DEADLINE EXTENDED: Pluribus Project & New Media Ventures Open Call to Fix Our Democracy

Apply Now!

Deadline for applications is now Monday, January 25th 2016 at 12noon PT / 3pm ET.

Shaping a more representative democracy

Our democracy feels broken, held hostage by powerful special interests. It’s time to take it back. But how?

Everyday citizens and broad public interests – not narrow special interests – belong at the center of our politics. We believe it’s time to disrupt how political campaigns are run so that we’re electing representatives who are accountable to all, beholden to none, and committed to getting things done for their constituents.

And now is the time.  Voter turnout is dropping while public frustration with the political status quo is at historic highs, the largest and most diverse generation ever is entering the electorate, and new technologies are transforming how we communicate and disrupting entrenched interests across industries. Yet, how campaigns for political office operate on both sides of the aisle is increasingly outdated, and influence is increasingly concentrated. Think about it: The typical campaign relies on pollsters calling landlines, negative ads on live television, and donors who can fund these expensive tactics.

Presentation at the Aspen Ideas Festival where the Pluribus Project’s Executive Director Lucas Welch first rolled out this idea of disrupting campaigns as a path to fixing our democracy.

We want to work with innovators, researchers, and responsible citizens to help create a new competitive campaign playbook – a People Powered Playbook – that incentivizes candidates to feel more accountable to, and ultimately to represent, the full diversity of their electorate.

Through this Open Call, we aim to select and support approximately 10 proposals that work toward a goal of fixing our democracy by enhancing the role of people in the process, creating the initial building blocks of this new People Powered Playbook. These will include early-stage, for-profit and nonprofit ventures as well as research projects based on rigorous field experimentation.

Selected projects (both ventures and research) will be eligible for financial support, ranging from $10,000 to $100,000, from the Pluribus Project and its network of foundation and individual donors, and will be featured to additional donors and potential supporters through various media and events including the Aspen Ideas Festival. Selected ventures will also be eligible for $50,000 in funding (in the form of grants for nonprofits, investments for for-profits) from the New Media Ventures (NMV) Innovation Fund and for participation in the NMV startup support program, and will be featured to NMV’s network of angel investors and grant-makers.

We believe that with a sense of collective purpose, some trial and error, and the ingenuity of the many (that’s you), there is real opportunity right now to reinvent how our political campaigns are run and ultimately, to help create a more representative and responsive democracy that will improve the lives of Americans for generations to come.

Let’s fix our democracy.

What kind of impact are we looking for?

We believe that a fundamental pillar of our federal government – our system of representation – has been compromised. We believe our elected officials are working more effectively today on behalf of narrow special interests than they are on behalf of broad public interests.

To be clear, we don’t think that’s because our elected officials are bad people.   We believe individuals heed who they need, and the unfortunate fact of the matter is that the dominant “playbook” for winning office today means needing, and therefore heeding, donors, party elites, and partisan ideologues more than everyday citizens. And candidates that do win feel enormous pressure to represent those interests over broader public interests once in office, regardless of the issue: our economy, our security, our environment, our children’s education, etc.

We want to look at how we can leverage our society’s remarkable capacity to innovate to cultivate an alternative playbook for winning office so that candidates can mount a competitive campaign while relying on a broader cross-section of the electorate. In brief, we want to help develop a competitive “People Powered Playbook.”

We think that would be a big deal for a few reasons. It would give new people, disadvantaged by the requirements of modern campaigns, a shot at winning and even if only a few of them won, the beauty of our political system is that would inspire others to run as well. If those who use the new playbook are successful over time, we would have more congressional representatives who got there relying on their electorates and as a result a Congress that is more incentivized to respond to broad public interests. The goal is not to help or hurt particular candidates, but to create an electoral system in which broad public interests are more important than narrow special interests.

What the #%*@ is a People Powered Playbook and what the #%*@ makes you think that’s even possible?

