Note — Oct 30, 2022

Rethinking Political Innovation (and Maintenance)

On it’s own, the basic topic of this article by Dave Karpf (MoveOn ten years later and the demise of the New Organizing Institute) is not something I’m widely interested in. However, it’s an excellent read in the angle he uses, that of innovation vs maintenance. Excellent because of the points he brings, but also as a parallel for other fields where innovation becomes what everyone chases, to the detriment of maintenance. Briefly; innovation is not always so supremely valuable as some think, and it’s important to remember that the goal is to make an organization evolve, if you discard previous innovations as soon as they are not new anymore—in other words if you don’t maintain them—then you’ve wasted most of the time invested in developing that innovation in the first place.

What I’ve become convinced of, a decade later, is that there is an opportunity cost to focusing on innovation in politics. The celebratory focus on innovation has come at the cost of deferred and abandoned organizational maintenance. Things fall into disrepair, institutions fall apart, all while powerful actors prioritize locating and funding the next-big-thing. […]

That all changed after Obama’s reelection. By 2013, NOI was no longer the political cutting edge. It had been around for too many election cycles. It had become established, well-known, mainstream. It had become political infrastructure. And so the big funders with an interest in finding and funding the cutting edge started to turn their attention elsewhere. NOI was infrastructure. Infrastructure requires maintenance. Funders lost interest in sticking around to help with maintenance. […]

These “innovation edges” have limited duration, because your targets and your competitors learn and adapt. But I figured there was a first-mover advantage of sorts for the organizations that mastered new technologies to either amplify their existing tactics or develop completely new tactics.)