The Shenkman Initiative: Applying Big Data for Political Success

The transformation of politics in connection with the use of the Internet continues to astonish, empower, and challenge. The latest digital innovation to enter the campaign manager’s tool chest is “big data,” the computational and analytic processes keyed to large quantities of information about citizens compiled from multiple sources.

Campaigns are using big data to go small, finding multitudes of new niche demographics on voter rolls and specifically targeting them with finely tuned messages designed to get them to turn out on Election Day.

The information obtained through big data has potential applications in almost every aspect of our lives, from health care to commercial marketing to law enforcement. As that expansion continues, it is likely that the field of politics will continue to innovate in the field of big data, as it has done from the start.

The Shenkman Initiative seeks to research and teach the best ways to combine statistical elements, algorithmic formulas, intelligent analysis, and collaborative action in order to help make democracy work.

History and Mission of the Shenkman Initiative

The Initiative was established in 2013 thanks to a generous and visionary bequest from Mark Shenkman. Its mission is to:

  • Collect testimony from political professionals and informed observers
  • Evaluate this primary research in light of what we know about the practice of political management
  • Disseminate what we learn to current and future practitioners and the interested public
  • Teach the proper and effective use of big data in Graduate School of Political Management courses and executive workshops 

 The Initiative consists of three parts: a seminar series, research program, and course development.

Seminar Series

To stay abreast of the work done on this subject at the George Washington University and elsewhere, the Initiative will periodically convene seminars featuring practitioners, scholars, and students in dialogue on the latest developments in big data.

Previous events have engaged academic and corporate leaders on the latest developments in data analytics and campaigning.

Research Program

GSPM’s Global Center for Political Engagement has launched a multi-method inquiry to examine big data analytics sales and implementation activities performed by political consultants as they meet with candidates, parties, PACs, activists, and other political entities and players planning to or already involved in campaigns to win elections, advocate policy positions, and effect public opinion and behavior in the 2014 campaign cycle and beyond.

Course Development

As the first school of applied politics, GSPM has always sought to give its students training in the latest tools and tactics. Accordingly, the school’s core research methods course, “Political Data and Analytics” will incorporate information on big data learned from Shenkman Initiative discoveries. Additionally, a cluster of courses dedicated to the teaching of how to apply big data for political success: “Digital Strategy,” “Targeting and Voter Contact,” “Maximizing Social Media,” and “Digital Content Creation,” are set to debut in the coming years. 

For more information about the Shenkman Initiative contact Michael Cornfield