We are living in a time of profound change – there are a number of “tectonic shifts” our society is undergoing: technological shifts disrupting one entrenched industry after another; demographic shifts, with a very different electorate on the horizon; and socioeconomic shifts, with people reaching historic levels of frustration with the status quo. The way campaigns are won ten years from now will look very different than it did ten years ago. That does not necessarily mean campaigns will change the way we want them to. They could get much worse. We are hopeful however that with some wise analysis regarding how those tectonic shifts are likely to influence campaigns and a willingness to take risks, we can help catalyze and accelerate innovation that 1) makes a new way of winning possible by engaging constituents more than special interests and 2) encourages the winners to feel accountable to a broader cross-section of their electorate.

Regarding what that People Powered Playbook would look like, we have organized our thinking around two foundational questions:

  1. What objectives do Congressional campaigns have to achieve in order to compete successfully?
  2. How might the effectiveness of more People Powered tools and tactics for achieving those objectives be increased relative to conventional tools and tactics?

Answering the first question is fairly straightforward. We have assembled the following list of key campaign objectives:

  • Understand Public Opinion
  • Gather and Organize Voter Information
  • Craft Effective Messaging
  • Disseminate Media Content to Target Demographic
  • Personally Connect with Voters
  • Leverage Support & Endorsements Effectively
  • Get Out the Vote
  • Raise Sufficient Money

Answering the second question is more complicated. We have identified three broad levers through which innovations, interventions, and societal shifts could influence what approaches to achieving those objectives are considered most effective:

  • Increase the ROI of a People Powered Approach – The ROI could be increased either by improving the “return” (results) or lowering the “investment” (cost in time, money, reputation, etc) associated with that approach (e.g., developing better ways of leveraging a broad network of people to share media as a way of disseminating media as opposed to paid advertising that relies on narrow subset of donors).
  • Decrease the ROI of the Conventional Approach – Similarly, the ROI of a conventional approach (one that relies on special interests more than broad public engagement) could be decreased either by lowering the “return” or increasing the “investment” associated with that approach (e.g., mobilizing broader adoption of ad blockers to diminish the return on paid advertising).
  • Influence Campaign Culture – The “campaign culture” – the beliefs, values, and practices of campaign professionals – is important because, whether one approach is more effective than another doesn’t matter unless campaign leaders are actually applying it. So we are interested in efforts that could promote the adoption of more people powered tactics within the campaign sector (e.g., research that convincingly shows the diminishing rate of return of traditional polling).

If we combine the objectives with the levers, we end up with a matrix that looks like this:

Increase People Powered ROI Decrease Conventional ROI Influence Campaign Culture
Understand Public Opinion
Gather and Organize Voter Information
Craft Effective Messaging
Disseminate Media Content to Target Demographic
Personally Connect with Voters
Leverage Support & Endorsements Effectively
Get Out the Vote
Raise Sufficient Money

This matrix is how we will organize our analysis to systematically identify and test the most promising opportunities for innovation that would help cultivate a viable people powered playbook. If you choose to apply, it is not a requirement that your proposal fit neatly into this framework. We do want applicants to be clear regarding how your proposal would incentivize more responsive representation, and those that fit into this framework will be given greater consideration.

Why is New Media Ventures partnering with the Pluribus Project on this Open Call?

New Media Ventures is a fund and network of angel investors in tech and media startups that support community building and citizen engagement. Over the past 5 years, New Media Ventures has overseen the investment of more than $6 million into a portfolio of both nonprofit and mission-driven for-profit startups, including Upworthy, Crowdtangle, SumOfUs and TurboVote. We see the work Pluribus is doing to fix our democracy as a critical pre-condition to building the change we want to see in the world. We hope this joint Open Call makes it easier for innovative projects to find the support they need while taking advantage of NMV and Pluribus’ unique areas of expertise. As part of this collaboration, NMV retains sole discretion on its investment decisions.

