Making Berlin a city that has a say

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The Green party’s campaign in Berlin elections in 2011 was marked by new ideas and tools. The Greens did a lot to make the campaign more personal and to reach a bigger audience. The article “Door-to-door Canvassing – a good strategy for Greens?”  by one of their candidates, Silke Gebel, describes how the Greens in Berlin for the first time used canvassing in their election campaign and how it helped to reach voter groups that had not been in touch with the Greens before.

However, the major aim was to give people the possibility to participate directly in the campaign. That is why since the very beginning of the campaign, the Greens in Berlin covered the main social media networks with a lot of interesting offers meant to mobilise the online users. For example, 300 trees have been planted by those who became a new fan of the Facebook page thanks to the partner I plant a Tree. Facebook, Twitter, flickr and YouTube were used to their full capacities in order to create a direct and transparent dialogue with the potential voters. But the campaigners soon realised that people in Berlin wish to be involved even more than this and developed the idea of a map connecting Berlin people with their candidates directly.

A new online tool “Da müssen wir ran!” demonstrated that the Greens were taking the peoples’ concerns seriously. The school in your neighbourhood is dilapidated and suffers from lack of teachers? You would like to live more climate-friendly? The voters had a chance to submit any questions and tasks on the map linked to the location where the issue was taking place. Once a question had been submitted the person in charge at the Green party headquarters checked its content and location and assigned it to a green candidate. If this candidate wasn’t able to answer the question within duration of 72 hours, he or she could send it back to the headquarters and the question would be reassigned to another candidate. The campaign was launched five and a half weeks before the elections. During this time more than 800 questions, or “tasks”, were submitted and answered.

The major difficulty was to involve and convince all of the candidates to participate in the campaign. For many of them, it seemed to be just another campaigning tool bringing about a lot of work and little effect. They had to be assured that leading an online campaign which is open to everyone has advantages over an offline campaign: The questions have to be answered only once, and a lot of other people having the same question will be able to know your answer. It’s efficient and personal and thus can reach a bigger audience. After overcoming a number of difficulties the Greens of Berlin made “Da müssen wir wir ran!” a success story that showed how much the Greens wish to enable a true dialogue with their voters – offline and online.

The campaign got a lot of positive feedback from also the daily press, bloggers and social network users. The German broadcasting station Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen even presented the smartphone app in a TV magazine. There have been several personal feedbacks that showed real value of the tool. One of these feedbacks came from a family man who had submitted a task to the map. Only some hours later, the top candidate Renate Künast decided to visit him and his family in order to discuss the task, namely building a playground in their neighbourhood. The man was very enthusiastic about the visit and posted his feedback directly on Renate Künast’s Facebook wall. It is hard to measure the exact impact of the tool, but it engaged a lot of sympathies. The online magazine chose the green campaign as the best among the Berlin parties and it was even shortlisted for the most important award for political communication, the Politikaward.

In sum, the innovative ideas implemented by the Greens in Berlin during the 2011 election campaign bring the new vision of a new political culture to express. During the 2009 election campaign, the German Greens had a similar ‘3TageWach’ project when for 72 last hours before the elections the Greens offered to answer every question the voters asked via internet – around the clock, day and night. ’3TageWach’ has become the most successful event of the whole campaign. Hence, voters really appreciate being involved and feeling that their concerns were taken into consideration. Politicians cannot work in isolation from the citizens, but together with the voters.

More practical information

The open source map on the green website plus the smartphone app coming along with it (which allowed to use the functions of the map in a “Augmented Reality” style) were programmed especially for the Greens and could be financed thanks to a sponsor. The online-agency NEST Kampagnen UG was connecting the developers of the initial software to another company called Wonderkind which would then customize it according to the Greens’ needs. This new app had been conceived by Nest, following the same logic as the website version. You were able to give the Greens of Berlin a task to answer via your mobile but you could also see and filter all the other tasks already in the system. This demo version on iTunes may give a more precise idea of the app. Nest was responsible for the project management between Wonderkind and another Software company called Newthinking so that the Green Party didn’t had to manage all these different contractors.

NEST Kampagnen UG published the second edition of the manual “Social Media für NGOs” where you can find valuable information about social media campaigning tools. The manual can be ordered online.

This article was written following an interview with Maike Janssen who was the head of online communications during the Berlin election campaign and particularly was working with the “Da müssen wir ran!” tool. Now Maike is a part of the Nest Kampagnen UG team.

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