On December 7, 2016, Ghanaians went to the polls to vote for their next president, and on December 9, Nana Akufo-Addo and the New Patriotic Party were officially announced as the winners.
With 270's support behind the campaign, I have spent a majority of the past 18 months on the ground in Ghana as a strategic consultant* working directly with the campaign and party leadership to improve the NPP’s voter outreach strategy, build internal coordination systems, and strengthen their Get Out The Vote operations. All of these things, and more, came together beautifully on December 7th – and though it took the Electoral Commission two days to finalize the results, we knew we had won by 10:00 pm on Election Day.
There are a lot of elements that contributed to our success – a focused set of strategies, smart communications and messaging, an empowered IT team, and more – that you can read about in the post-election fanfare. Here are four critical campaign priorities operating in the background that you won’t read about in Ghanaian post-election press:
1. Early investment in grassroots
The NPP began its campaign in earnest in 2015. We ran an orientation for trainers focused on grassroots outreach – or as the soon-to-be named Campaign Manager, Peter Mac Manu coined it, ‘retail campaigning.’ This established a critical message for the party: The election would be won or lost at the polling station level.
It did not matter if you were a fisherman, farmer, banker, or presidential candidate – the party approached each and every voter as equal. We made the early call to build an operation capable of holding face-to-face conversations with each and every voter.
2. Increasing accountability and transparency
The campaign’s leadership noted that a major pain point from past elections was an inability to know what was actually happening on the ground. Similarly, folks on the ground said they were often in the dark about leadership’s plans and activities – only finding out at the last minute or after the fact.
We developed internal communications platforms and planning tools that forced all levels to develop and share their plans and progress with one another. This pushed leadership to plan well in advance so folks on the ground had ample time to develop and share their plans as well. The platforms were then used to communicate progress, flag issues, and share best practices up and down the chain of command. Many of these platforms are still in use today for the regions and constituencies to stay abreast of post-election activities, and for coordination related to campaign wrap-up, the inauguration, and transition.
3. Stress test internal processes and systems
Practice makes perfect, yet in campaigns you often only get one chance to get it right. We sought to change that by creating opportunities to stress test our strategies, systems, and people. We used existing campaign milestones – such as Ghana’s limited voting registration period – and manufactured mobilization dates, such as our polling station results and collation “dry run,” to find holes in our systems and opportunities for improvement on Election Day. This was essential for taking our plans from ideal to realistic.
For example, we planned to receive all polling station results within two to three hours of polls closing. There was some pushback from the rural areas, but everyone at the national level agreed it could be done. So I set out to Afram Plains South constituency, to test out our planning and systems. From there, I went to the furthest polling station in the constituency – which required a one-hour drive, 90-minute boat ride, and one-mile walk. Not surprisingly, our plans and expectations had to be adjusted for rural constituencies and polling stations.
4. Training at all levels
Training was essential for our operations. Training occurred at all levels – senior leadership down to the polling station level – and incorporated experiential learning, role play, and activities/exercises. There is no way around proper and effective training.
If you followed the election closely, you undoubtedly heard about the success of the IT systems and team. You (should) know about the nation-wide tours and use of smaller rallies and community conversations. And you’re probably well aware of the multi-platform messaging tactics used throughout the campaign. All of these were core pillars for the campaign’s success. But for campaign professionals, you have to dig a little deeper to find the supports that help shape, strengthen, and support these pillars.
The hours were long, and the task was demanding, but ultimately we ran a campaign we are proud of. Throughout the process, we created and refined organizing tactics that will be used in future campaigns in the area. And perhaps most importantly, this election has become a win for democracy in the region, serving as an example to surrounding nations. We look forward to inauguration on January 7, 2017, and are excited to be able to lead Ghana forward in the new year.