Josef Lentsch was the Director of NEOS Lab, the think tank of NEOS, and a former Board Member of the European Liberal Forum.

Designing political startups for exponential growth means designing them, at least partially, as a network of real-life, digitally supported, highly self-organised networks.

“We started with the simple idea that we had to set up something that was very easy for people to use.” Julien Tassy, the Director of Marketing and Digital of En Marche explains to me how they built the most sophisticated digital infrastructure in French political history. “And very horizontal in the decision making.”

Julien worked at Warner Bros. before, as Senior Digital Platform Manager. At En Marche he arrived to help set up what they called “Comités locaux”, the local committees. At En Marche, every member could set up such a committee, and was free to organise local events or a group of regulars. The idea was to build a digital infrastructure that helped members to create those local structures themselves, rather than the headquarter saying “I need a structure there, a structure there, a structure there”.

They offered it to everybody. Anybody was able to create a little cell anywhere they wanted, with the localisation they wanted. They built a map tool where, after a simple validation process, members could easily set up their local committee, or see whether there was one nearby they wanted to join.

It should just be as easy to join the platform as to leave it. “Freedom to in, freedom to out. We needed a platform to be as flexible as possible, because the easier it is for people to leave, the easier it is for people to come”.

On top of that tool, Julien and his team built a Customer Relationship Management-system (CRM), to allow members to contact other members, and inform them about their activities. Normally, you have CRM first, and tools second. En Marche turned that orthodoxy on its head. After all, that was one of the reasons a lot of those digital platforms did not work well: you had to adjust to the logic of the system, instead of a system that really fit the logic of the user. “It was a little buggy, at times very buggy, but very simple CRM for the people who created the cells. So we didn’t create a CRM for me, Julien, so I can decide to shoot emails to people. I created a CRM that gave the ability to those cells to contact other members nearby.”

For data protection reasons, the system did not give personal information away, however. “Members couldn’t have access to personal information of people they really didn’t know, but had the opportunity to send them information to join them, go to a meeting and stuff like that.”

They sent marketing campaigns to their members saying “There is a committee near you, and here is the link to the map. And if there is no committee near you, here is how to create one.” They did that for about two months. At the end, En Marche had 4,000 local committees across France, with tens of thousands of members organised in them.

Within a few months, En Marche had grown exponentially. It had developed local structures through empowered self-organisation.

This blog is an excerpt from the book “Political Entrepreneurship – How to Build Successful Centrist Political Start-Ups”, published in December 2018 by Springer. The research was partially funded by the European Parliament. Neither the European Parliament nor the European Liberal Forum asbl are responsible for the content of this publication, or for any use that may be made of it. The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) alone. These views do not necessarily reflect those of the European Parliament and/or the European Liberal Forum asbl.

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