BallotPath founder Jim Cupples sent me a follow-up note (see below), and it hits home two important points.
First, if someone is excited about a civic or government technology idea, and they reach out to you for advice or feedback, take the call and listen. Don’t be dismissive or unload your cynicism. Be encouraging.
I’m guilty of the former at times but, more and more, have made a conscious effort to be less so. It’s easy for those of us who’ve been doing this for a while to be cynical, but we’re the ones that should be the most helpful. Often, I see colleagues failing on this front. Jim’s note is a strong reminder that I need to be better about this, and I thank him for that.
Second, if you’re like Jim and are excited about changing how civics works, don’t let the curmudgeons bring you down. As with any new venture, the chances of failure are high, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a try and see it through. This goes for the civic entrepreneur or the government bureaucrat.
With his permission, here’s the full email from Jim.
Keep plugging away.
A long time ago I emailed you through LinkedIn and you encouraged me to keep plugging away at my project of building a national database of all elected officials.
I was new to civic tech and didn’t know anyone and rarely received any support. Most people said to me (unnecessarily aggressive and condescendingly) “How are you going to make money with that?” but I didn’t care because I had this need to continue working on it.
Fast forward 18 or so months later and I’ve: received funding from the Sunlight Foundation, completed the entire state of Oregon and 50 of the Top 100 Counties in the US, found a permanent position with NationBuilder working on the project with their tech resources, and have a network of universities around the country that help me recruit political science interns to do the candidacy filing procedure research (almost all of the UC schools, U of Oregon, U of Washington, Boise State, U of Hawaii, CUNY, and others).
Thanks for responding to me when you didn’t know who I was and probably seemed like a lot of other people who have a passing thought on a project.
I’m confident that we’ll have the entire data for the US completed by 2017 and we’ll be launching the site this fall.
Wouldn’t have happened without a few people like yourself taking me serious and encouraging me.