So the votes have been counted and rechecked, and Ireland appears to be stumped as to what the next step is in appointing a new government? Are we going to go to the polls again in a few months? If so, then we may need to leverage a clever piece of technology to help us (re) decide.
After several weeks of intense political discussion, we had the pleasure of meeting with Keith Moore, creator of the highly-popular Smartvote.ie. Launched on 13 January 2016, this online tool gained huge momentum in the weeks leading up to the election and is credited with helping voters sense-check their gut instinct, about which candidates would best represent their interests.
So how did Smartvote.ie come to be? Keith Moore was undertaking a Post-grad at the UCD Innovation Academy in 2014 just after the local elections took place. With so much confusion, propaganda and every candidate claiming to be the one who best represented his interests, he identified a need for a simple method of ascertaining whom he should be voting for. So using the Standford Design Process, he started creating a website that identified all candidates in each constituency, clearly outlining their policies and commitments.
The comprehensive matching system informed users which of their local candidates held the same set of beliefs and priorities. Keith’s project was quickly earmarked by the UCD Innovation Academy, as one with potential and much of the early customer validation was done at the academy. SmartVote won an elevator award from Social Entrepreneurs Ireland and they used the funding to build the site for the General Election. They also established a key partnership with the Union of Students in Ireland. Both organisations saw the benefit of using SmartVote, as a tool to get more students to engage in the election.
Keith was joined by Gordon Rose, who had a tech background. Their complimentary skillsets meant they would soon become a formidable partnership.
“Customer Experience was at the heart of our Development process”, Keith says, “we undertook huge amounts of both primary and secondary research to ensure that we built SmartVote to solve our users problems as simply as possible. It took a lot of persistence and resilience to ensure that we got the political community on board – the site would not have had credibility if we didn’t have as close to full participation as was possible from political candidates.
They first tested their site in March 2015, during the UCD Student Union Elections. This was a demographic that was hugely important to Smartvote, as the 18-25 age group had a reputation of apathy and uncertainty in elections, and often refrained from voting or veered towards whom their parents vote for. Keith points out that “The referendum in May 2015 showed us that this age demographic are more than prepared to vote with their feet – and in many cases incur costs by returning home (in the case of the diaspora) to make their point – when they feel properly informed or engaged with an issue or particular topic’. Indeed the second outing for Smartvote was for the Carlow-Kilkenny By-Election on the same day as the referendum. 98% of people who used the site for the By-Election said they would use it again for the General Election.
On a shoestring budget, Smartvote.ie was launched in the Mansion House and got huge media coverage straight away. On day 1 they featured on the George Hook Show, RTE’s Drivetime, 98FM, Today FM and were seen in several Newspaper articles. Over the next few weeks they would also appear on the Ray Darcy Show, Spintalks, UTV Ireland and on several local and College radio stations. They were mentioned in over 30 articles altogether, including the Irish Times, Sunday Times and The Journal. They were also part of the CountUsIn Campaign, launched by the Irish Independent.
Social media became an important vehicle for the site, with no less than 5000 shares of the URL on Facebook, and impressive social media statistics via other social channels. They launched the #MakeASmartVote Campaign with the Union of Students in Ireland and trended in the top ten on twitter several times. USI visited universities all around the country, holding Husting Debates and getting students to try Smartvote. By the time the election came, total site users were at over 255k and in a very short time since the official launch, the product has quickly become the go-to site for the election, amongst the web-using Irish community.
So what’s next for Smartvote? Well, if Ireland does need to call a new election, no doubt the site will continue to enjoy success. But Keith and Gordon have their eyes on international markets now, and the goal is to take the product into new territories.
Keith explains, “Now that we have proved the benefits of the site, we are looking for investors to take Smartvote overseas. We have other ideas of how the site can be used to bridge the communications gap between voters and public representatives. We also want to explore how Smartvote can be used as an education tool in schools.”
So if you are looking to invest in this innovative partnership, email firstname.lastname@example.org before someone else does.