Electoral debriefing has become an important tool in providing feedback to political parties and presidential candidates immediately after the elections, when events are fresh in people's memories. Debriefing sessions were initially employed by military commanders and leaders to learn about events on the battlefield from soldiers returning from military campaigns. The information gathered by military leaders from debriefing is later analyzed and synthesized and used by military planners to strategize for future military operations.
A thorough post-electoral debriefing is important for the planning of future elections. A holistic post-electoral debriefing should seek input from varied sources: staff who participated in the electoral process, candidates, and the media, as well as voters, especially the independents or the floaters. The campaign team and the losing party have to ask whether the campaign was successful or not. They need to find out what went well and what went poorly. They need to know what mistakes were made, how they could have done better, and what lessons can be learned from the assessment.
The New Patriotic Party (NPP) should have had a thorough debriefing immediately after losing the elections twice to the National Democratic Congress (NDC) party, but it has not. Any major decisions that the party made after the elections should have been based on post-election debriefing. The debriefing session should pose thought-provoking questions and seek answers to them. What was the quality of the campaign? Which regions did the party lose by small margins and which of them did it lose by huge margins? Which regions did the party win in the previous elections, but lost this time, and in which districts? Why did the NPP lose in those areas that it won before? What is the feedback from possible focus-group interviews, and how can the party address those concerns? In which regions should the party have spent more money and campaign time? How could they have used technology to their advantage, and how can they use old-fashioned organizing skills to harness grassroots enthusiasm and raise funds?
The party needs to find out why Kuffour won Western, 56.64%; Central, 58.57%; Greater Accra, 51.99%; and Brong Ahafo, 51.96% in 2004, yet Akuffo Addo lost all of these regions in both 2008 and 2012. The critical question the party needs to ask as it moves forward is: What happened between 2004 and 2008? What made people from these regions change their minds about voting for their party and candidate after Kuffour's terms were over? That is the big question!
Emanating from this major question are the following questions: Did the NPP present a weak candidate? If so, they should look at the image of the candidate they presented. Was he the best candidate in hindsight? What images did the voters form about the personal qualities and abilities of Akuffo Addo, and how did the voters' perceptions about him influence their votes? How did voters judge Akuffo Addo in terms of experience, honesty, morality, compassion, competence, and leadership ability? Did the party and its candidate miss the changing demographics, especially the youth? What about the candidate's message? Did his message resonate with the people?
Party leaders also need to find out whether the candidate was the most preferred among the NPP grassroots voters. Was Akuffo Addo the favorite of the NPP grassroots, or he was imposed on the majority by the NPP kingmakers? In terms of grassroots operations, the party needs to assess whether it was politically efficient to leave the presidential campaign in the hands of local political candidates, or to have presidential campaign teams at the grassroots levels.
Should they have targeted their resources on certain regions to the neglect of others? Where could they have spent their resources more efficiently? Remember that Ghana does not use an electoral-college system, so it does not matter where you get the numbers from; the Pareto principle will be very helpful here. What was the turnout like? Was turnout a major problem for the party, and why?
However, despite the importance of political debriefing in future elections, the effectiveness of the debriefing process and the usefulness of the information gathered depend on the mindset of the group or organization doing the debriefing. Debriefing is most useful when the leaders and stakeholders of the organization have open minds, open hearts, and open wills. It calls for leaders and group members who have common intent, who want to stop and listen to others and to what life call them to do. It demands stakeholders who want to observe and want to listen with minds and hearts wide open.
Further, debriefing is beneficial when leaders and stakeholder integrate minds, hearts and hands to make things happen. Unfortunately, recent events in the NPP, in which people with divergent views have been either ostracized or censored, cause one to doubt whether genuine debriefing can take place in the party. People like Apraku and Arthur Kennedy, who have expressed divergent views, have either been reprimanded or ostracized, reinforcing the view that the NPP has become a victim of groupthink.
No debriefing will be meaningful to the party until it understands and tackles the problems that are associated with groupthink. I believe it was the problem of groupthink that prompted Arthur Kennedy to publish his book, Chasing the elephant into the bush: The politics of complacency, after the 2008 elections. I think he understood quite well the political cost of his action, but did it anyway. He wanted his party to do a clear-eyed autopsy of the elections, so they could know what went wrong and how to fix it. However, such a postmortem could not be done with the groupthink mindsets that have characterized the NPP.
Social psychologist Irving Janis describes groupthink as “the phenomenon in which a cohesive group finds itself prematurely converging on a solution to a problem due to powerful pressures for conformity.” Groupthink stifles candid dialogues and debates, since it causes people to hold back their concerns about majority decisions or opinions.
Groupthink normally happens, first, when the group feels that it is invulnerable and cannot fail; second, when the group rationalizes away discomforting data and discounts warnings; third, when people think that they are inherently better than their rivals; fourth, when the group holds stereotyped views of the enemy; and finally, when people self-censor their views because they do not want to challenge the majority view.
The NPP vs. Mahamah & EC court case not only distracted the party from any attempt to do a meaningful debriefing, but it also might have created the impression that the party had lost because of election irregularities rather that poor planning and execution. This, I think, is likely to thwart the party's concentration of energies on debriefing and to stifle the development of a new consciousness and new collective leadership capacity that's needed to meet the political challenges the NPP faces in a more conscious, internal, and strategic way.
It is therefore important at this stage for the party to come together, debrief its performance in the previous elections, and begin to develop workable political strategies. There is a need for a paradigm shift. As Albert Einstein observed, you cannot solve today's problems with the same mindsets that created them. The party cannot address its current political problems with reactive mindsets that only reflect the realities of the past. The NPP needs to shift away from reactive responses and quick fixes—symptom-level responses—toward generative responses that can deal with the systemic organizational and operational problems they face.
What the NPP needs now is a heightened state of attention that will allow them to shift the place from which they function, so they can operate from the future space of possibility that they want to see in 2016 elections. The party is stuck in a political quagmire because of its blindness to the deeper dimensions of leadership and transformation change. It is important that a political party that has experienced two consecutive electoral defeats conduct conversational and dialogical sessions that involve sharing and examining the causes of its failures.