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[Op-Ed] Why You Should Take the Tech Community Survey

BY Gina Cooper | Wednesday, October 9 2013

Attendees at PDF 2013 (By Esty Stein and Personal Democracy Forum)

It’s week two of the federal government shutdown and it’s difficult not to get depressed at what passes for American political discourse these days. Yet just a few days ago Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gave hope for a more free Iran in a reply tweet to Twitter founder Jack Dorsey. Here, it is hard to not be optimistic, even if cautiously.

Optimism about possibilities and frustration with the status quo are defining characteristics of tech-politics nerds. Last week in a San Francisco interview, Marc Andreessen, someone known for occasional dives into tech-politics nerdiness, nailed it:

"We’ve got problems, we’ve education, we’ve got health care, we’ve got all these problems. But I think they are all fixable over a long enough timeframe with enough effort. If we channel enough effort into doing the right things we’ll do really really well."

Technology impacts everything, not just our economy. There’s probably not a single regular reader of techPresident who doesn’t know this and who doesn’t believe in the potential of technology to fundamentally transform government, politics and every aspect of the civic space. But what isn’t known, at least not to many outside of tech-politics discussion circles, is who these people are who are creating the tools of our modern democracy.

Solving that problem is the goal of our new organization, TechAdvocacy.US. Our first project, the Tech Community Survey, is about helping the tech community speak for itself and about itself to Washington DC and everyone who is interested. And our report will communicate that information in the language tech knows best: data.

There are a lot of advocacy organizations doing the hard work of engaging Washington on behalf of the tech community. In addition to stalwarts, many new advocacy groups have sprung up to represent tech users, developers, and every niche in between. But like other communities, the tech community is vast and diverse.

In order to fully realize the potential of tech in politics requires bringing to the table two values that are the hallmark of the tech entrepreneurship culture: collaboration and data-driven decision-making. There’s still too much guesswork about the tech community, or as Eric Ries would say, "You can't tell anything from one experiment. You have repeatedly execute the Build-Measure-Learn loop until the answer is obvious." And there are too many sensationalist stories in the media about the technology community instead of thoughtful commentary from it.

There is no existing body of data that actually defines the tech community as a constituency. There is no baseline information for academics and advocates to use as background to launch their own research. There are no numbers for campaigns to plug the tech constituency into their calculus. Legislators are largely unaware of tech communities that exist within their own districts and it is no secret that many in Congress simply do not understand the technology they are trying to regulate. To craft the kind of informed legislation we need requires the expertise of the tech community, not only in Washington DC, but all across the nation in conversation with the American people.

In surveying the technology community we will build a national baseline of information about what tech users and creators care about and will work for in the civic space. And then we will open the data to the public, minus any personally identifying information, of course. By showing how the tech community exists as a measurable, political constituency across the entire country, we’ll help politicians craft informed laws, advocacy groups reach their supporters, and academics study this growing movement.

Visit us at TechAdvocacy.us to learn more about The Technology Community Survey. We hope you will add your voice.

Gina Cooper is the founder of TechAdvocacy.us. She is also the founder and former CEO of Netroots Nation.