My wishlist for our new Chief Technology Officer

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When I saw the job advert for a party’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO), I was very excited.

As someone who works as a Head of Product Development for a startup, and has previously worked as a consultant specifically around digital strategy transformation, I see a great opportunity for the party.

To me, it seems the party’s current technology systems consist of tools that were bought off-the-shelf and are (mostly) perfectly good at doing what they were bought for. But these tools tend to be isolated, and coherence when trying to join things together, as anyone who’s ever run a Typeform survey and then had to manually get it into Connect will tell you. Now HQ have hired that CTO, here are my 2 main wishes: get a powerful foundation for data in place, and build a culture of open source around it.

Connect forms the backbone of our data operations, but Connect is an all-in-one system as both a database, and the interface to that database. If we want to do something that Connect doesn’t do, we either have to contort our workflow to match the way Connect wants us to do it, or we have to bolt something on around it (such as Registr for uploading marked registers, or the various tools for syncing between Connect and other systems, or the enhanced Walk Manager tools I’ve seen people have in place). I would love to have a separation between the database, and the user interfaces to get data in, out, or processed, within it. With a core database, both HQ and talented volunteers (such as those who’ve produced tools like Registr) can build additional tools that expose and manipulate that data depending on the exact task needed, making it easier to get additional data in to our central store (enhancing the value of our data, and making it useful for micro-targeting, as Alisha Lewis’s recent blog post advocates), and to then act on that data in a way designed to match the way our campaigning works. By federating our campaigning tools and access to data in this way, it makes it much easier to unlock latent talent and opportunity within the party, as well as making it easier to evolve our campaigning tools as our campaigning techniques improve.

Of course, data security and GDPR compliance must live at the heart of this ecosystem of tools, which is why in additional to this central database HQ must also provide a single sign on for Lib Dem members. This provides a single point of truth for the access level of an individual campaigner, making granting, revoking and auditing that access across all of our many data sources simple.

So these are my wishes to our new CTO: get the big picture of our tech into shape with the strong foundations of a core database and permissions system, and some core campaigning tools around that, but to also leverage talented volunteers who can then build a wider ecosystem of tools, enhanced data and workflows to maximise the value and insight our data can give us.

* Chris Northwood (she/her) is a councillor in Manchester, deputy group leader of the Manchester Liberal Democrats and member of Federal Council.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and Party policy and internal matters.


  • This is a massively helpful article and referenced blog article.

    There is a real challenge for us older activists to use and embrace new technology. When I started the older activists were greatly against using the phone.

    There can also be a tendency for newer activists to think newer technology is the answer to everything. I may be old fashioned but I think that Focus still has a massive role. I think it is still fairly difficult to target a street or even a ward online if it isn’t then please someone enlighten me!

    The best campaigns I have seen combine offline and online.

  • Simon Banks 4th Nov '20 - 10:07am

    This looks excellent: the sort of strategic thinking we engage too rarely. As a non-techy person, I’d just add that too many systems are either, as Chris says, bought off the shelf without the kind of what-goes-well-with-what thinking most people do when they buy clothes, and/or are devised by people in love with all the marvellous things the system can do (or, in the case of the website, how pretty and trendy it looks); ignorant of or uninterested in what most users actually need to get out of it; and underestimating how difficult many users will find it without an easily accessible set of instructions. Systems should be devised or bought by people who’ve gone and seen (remotely if necessary) what users are wanting and experiencing.

  • Peter Parsons 4th Nov '20 - 4:34pm

    @Michael 1, paid-for advertising on social media platforms allows people to get very granular in terms of targetting, down to the level of individual post codes, and then even filter below that level, so that two people who are neighbours can be targetted with different adverts based on other preferences they have, interactions etc.

    Of course, this only works for people who are active on social media, but the level of granularity some of these platforms provide is quite frightening/impressive. It’s how they make their money and are able to offer free signup for individuals.

  • Can I add a request that the new CTO looks at providing an alternative platform for internal party business and discussions so that we can stop using Facebook?

    I understand that we need a voter-facing Facebook presence, but there is no excuse for forcing members onto that platform for internal party stuff. It’s hard to think of a company less aligned with our liberal principles than Facebook.

  • Peter Chambers 5th Nov '20 - 7:54pm

    @Nick Baird
    Yes, that. It is difficult to square our obligations under the GDPR with the business model of surveillance capitalism.

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