SELECTION CRITERIA:

Impact: All projects selected as part of the portfolio will be about fixing our democracy, with a preference for those that directly focus on disrupting how campaigns that favor special interests over the general public work (see “IMPACT” section above). But, especially in the venture track, we are open to other approaches – if you have a great idea that you think can increase representation in our political process: make your case.   Other track-specific criteria are listed below.

Timeframe: We are looking for ventures and research projects that will be implemented during the 2016 campaign season.

Focus: We are focusing on projects that aim to help change how the campaign game is played. We are not seeking proposals from projects that aim to change the rules of the game (through new legislation, court rulings or regulatory agency policies) or projects that seek to understand the impacts of such rule changes on campaign practices. We recognize that some ventures or experiments may have implications for electoral policy or may be implemented in contexts where electoral policy is at issue, but policies and their political consequences are not our primary focus. Projects that seek to promote narrow interests, specific candidates or parties rather than broad public interests will not be accepted.

Context: Ultimately, we seek to influence the responsiveness of the U.S. Congress to public interests by cultivating a viable People Powered Playbook for seeking Congressional office both in primary and general elections. We realize that down-ballot races may also present opportunities for experimentation and impact, especially during the upcoming campaign cycle, and that candidates participating in such races may well go on to run for Congress in subsequent years. So we will consider proposals for projects to be undertaken in the context of down-ballot races as well.

A Diversified Portfolio: In reviewing proposals, we will weigh both likelihood of success (risk) and scale of potential impact (return), and we expect to select a portfolio of projects that fall at different points along the continuum. Please, don’t censor yourself. We are open to considering projects that have a higher likelihood of success but that may produce more incremental progress toward our goals – and we are open to high-risk “moon shots” that, if successful, could produce more transformational changes.

Selection Criteria: Ventures

Scalable with a proof of concept: We are structure agnostic – meaning that we will consider both for-profits and nonprofits. We generally prefer ventures with a user base (even if they are only beta users), demonstrated proof of concept and a clear plan for generating revenue and growth. We are also open to considering proposals that apply a proven concept from another realm to the campaign sector or that can point to strong evidence of likely efficacy.

Strong, diverse team: We look for leadership teams that have both the technical and business talent to create something great and then sell it, and who understand their customer base intimately. The strongest teams also have an extensive network of potential customers, advisors and investors that will be there to help them succeed. Finally, we prefer teams that are diverse in gender, race, experiences and backgrounds because that builds resilience.

Selection Criteria: Research

Field-Testing: We have a strong preference for interventions that will be rigorously tested in the real world of campaign politics. We could imagine a scenario where a Randomized Control Trial (RCT) in the field would be infeasible but the study would still advance our goals, and we will consider such proposals. We would also welcome proposals that deploy other methodologies to supplement field experiments, but our bias is toward RCTs in the field.

SELECTION PROCESS:

Applications for the Venture Track will be reviewed and evaluated by the Ventures Screening Committee – a team of expert investors and grantmakers, as well as experts in campaigns, civic engagement, technology and innovation. Applications for the Research Track will be reviewed by the Research Screening Committee – a team of academics as well as domain experts. The final portfolio will be decided on by a Selection Board comprised of members from both Screening Committees as well as a set of thought-leaders selected from the Pluribus Project’s Representation Collaboratory (those involved in the collaborative process of developing this theory of change).  New Media Ventures will finance ventures at its own discretion, using the input of the experts engaged throughout the process.

BUILDING PUBLIC KNOWLEDGE:

A central aim of this project is to advance public knowledge about these topics to make our collective work of fixing our democracy more effective moving forward, and to help us (and you!) make the case for greater investment in successful projects.  To this end, the Pluribus Project will provide all Venture Track projects with resources so that an academic researcher can work with each to develop appropriate tests and assessment measures.  The set-up and on-going costs of this assessment work will be covered, and we will work closely with each project in appropriately promoting results and lessons learned to the public.

APPLY:

Deadline for applications is Monday, January 25th 2016 at 12noon PT / 3pm ET.

