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Understanding Political Data as an Asset and Intelligence

This workshop explores how data-driven technologies are used in political influence, in particular what data is collected, bought, and sold to political parties, how this data is used to profile voters and to target political influence, as well as how data is used to enhance the success of a political campaign. Participants, regardless of their expertise, will engage in discussions and activities to grasp the intricacies of different data-driven technologies. The workshop aims to cultivate a collaborative space for participants to share experiences from their personal or professional realms, facilitating the identification of unique investigative paths.

Workshop Overview

Topic: An exploration of how data is used as an asset and to generate intelligence for political election campaigns and influence.


  1. Opening and introducing the topic (35 minutes)
  2. How is data used as a political asset (60 minutes)
  3. How data is used as political intelligence (90 minutes)
  4. Closing (15 minutes)

Audience: Journalists, researchers, activists, technologists and others interested in investigating the use of personal data in politics.


  • To establish a foundational comprehension of the political data technologies framework.
  • To delve into the role of data as a political asset.
  • To explore the use of data as political intelligence.
  • To examine how both uses of data support political influence.

General guidelines for trainers:

  • This workshop is divided into four sessions.
  • The four sessions can be conducted together as a single workshop (for a maximum duration of 3 hours and 30 minutes). The four sessions can also be done as two workshops: Opening + Session 2  (95 minutes) AND Session 3 + 4 Closing (125 minutes).
  • Between sessions, you can add a short break or a quick energizer activity (examples of energizers here).
  • For online workshops, we recommend sharing a timer on the screen during energizers and small group activities.
  • Look out for the “Prepare” note to facilitators. The trainer should prepare the presentation ahead of time as in several sections there are links to the materials and the trainer is expected to select one or more examples to share with the cohort. Whenever possible, adapt any advice, examples and cases to the context of your audience.

Mode of delivery: Online or in-person

Workshop duration (without breaks): 3 hours and 30 minutes

Number of participants: 6 - 24

Related workshops: This workshop can be combined with the workshop How political campaigns use personal data

Relevant articles and guides:

Note on using online tools for workshop activities:

  • When suggesting or providing an online tool for collaborative activities, note-taking or presentations by participants, please make sure that it is freely available and functional for multiple users at the same time, and that it does not require participants to create personal accounts for one-time use (for instance, you could allocate a visitor’s access from one of the tools you already use).
  • Make sure that the tool/platform can be accessible to users with little or no technical experience. This will save time and ensure that each participant can comfortably contribute.
  • Inform participants in advance of the online tools you will use during the session, and allow them to become familiar by watching a tutorial if needed.

Learning Activities

1.Opening and introducing the topic (35 minutes)


  • Introduce yourself and the presentation, have participants introduce themselves.
  • Understand how technologies are used in public political influence campaigns.

Tools / Materials: paper and pens or access to a collaborative digital whiteboard.


  • Before the presentation, prepare for this session by reading: The Political Data Technologies Framework
  • The group activity ‘Election Tools Expedition’ requires participants to identify political campaigns from countries different than their own. In case participants are unable to identify any, or if they all pick the same campaign, it is best to prepare ahead of time a list of political campaigns that occurred in a different region.
Workshop and participant introduction

Read Watch Listen | 15 minutes

Preparation for the trainer:

If you are doing this as a stand-alone workshop (i.e. not connected to the introductory module on "How political campaigns use personal data"):

  • Welcome the participants to the workshop, introduce yourself and your team.
  • Introduce the project (if the workshop is part of a larger initiative) and provide participants with background information about why you are running the workshop and why you feel it is important for the cohort.
  • Discuss ground rules for the workshop. Make it a collaborative process and encourage participants to suggest rules too.
  • You can take more time, if necessary, for this opening session depending on the size of your cohort.
  • Include an icebreaker: allow participants to introduce themselves with a relevant question about what they are hoping to learn.

If you are doing this as a follow-up workshop to "How political campaigns use personal data":

  • Do a quick recap, highlighting the key lessons learned.
  • If the workshop is happening a week or later after the previous one, you can take more time for this.
  • Introduce the participants to the current workshop objectives and agenda.
  • Ask participants to note down themes, questions, people, political parties, tools, technologies and other aspects discussed during the workshop which might be relevant for them if they decide to continue investigations on the topic.
How are data-driven technologies used for political influence? 

