The election of 2016 was easily the most controversial election my generation had seen, with the biggest spender losing, and a businessman with no political experience taking the presidency. There were massive campaigns for political change and action, with a whopping 200 million registering to vote before the election that year.
But voter participation across the United States still DECREASED when compared to the past election, as per the general trend since, well, the entire voting thing started.
Of course, voter turnout isn’t the only way to measure political activity. It’s true that protests sparked up as soon as the election results were announced, but the fact remains that most of the public are misaligned with their representatives. As a result, Andrew Prince from Facebook came to our team at Northwestern to ask:
How might we use social media to help the American public become more politically engaged?
Representatives don’t actually know what constituents want
The point of engagement in politics, according to Belmont city councilman Doug Kim, is to ensure proper representation.
The city council members we interviewed all agreed that they needed a better grasp of what their constituents wanted. In fact, according to a Stanford study, Representatives are on average 20% off of the mark for understanding what their constituents want, meaning if they think 60% of their constituents want something, it really could be 40%.
As expected, when we asked constituents why they don’t take more of an active role, the most common response was that they were just too busy. That makes the problem simply that constituents aren’t represented properly because current methods of communicating aren’t convenient.
A platform of communication with incentives baked into both sides
Our platform fosters community and ensures representation using three key features:
- Incentivizes constituents to download and use the application by keeping news relevant while giving them an easy platform to complain from.
- Incentivizes representatives to remain active on the platform by including election information during elections, making activity part of their brand.
- The two-part polls displayed above where users are incentivized to answer out of curiosity, as the results are hidden until they answer.
It’s simple, but effective: users we tested on were six times more likely to answer a SamPoll than a question on a conventional poll.
When we presented our project to Facebook, Andrew responded with a link to Facebook Town Hall, which they had already been working on since before our project began. You can see your personal town hall at facebook.com/townhall. Facebook has also begun to implement two-part polling into their platform.
All-in-all, Facebooks existing projects were very similar to what we proposed, so we really just reinforced that what they were already doing was necessary.
Our Research and Prototyping
Get those hands dirty
Immersion + Guerrilla Research, User Interviews, Surveys, paper prototyping, Marvel
1. Those who aren’t politically engaged don’t really know where to start, and actually stay away from politics because they’re scared of it eating into their time.
2. Almost every homeowner has very strong opinions on local issues, such as street repair, zoning, school policies, and more.
3. Non-homeowners are also surprisingly curious about local politics if it’s right in front of them, and will form opinions very easily if the information is delivered straight to their faces.
1. The end product should feel simple to the user. We choose to go with a phone app.
2. Include quick polls that allows users to express their voice in exchange for information about how people around them see the issue in question.
3. Populate the app with local news stories and events, with discussion forums about local issues.
Amazing, amazing team. Everyone here was overqualified for the jobs they were assigned to do, and we all ended up doing a bit of everything. The priority during the project ended up becoming learning, and so we helped each other work on things that we were the worst at.