Apply Now:

Note: On the application, please click the green button that says “It’s just me.” Do not click “Apply” in the top left hand corner, do not select the “About” or “Discuss” tabs next to the “Application” tab. Please select the button “It’s just me.”  For more details on the application platform, see the FAQs below.

Webinars to learn more and get your questions answered:

  • December 9th at 3pm ET/12pm PT, or
  • December 17th at 3pm ET/12pm PT

To sign up, RSVP here.

Timeline:

  • December 1, 2015 – January 25, 2016: Accepting Applications
  • February 2016: Interviews and Requests for additional information
  • March 2016: Portfolio Announced
  • March 21, 2016: Demo Day and Investor Summit

Other questions? Email us at innovationfund@newmediaventures.org

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:

General

Will all selected projects receive financial support? 

The short answer is not necessarily.   This is a new collaborative approach that we are quite excited about.  We cannot guarantee that every project will receive funding, but all selected projects will be publicly featured and invited to participate in fora with leading foundations, individual donors and other potential supporters.  Please see the related questions in the Venture Track FAQs and Research Track FAQs for a more detailed explanation of funding and support.

Will you accept proposals that are not specifically about political campaign tactics?

The projects selected are intended to collectively make up the initial building blocks of a new People Powered Playbook that we hope will disrupt, and shape, how campaigns run in the future. We are open to considering projects that propose other ways of fostering greater responsiveness and representation from those we elect, so when in doubt, apply! 

Why are you not including policy or “rule” changes in this call?  

There are a number of factors that informed our decision not to focus on the rules of the game as part of this effort: 

• We believe policy is HUGELY important, but there are already a significant number of efforts underway to advance electoral policy reform.

• We also believe that other factors could have a big influence on the underlying incentive structure of political campaigns and there is very little attention or resources allocated to exploring those.  So we think we can make more of a unique and valuable contribution by focusing there.  Not to mention that the practice of campaigns is ripe for disruption that we would like to catalyze!

• We also believe that this approach has two characteristics that make it exciting and compelling: 1) it has the potential to enlist support across the political spectrum, and 2) it does not rely on our elected officials to change the system they are currently benefiting from.

Do all projects have to be non-partisan?

Yes.

Where has the money for the Pluribus Project come from? 

The Pluribus Project was initially started as a project of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) and has received support from the RBF and ten other leading U.S. foundations.

Ventures Track

Who are the NMV network of angel investors? What type of investments do they typically make?

NMV investors are driven by impact and return but each investor has different criteria. Their investments in for-profits typically range from $25 - $100K. The same is true for the NMV network of grantmakers who invest in non-profit projects. Each project selected as part of the joint call portfolio will be shared with the NMV network of angel investors. The projects that receive funding directly from New Media Ventures will qualify for a dedicated support program and access to NMV’s network.

What is the NMV Innovation Fund?

NMV Innovation Fund provides $50,000 and the opportunity to participate in the start up program to ventures that meet the Fund's investment criteria and mission. Learn more about the NMV mission here. The NMV Innovation Fund investments are convertible debt to for-profits and grants to nonprofits. Each venture selected for the joint call portfolio will be considered for (but not guaranteed investment) by the NMV Innovation Fund.

What about projects that are selected as part of the joint call portfolio but not selected for investment by the NMV Innovation Fund?

Projects that are not supported by NMV but clearly serve a charitable purpose that aligns with Pluribus’ mission will be publicly featured and invited to participate in fora with leading foundations, individual donors, and other potential supporters.

What types of ventures have been funded in the past?

This is the first joint call that the Pluribus Project and New Media Ventures have done together. For the types of ventures supported by New Media Ventures in the past, check out their portfolio.

Can previous NMV Innovation Fund applicants and recipients apply?

Yes. Past New Media Venture Innovation Fund applicants and winners are welcome to apply to this Open Call.

