From Beliefs To Strategy

Many tech firms have declared their commitment to being “objective”. That’s certainly a noble aim, but so long as companies are made up of human beings, it’s an illusion. No human being, not a scientist, researcher, journalist or CEO, can ever be completely objective. At Helm, we think that it is more productive to accept that our unique experiences and our commitment to a particular future shape our work. Informed by our shared beliefs, we’re committed to a strategy for change that empowers individuals and groups through community organizing, to stabilize and expand our democracy, and to advance equity. Here, we want to not only explain what we believe and our strategy for change, but invite reactions, alternative perspectives and constructive criticism. So here we go! Our Vision

At Helm, we strive to equip everyone with organizing superpowers. But more broadly and importantly, we know that community members have unique expertise about their communities. We therefore want to build a platform that enables people to build power in their communities in ways that they see fit. By then evaluating which strategies effectively empowered different communities, we can determine what tactics actually enable people to realize change and determine what advances equitability in the long-term. In this way, the ultimate value promise of Helm is to prove impact over time that makes the world more equitable for all. Our Beliefs While we have a lot of questions at Helm, we also have core beliefs that shape our work from our vision to product decisions to model weights, but are most visceral as reflected in our strategy for change. Here are those beliefs: We believe in year-round organizing. Civic engagement requires a long-term commitment — it isn’t an undertaking to be abandoned after every election. A strong and healthy democracy starts with people engaging in their communities day-in-and-day-out to drive progress toward their shared goals. In this sense democracy is an outgrowth of community with many ways participation can be expressed. We believe in equitability. The northstar for our work is equitability. At Helm, one of our goals is to build the first-ever citizen engagement platform designed to bring people together, and move us forward. We would like to see the world become more equitable for all. We focus on equitability — as opposed to equality — because it is sensitive to existing forces and structural barriers that advance some individuals while oppressing others and offers tailored tools to reduce inequity. We believe in science. We talk, survey, and test ideas with people towards the goal of learning about individuals' pain points, needs, wants, goals, and motivations. In the same way this approach has helped scientists learn how to help folks save money, exercise and eat healthier, we think we can help people become more civically engaged in their local communities. Our Strategy

We have developed a strategic framework for explaining what we believe community organizing and political advocacy can achieve that provides the needed context that allows us to explain behavior and make predictions. As a result, at Helm, we have a set of hypotheses on what tactics and behaviors could manifest in outcomes that create impact. Over time these hypotheses will either be supported or not based on rigorous research. Our strategy for change operates based on:

  • what people can do on their own within their communities

  • what organizations can do at scale, and

  • what people and organizations can achieve together.

Through our work, we want to understand people’s motivations and their actions so that we can build the right tools, data, content and models to make it easier to participate in their communities and our democracy. To improve people’s daily lives we hope to empower them to participate in their communities, to vote, to organize, to run for office, and to take other actions, especially at the local and state level. We acknowledge that our strategy won’t be one-size-fits all across communities and embrace that this nuance and complexity is where the most learning and opportunity exists. Our Research Our research team is actively conducting interviews and experiments to help us support or refute the hypotheses that emerges from our strategic framework. At the moment, we are working to validate the aspects of identity that build community and by extension understand how community drives civic engagement and measure whether communities with higher civic engagement are more powerful. But there is always more to do! For example:

  • We want to understand a lot about people as the building blocks of connection and community.

  • We want to measure civic engagement that’s happening at a community level–including, but not limited to, political engagement — with a richness not commonly measured.

  • We want to know how often, to whom, and by what means, people are talking, organizing, supporting initiatives and sharing information.

  • We want to wrap our heads around how to define “equitability”, informed by principles of intersectionality.

Our work is ongoing - no end date is in sight. And we fully expect that our thinking will change and our ideas will evolve the more we learn, and the more we hear from you. Please offer your perspective. Throw challenges in our direction. Share your experience. Suggest something we can explore together. We can’t wait to hear from you:

  • What are the values and beliefs that shape the work you or your organization do?

  • If you have built a community before, how did you go about that and what have you learned? What makes that community unique?

  • Our northstar is equitability. What's yours?

  • What hypotheses are you testing? What have you learned?

Sarah Stamper, PhD, is the SVP of Science and Innovation at Helm.