Collaborate | 15 minutes

The objective of this section is to explore which tools are used to communicate to voters during political campaigns. This gives participants a basis for the rest of the conversations in this workshop.

[10 minutes] Small groups activity: ‘Election tools expedition’


  • Divide the participants into small groups of 3-4 participants each.

  • Each group will pick a political campaign from a country in a different global region, preferably covering different countries or years.

  • Ask the participants to investigate through search engines or social media which of these tools were used in their chosen political campaign. 

  • Share a list of tools they might look for: billboards and posters, television and radio advertisements, in-person rallies, door-to-door canvassing, social media campaigns, etc.

  • Ask if they can find any more channels that politicians or the political party used to share their messages.

[5 minutes] Activity debrief

  • After groups complete their search, ask the following questions to facilitate a discussion:

    • Which tools did you find were used in the campaign?
    • How do you think these tools contributed to the success or failure of the campaign?
    • Why do you think these tools were used? Do you think the context influenced the choice of tools?
  • Wrap up the exercise with a concluding note, such as:

    • Perhaps the most well-known technologies associated with political influence are platforms such as Facebook. However the channels of influence are far more varied, as we’ve seen through this exercise.
Data-driven technologies used for political influence 

Read Watch Listen | 5 minutes

[5 minutes] Presentation


Prepare a brief introductory presentation including the following points:

  • To develop the advertisements and posts that we see in political campaigns, political parties and the private firms they work with also use less visible, sometime even hidden data-driven technologies.

  • The Influence Industry Project developed a three-part framework to help categorise and make sense of the technologies commonly used by political groups:

    • Data as a Political Asset – datasets with valuable citizen information, such as voter records and consumer data, are considered a valuable asset among political entities.
    • Data as Political Intelligence – the analysis of the datasets to create information which helps to shape campaign strategies.
    • Data as Political Influence – the use of digital influence techniques, which are based on the insights made from the collection of individuals' data. This is the observable content.
  • The workshop will now dive deeper into asset and intelligence which happen behind the scenes of influence.

  • To find out more about influence check out the module: "Data: From Personal to Political".

2.How is data used as a political asset? (60 minutes)

Aim: Explore the acquisition, transformation, and strategic use of consumer data, voter files, and breaches and hacks, in the context of political elections, and understand its value as an asset for entities including political campaigns and private firms.


  • It is recommended to prepare your slides ahead and include key definitions, examples, and sources in your presentation.

  • Throughout this session, you will need to share technology examples with participants, you can find several examples for the corresponding technologies on these pages:

How can consumer data be a political asset?

Read Watch Listen | 35 minutes


Prepare a presentation including the following:

  • There are valuable sets of data on potential voters exchanged between political candidates, acquired from national repositories, bought and sold by for-profit data brokers, or exposed through hacks and leaks by those who want to leverage them.

  • Understanding data as an asset includes a wide range of methods for gathering, hosting, and sharing large quantities of data: *“Assets are items or goods of value that belong to an individual, company or government. Simply put, an asset has the potential to benefit the entity that owns it. Assets can be sold or traded for value.” (Source "Data as a Political Asset")

  • Voter files are the main data asset of a political campaign. “Voter files” can be understood in two ways:

    1. Specific files offered by government on the name and voting location of eligible voters.
    2. Databases of collected information of individual voters used for political campaigning and fundraising purposes (Source: "Voter Files: Political data about you").
  • The data originates from several digital and analog sources (if analog, then at some point a person has inputted it into the database). For example:

    • Public Data such as public records including recorded deeds, tax assessor records, and signed entries into government buildings and census data.
    • Consumer data helps data brokers develop, enrich and eventually sell the insights to companies and political groups who want to target their customers – or, in this case, voters according to their perceived preferences or attributes.
    • Data brokers are pivotal to selling and exchanging consumer data and voter data.
    • Data brokers and analytics companies compile extensive databases of demographic, behavioural, and psychographic insights into voters from various sources.
    • Data the political party collect themselves through sign-in sheets or forms created specifically to collect information on their websites, door-to-door canvassing, and apps.

Prepare: Find and present at least one example from your or your participants' context of a database software used by a political party, or a database from a private firm working in your context.

Voter registry access awareness

Investigate | 15 minutes

[10 minutes] Individual activity: Voter registry


  • Inform participants that in some countries, the electoral registers are publicly accessible.

