Data-Driven Democracy: Political Engagement Platforms, Expertise and Social Movements

Joshua Eisenstat, NYU

Political Engagement Platforms are a relatively new phenomenon, but have made an indelible mark in the world of social movements and nonprofits across the political spectrum in the last two decades. Much existing scholarship on political engagement platforms—such as Salsa Labs, NationBuilder, and EveryAction—has focused on how these platforms make durable a certain style of data-driven politics. Yet, we know much less about how human actors strategically adopt these platforms. This paper explores the history of how professional digital organizers have related to one particular software, NationBuilder. Through interviews with organizers working for social movement organizations, I explore different styles of doing data-driven politics. While some organizers were able to leverage the technology to decentralize leadership and promote participatory democracy, this was not the norm. Paradoxically, the most democratic forms of using these new technologies are reliant on specialized expert knowledge. I argue that access to this digital organizing expertise is a new cleavage determining who benefits most from digitally enhanced politics.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 35. STS Lessons for Policy Impact