or barriers.
A little restraint by vendors, mixed with creativity, can ensure continued innovation in the advocacy technology sphere that doesn’t disrupt the balance or turn organizations into lab rats.
Joshua Habursky is the assistant VP of advocacy at the Independent Community Bankers of America, founder & chairman of the Grassroots Professional Network, and adjunct professor at West Virginia University’s Reed College of Media.