  • For example: In Chile, the electoral register is freely accessible and holds information on Chileans over 17 years of age. There are regulations against using it for commercial purposes, but there are few other limitations (source: "Data as a Political Asset")

  • Participants will quickly conduct research about whether the electoral register of their country, or the country of their choice, is publicly available.

  • If the register is available, then ask them to try and find out how this data can be used.

  • If the register is not available, then ask them to find out if there were any justifications why not or who does have (non-public) access.

[5 minutes] Activity debrief

  • Recall that elements of voter databases, including email addresses, are known to be traded, sold or made available between candidates and national and local level in some political contexts.

  • These databases form the basis of further data collection on individuals.

  • Ask the participants who information should be included or excluded in a voter registry, and who should, or shouldn’t have access.

Hacks and leaks

Read Watch Listen | 10 minutes


Prepare a presentation including:

  • Explain that data assets can also serve as a political liabilities.

  • Voter data is susceptible to exposure through various means, including malicious hacks, accidental leaks, inadequately configured security settings, or even the physical theft of hardware.

  • When such breaches occur, they typically entail the disclosure of sensitive and personally identifiable information of voters, posing substantial privacy and security risks.

  • Breaches of data may lead to erosion of public trust in the organisations responsible for safeguarding the data, legal ramifications such as fines for non-compliance with data protection regulations, and potential damage to individuals whose personal information is exposed, ranging from identity theft to harassment.

  • These repercussions underscore the critical need for robust cybersecurity measures in the handling of voter data during political elections.

Prepare: Give an example of a leak in your own context, or choose and example from Breaches, Leaks and Hacks: The vulnerable life of voter data

  • Ask participants: what possible uses could these leaks and hacks be for a political party or opposition group?

  • Close the session by summarizing that data from a wide range of sources is available for groups who want to use it to try and create influence:

    • Data brokers, platforms, and political consultancy groups collect data from consumer data, the platforms themselves and also from their own collection techniques to create, maintain, add to and expand their databases.
    • These databases (and the data within) then acts as an asset for the party and/or any company (meaning that it creates value for the group) which increases the incentive to continue maintaining it and adding new data to it.
    • Data can also create a liability for groups who are found to have mismanaged the data.

3.How data is used as political intelligence (90 minutes)

Aim: Explore forms of data as intelligence including A/B testing, third-party tracking, digital listening and psychometric profiling in the context of political elections. 


How can A/B testing be used for political intelligence?

Read Watch Listen | 10 minutes

Presentation instructions:

  • Explain to participants that knowing what the electorate thinks and wants has always been an important part of democratic processes. 

  • Inform the participants that you will be looking into these technologies and how they are used to gather political intelligence on the success of a campaign.

  • One of these method is: A/B testing, sometimes called split testing, which compares two or more variants of an advertisement or message to determine which one performs best.

    • A/B testing has been integrated into campaigning and has become part of standard campaign practice for websites, emails (subject lines, bodies), design elements (images, background buttons), headlines, direct mail, TV, radio, phone calls and even texting to "find the right messaging."

Prepare: Share with the participants 1-2 examples of A/B testing that are relevant to your context. You can see some examples we've prepared here "A/B Testing: Experiments in campaign messaging".

  • Ask participants if they see any pros or cons to A/B testing.

    • Some pros could be: A/B testing can challenge traditional decision-making processes and allow campaigns to test assumptions.
    • Some cons could be: some people will have to see the less popular option so they can become alienated, issues about transparency, manipulation and accountability can come up and might impact democratic processes.
How can third-party tracking be used for political intelligence?

Practice | 25 minutes

[10 minutes] Individual activity: Digital footprint discovery


  • Trackography is an online tool developed by Tactical Tech that visually illustrates who tracks us online and where our data travels to when we access websites.

    • Note: this tool is only intended to show the structure of tracking and how data travels, the https://trackography.org website has not been updated since 2018 and has no future updates planned.
  • In particular, by using this tool as a safe practice space, participants will understand how companies track them when they browse the internet, which countries host the servers of the websites they access, and what countries host the servers of tracking companies.

  • Ask participants to use this tool individually on their personal device. The purpose of the activity is to help participants better understand third-party tracking before diving into how third-party tracking is used for political purposes.

  • More information on this tool and how it can be utilized to better understand digital privacy and online tracking can be found here.

[10 minutes] Activity debrief

  • Once participants finish exploring the tool, you can facilitate a discussion to understand their experience by using some of the following prompts:

    • Did any of the results from Trackography surprise you?
    • What might be a political implication for this popular type of tracking?
    • Have you seen the same political adverts in different locations?
    • Are there other instances that you know of, or have investigated, of data being held or shared across borders?