If no "investor pitch deck" is currently prepared, does that impact the Venture Track application?

Yes. Put one together. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but we need one. Our Ventures Screening Committee will look at it primarily.

Is NMV an accelerator?

No. It’s a light-touch support program including an opportunity to pitch investors.

Research Track

What size projects should apply?

We are looking to support research projects at levels ranging from $10,000 to $75,000. 

Who is eligible to apply? Do I have to be a professor or graduate student at a research institution to apply?

You do not have to be a professor or graduate student at a research institution to apply, although previous experience conducting and presenting relevant research will be a significant consideration in the selection process. 

Will you consider research projects that might constitute “political activity,” according to the IRS?

Yes. Applicants should be aware, though, that the Pluribus Project is part of a 501c3 organization and as such cannot provide any support (financial or otherwise) to any partisan political activity. The Pluribus Project will review proposals that might constitute political activity and those that meet the selection criteria will be featured in publications and referred to an affiliated non-partisan 501(c)(4) organization that, while we can’t make any representations about funding on their behalf, will help to identify individual funders for those projects. 

Is this funding limited to “direct research” related expenses only?

No. Funding could be applied to cover salaries and overhead expenses, although overhead rates above 10% are unlikely to get funded. The higher the percentage of “direct research” expenses (either related to the intervention or its evaluation), the stronger the proposal will be.

Can the funding be used for presentations and outreach following the research?

Not at this time. A key long-term aim of our project, however, is to promote awareness about research that encourages more people powered tactics, so it is possible that funding for presentations and outreach could be available in the future.

Application Platform Questions (F6S)

What is F6S?

F6S is the platform used to process your application, it is not our product, but one we are excited to be testing. If you are unfamiliar with F6S, please read the full FAQ section below. You are also invited to attended the upcoming informational webinars, which will include a guided tour of F6S.  You can RSVP for the webinar here.

I clicked the link, but it’s asking me to create an account or sign in with Facebook/LinkedIn! What should I do?

You can either create a new account by logging in with Facebook, LinkedIn, or your email, or you can log in to your existing account using Facebook, LinkedIn, or your email. Do not worry; once you do this, you will return to the application.

When I get to the application I see so many options! What do I do?

Please select the green button that says “It’s just me.” Do not click “Apply” in the top left hand corner, do not select the “About” or “Discuss” tabs next to the “Application” tab. Please select the button “It’s just me.”

My organization has a team of co founders - do I apply as a team or as an individual?

We request that ALL applicants select the option to apply as an individual by clicking the “It’s just me” button upon login, even if you have cofounders. This streamlines the application process. You will not be automatically assumed to be a single person entity. You will have the opportunity to include information on all cofounders inside of the application itself.

Should I click the green button that says “Want to expand your team?”

No. Please proceed to fill out the application by beginning with the “A bit about you” section.

I already began my application as a team. Will my application still be considered?

Yes. While the individual applicant format is preferred, we will still receive (and consider) applications submitted as a team.

The application system (F6S) froze on me! This button doesn’t work! Etc.

F6S is a moody creature. Give it time and try again; it may be in a better mood in ten minutes. If problems persist, email adomalewski AT newmediaventures DOT org.

Do I have to fill everything out?

No, we only require you to answer questions with an * next to them.

I clicked something and can’t find the application! What do I do?

Stick to the original link (here for Venture and here for Research) and you’ll be fine.

I’m not done yet, but have to go do something else. What do I do?

While F6S (the application system) does have an autosave function, it is imperfect and may lose some of your data. We strongly recommend saving a backup of all of your answers.

What is this “Recommendations” thing at the bottom?

Please ignore it.

I’m finished! What’s next?

Did you click Submit Final at the bottom? Did you see a window that asks, “Are you sure you want to submit your final application? You will not be able to make any changes after finalizing,” and did you click “Continue”? If no, you are not done.

Go do those things. I’ll wait.

Great! You have officially submitted your application, and will hear from us shortly about next steps.

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