Rachel Anderson and Gene Koo’s Network Analysis of the Obama Campaign

October 15, 2008

In typically thought-provoking fashion, Gene Koo has jumped in to offer a response to my half-baked thinking about the network structure of the Obama campaign. He gives us this graphic:

Obama campaign network structure (by Gene Koo)

Obama campaign network structure (by Gene Koo and Rachel Anderson)

He also explains it:

The superstructure of the campaign is traditional, top-down command-and-control (with information flowing upwards, of course). At the roots the campaign — as is typical for most volunteer efforts — comprises ad hoc mesh networks. It’s in inserting strong, tightly-knit teams that the campaign has made the greatest innovation. Each team, as a whole, functions like a paid staffer, with similar responsibilities and accountability.

Gene draws on Rachel Anderson’s experience with Camp Obama as well as Zack Exley’s HuffPo article to support his analysis of the Neighborhood Teams (illustrated as the “local team” in the graph) and, if we accept Exley’s analysis at face value, I think this hits the nail on the head.

If nothing else, I suspect Gene’s graph reflects the system’s design as it was envisioned by Marshall Ganz and others. Nevertheless, I have my suspicion that the neighborhood teams are somewhat inconsistent in reality (just a hunch, no data to back it up).

Whether my hunches are confirmed or not, the degree to which actual practices deviate from the system’s design will help determine the success of campaign’s efforts. It may also determine the extent to which this campaign serves as a model for future organizing efforts.

In relation to Gene’s diagram, I’m also curious about how to account for the effect of technologically-enhanced data collection and social networking capacities that the campaign is also utilizing. Does this operate outside or alongside the organizational network diagram?

Updated: My apologies to Rachel Anderson for not providing proper attribution in the original version of this post. I have altered the title and text of this post to reflect Gene’s comment (below). Since the post has already been published, I’m going to leave the URL unchanged, however.

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3 Responses to “Rachel Anderson and Gene Koo’s Network Analysis of the Obama Campaign”

  1. anderkoo Says:

    First, significant credit goes to my partner Rachel Anderson for helping work this out for me. Rachel was one of the trainers for Camp Obama in Georgia and California in summer 2007, which laid the groundwork for these neighborhood teams.

    Second, you’re absolutely right that there’s a lot of inconsistency in how these teams function. The biggest disparities are probably among states, though, as different statewide directors have different philosophies of how to run the show. This was apparent in the primaries, and it’s apparent now. Last weekend in NH, it was clear that the field office we’d picked did NOT employ the neighborhood teams model. But “true believers” like Jeremy (Ohio), Buffy (Missouri), and others — essentially, Marshall disciples, and maybe some converts — are working hard to make reality fit that ideal picture.

    BTW, having seen how an Obama E-Day boilerroom is set up, and buttressed with the Nation’s reporting that you’d cited yesterday, I would be surprised if the campaign did not have a very strong sense of which neighborhood teams were under- and over-performing. As Zack had reported in his piece, every night organizers push their numbers up the chain, and managers derive a pretty strong idea of both how it’s going in the field and how teams are performing (assuming the data are trustworthy). The question I have is whether the campaign has effective interventions should they find a team floundering, and whether they have the resources to deploy those interventions.

  2. aaron Says:

    Thanks Gene (and sorry, Rachel!). I didn’t have the full story earlier, so this does help contextualize things. See my corrections and apology above.

    The intel about the significance of state directors and the E-day room is fascinating. I agree that in light of what Melber’s piece in the nation, there can be little doubt that the campaign has a fairly accurate picture of what’s going on across the board.

    I’m tempted to think that a floundering state would draw reinforcements from the top, but that may or may not be the case. This is a question we’ll have to take up with Marshall and Jeremy (as part of the post-mortem).

  3. anderkoo Says:

    No apology necessary; Rachel was just giving me an earful for leaving her off MY post. Heh.

    FiveThirtyEight has been doing door-to-door coverage in Ohio this past week, so we’ve been getting first-hand accounts. It’s possible, of course, that they’ve let the campaign direct them to the most spectacular successes, e.g. longtime Republican-cum-Obama community director Debrah Harleston, who manages three (!) teams. Still the story they give meshes with Zack’s, and the moving up the ranks through increasing levels of commitment is classic Marshall Ganz operations.

    There’s repeated references to a lackidasical McCain ground effort, but I won’t believe that until I get right-leaning citizen journalists confirming it. As Sean Quinn pointed out in an earlier 538 piece, the Bush-Cheney team relied heavily on peer-to-peer organizing in 2004, and I just can’t believe that the machinery would fall apart in a mere 4 years. Such efforts, if they take place in private (e.g. church networks), can be hard to spot. On the other hand, they’re not invisible.


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