[5 minutes] Presentation

Wrap up the activity by emphasizing the following:

  • Third-party tracking refers to the use of tracking technologies to monitor what someone is doing across digital services. Some of the technologies associated with tracking include:

    • Cookies: small files that can enhance website experience by remembering details and preferences (like log-in information or items in a shopping cart).
    • First-party cookies (for example, shopping cart) help websites to function as users expect, however third-party cookies can continue to track a user’s web activity across websites even after a particular page has been closed.
    • Tracking pixels: tiny, invisible images (the size of a pixel) on a website that belong to third parties, which collect and provide information such as the hardware and browsing settings of the person using the website.

Prepare: Find one to two examples of third party tracking to share with participants that are relevant to your context. You can see some examples that we’ve prepared here: "Third-Party Tracking: Cookies, beacons, fingerprints and more".

How can digital listening be used for political intelligence?

Read Watch Listen | 10 minutes


Give a presentation including:

  • Digital listening is an umbrella term for gathering information by monitoring and analysing what someone does or says on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

    • Both the behaviour (retweeting, liking, sharing an image or commenting on a post) and the content (hashtags, tweets, posts and comments) are analysed, sometimes to produce further data such as their ‘emotional state’.
  • Consider sharing this quote from an interview conducted by the Influence Industry Project:

    • "We don’t do questionnaires. We basically track data, everything people posting in a public forum and we arrange those simply around a specific keyword or a topic. Because we’re not asking people, introduce your attitudinal bias. So we just passively observe what people say naturally. I know how you can manipulate a poll question to give whatever answer you want. So we simply just observe. We don’t even bother asking questions, and that’s where it gets really scary because there was a service where you can track somebody’s like, 70 of their previous likes. You can deduce their attitude about social issues." (Source: "Data as Political Intelligence".)
  • Ask participants for their impressions of this quote.

  • Explain that digital listening is also used in the context of politics and elections to understand what people are thinking and feeling about certain topics or specific candidates.

Prepare: You can find examples, such as those we’ve prepared here: "Digital Listening: Insights from social media"

  • Discuss with the participants that digital listening is often seen as an ‘accurate’ representation of what large groups are thinking about a topic because people don’t know it is being collected, and it is collected in real time.

  • However, people can change their mind or opinion from one day to the next, or what a person says online may differ from what they truly think or how they would vote.

Profiling: Political personality test

Produce | 15 minutes

[10 minutes] Individual Activity: Political personality test


  • Introduce the participants to the OCEAN tool by Tactical Tech.

  • The participants will do this activity individually.

  • Ask them to complete the psychometric test on their personal device.

  • You can instruct them to select 10 or 25 questions depending on the time you have available. Participants should select the “Adult” option and whichever language they feel most comfortable in.

  • After a set period of time, ask if any participants will read their personality ‘type’ and what advertisers might infer about them based on this personality type and what kind of advertisements would appeal to and attract people such as yourself.

[5 minutes] Activity debrief

  • Mention that the OCEAN model, known as the 'Big Five,' measures personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

  • This model provides valuable insights for political campaigns, allowing them to tailor messages effectively based on a voter's personality traits.

  • Ask the participants if they have seen advertisements similar to the ones suggested through the tool. Ask the following questions:

    • When are you likely to see advertisements like this?
    • How do you feel when you see advertisements like this? Do you watch/read the full advertisement? Do you skip or scroll instead?
    • Did you feel it accurately pinpointed how you would want to be advertised to? If not, why not? Do you think it could be accurate if it had more data or detail?
How can profiling be used for political influence?

Read Watch Listen | 10 minutes



  • Explain to participants that when you're profiled by a political party or a private company, they are trying to paint a detailed picture of who you are often beyond your age or where you live but also the layers of your personality, habits, and preferences.

  • Explain that even though psychometric profiling was developed by academics, it has since been used by marketers, advertisers, and political communication professionals.

  • Psychometric profiling is one of several types of profiling. Some of the main categories of profiling include:

    • Psychometric profiling uses popular science methods to categorise people, such as the OCEAN tool.
    • Demographic profiles are based on people’s gender, religion, ethnicity, and location of their house, income, and number of family members often found in CENSUS data.
    • Opinion profiles represent groups based on their opinions such as groups who support or oppose a certain legislation or who are for or against certain political movements. This can be gathered through polls and digital listening.
    • Behavioural profiles represent people based on the trends of their behaviours such as how often they shop, what content they usually read on a website, or what time of day they read their emails.

