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The Groundswell that Pulled Off Radio OFA

BY Nancy Scola | Thursday, February 25 2010

Credit: Organizing for America

Conservative dominance of the airwaves is taken as an article of faith, but Organizing for America is rolling out a new project that intends to equip progressives with the tools to get their voices heard on talk radio. They're calling it "On the Air."

The way is works is that supporters are prompted with the call-in number for a talk radio show that discusses political topics and the option to to listen to the show live. When the timing's right, the volunteer can call the number provided. Importantly, OFA's troops are asked to report back on whether they got on air, and how the call went.

Credit:Organizing for America

On the Air is a shiny new tool, no doubt. But what might be more important for the long-term prospects of Organizing for America -- and its ability to provide back-up to Obama's agenda -- is how On the Air was engineered in the first place.

Organizers say that when they began the radio project, they found that there was no one good database of call-in numbers for the many talk radio shows that dot the United States.

So OFA built a program, called Groundswell, that slices up certain organizational tasks into discrete bits that can be accomplished by individuals but add up to a substantial effort, a la the crowdsourcing efforts of Pro Publica's distributed Reporting Network.

The benefit for volunteers is that it gives them achievable, tangible tasks to do that fit into the nooks and crannies of their day to day lives. The benefit for OFA is that they get buy in to the organization's missing that also has the effect of multiplying the organizing efforts that those on the Democratic National Committee's payroll might hope to achieve.

Organizing for America's new media director Natalie Foster says that both On the Air and Groundswell are part of a drive within Organizing for America to encourage experimentation and creativity amongst staff, particularly those staff with the programming chops to pull something like this off.

The projects, says Foster, "demonstrate what’s great about the 'labs' concept, and having software engineers embedded with our New Media team. Building out the DNC/OFA Innovation Labs was an early decision last year, and Nathan Woodhull does a great job leading that team."

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