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What are we learning from Iowa?

The nation is reeling from Iowa today. The delay in results, due in part to a technology  failure, has confused the public and frustrated campaigns. We are anxious to move beyond the finger-pointing and refocus on key learnings in order to be best prepared for the series of critical primaries ahead. 

Any technology that is critical to a campaign or electoral organization must be built early, be well resourced, and focus relentlessly on reliability and user testing. This requires early investment in core platforms, a rigorous work ethic, and expertise among technologists. 

Campaigns and associated organizations must also integrate their technology into their programs early. Shadow built this app for the Iowa Democratic Party in two months. According to public reporting, some volunteers were being asked to download the app on Election Day. A technical solution should never be a last-minute endeavor. We have to prioritize our tech stack earlier and build it into how we train staff and volunteers. Shadow’s application for Iowa is sadly an example of the grim consequences when that doesn’t happen. 

Iowa is the first of many primary caucuses and elections this year and technology will play a critical role in all of them. So let’s choose to invest early, train and integrate well, and prioritize testing and feedback on the ground throughout. Technology is essential for Democrats to defeat Donald Trump, but technology products are not magic. Early commitment, training, and testing are critical to success.  


Higher Ground Labs is not an investor in Shadow, Inc. and was not involved with providing Shadow’s technology, products or services to the Iowa Democratic Party. We don’t have any more insight into its caucus app than any other reader of the news. Higher Ground Labs is an accelerator and venture fund committed to providing reliable technology to Democratic campaigns and causes. Higher Ground Labs has invested in 37 startups that service over 6,000 campaigns and causes. In 2017, we made a seed investment in Shadow CEO Gerard Niemira’s prior venture, Groundbase, but we no longer own any interest in that company.