Practice | 15 minutes


[10 minutes] Individual and group activity

  • Set a timer at 5 minutes.

  • Ask participants to individually order the following types of profiling from ‘most beneficial to democracy and ethical campaigning’ to ‘most dangerous for democracy and unethical campaigning’:

    • Behavioural
    • Demographic
    • Opinion
    • Psychometric
  • After 5 minutes, set another 5 minute timer.

  • Organise the participants into small groups of 3-4 people each.

  • Ask groups to agree together on the order of the list to present as a group.

[5 minutes] Activity debrief

  • Allow time for participants to feedback the order of their lists.

  • Discuss any differences they had in their group or between groups.

  • Ask participants: "If you worked in political parties, would you use any of these forms of profiling to target information?"

  • Then, ask participants: "If you worked in political parties, would you avoid any of these forms of profiling to target information?"

Summary of key points

Read Watch Listen | 5 minutes


  • Close this section by reviewing the high-level lessons from "Data as a Political Asset" and the last section.

  • Data is created and collected into valuable databases (for the entities who own them), and then meaning is created from this data in order to form the basis for action, strategy and “intelligence” (meaning valuable information) for political groups.

  • Through these assumptions, political groups can target voters and groups of voters with messages that will most likely be convincing to them.

  • These practices are, just as with data collection, largely hidden from users.

4.Closing (15 minutes)


Read Watch Listen | 3 minutes


Summarize the lessons in a brief presentation:

  • “Data” is a broad term, which can be applied in multiple parts of the process of political campaigning and influence including:

    • How the collection, storage and maintenance of data and datasets can become valuable assets for political groups.
    • How data is transformed into analysis and “intelligence” about the success of the messages of the campaign and profiles of target groups and voters to influence
  • Ask participants to reflect what they are concerned about and what they’d like to investigate.

Prepare: if time allows it, find a suitable exercise for reflection.


Discuss | 12 minutes



Ask the participants the following questions to understand their experience with the workshop. You can ask them to share answers verbally or write them down on a sticky note/digital whiteboard. If you are short on time, note that not all participants need to answer all questions.

  • What was the main takeaway from this workshop?

  • What was one completely new thing you learned from this workshop?

  • Which of these topics are you curious to learn more about and investigate further?

  • Were you able to identify any topics or themes that seemed relevant to your country or region?

  • On a scale of 1-5, in your own country, how aware do you think people are about their personal data being used to influence politics through these different technologies we discussed in this workshop? Why do you think that is?

  • Can you think of any politicians or political parties in your country who might consider (or even already be) using these technologies for political influence? Why did you make this assumption?

Thank the participants for their cooperation, enthusiasm, and interest.

Contact Us

Please reach out to us at Exposing the Invisible if you:

  • have any questions about this workshop plan and facilitation guidelines,
  • use this workshop plan and want to share feedback and suggestions that can help to improve them,
  • adapt the workshop plan to a specific context and want to share the results with us,
  • want to suggest new activities, tips or examples that can be added to this workshop,
  • want to share your expertise and collaborate with us on developing and testing new workshops.

Contact: eti@tacticaltech.org (GPG Key / fingerprint: BD30 C622 D030 FCF1 38EC C26D DD04 627E 1411 0C02).

Credits and Licensing

CC BY-SA 4.0

This content is published by Tactical Tech's Exposing the Invisible project, and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license

  • Workshop authors: Amber Macintyre, Cassie Cladis, Dharini Priscilla The Influence Industry Project, Tactical Tech.
  • Editorial and content: Christy Lange, Amber Macintyre, Cassie Cladis, Laura Ranca, Jasmine Erkan
  • Graphic design: Exposing the Invisible, Tactical Tech
  • Website development: Laurent Dellere, Saquib Sohail
  • Project coordination and supervision: Christy Lange, Amber Macintyre, Laura Ranca, Wael Eskandar, Jasmine Erkan, Cassie Cladis, Marek Tuszynski, Safa Ghnaim.

This curriculum was published as part of the Collaborative and Investigative Journalism Initiative (CIJI) co-funded by the European Union. 


Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA). Neither the European Union nor EACEA can be held responsible for them.

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