AskDefine | Define operative

Dictionary Definition

operative adj
1 being in force or having or exerting force; "operative regulations"; "the major tendencies operative in the American political system" [ant: inoperative]
2 of or relating to a surgical operation; "operative surgery"
3 relating to or requiring or amenable to treatment by surgery especially as opposed to medicine; "a surgical appendix"; "a surgical procedure"; "operative dentistry" [syn: surgical] [ant: medical]
4 effective; producing a desired effect; "the operative word" [syn: key]
5 (of e.g. a machine) performing or capable of performing; "in running (or working) order"; "a functional set of brakes" [syn: running(a), functional, working(a)]


1 a person secretly employed in espionage for a government [syn: secret agent, intelligence officer, intelligence agent]
2 someone who can be employed as a detective to collect information [syn: private detective, PI, private eye, private investigator, shamus, sherlock]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Effectual or important.
    The operative word in the phrase "last chance" is "last".
  2. Functional, in working order.



  1. An employee or other worker with some particular function or skill.
  2. A spy, secret agent, or detective.



operative p
  1. feminine of operativo

Extensive Definition

The staff of political campaigns are the people who formulate and implement the strategy needed to win an election. Many people have made careers out of working full-time for campaigns and groups that support them, in other campaigns much of the staff might be unpaid volunteers. Information on political consultants, people who do not work for the campaign full-time but still provide assistance in the form of advice and creative expertise, are discussed in the political consultants article.
This article provides a generic description of a campaign's staff and organization. Different campaigns have different structures.

Structure of a campaign

Campaigns are usually overseen by a campaign manager. The campaign manager coordinates the campaign making sure that the rest of the staff and the campaign's consultants are focused effectively on winning the election. In small local campaigns, the campaign manager will often be the only paid staff member and will be responsible for every aspect of the campaign that is not covered by the candidate or volunteers. In larger campaigns, such as an American presidential campaign, hundreds of staff members will cover the required tasks. While campaign managers are often the lead strategists in local campaigns, in the United States larger campaigns hire consultants to serve as strategists and the campaign manager focuses mostly on coordinating the campaign staff. Campaign managers will often have deputies who oversee various aspects of the campaign at a closer level.
Directly below the campaign manager on the organization chart is the deputy campaign manager and directly below them are department directors who coordinate specific aspects of the campaign. These staff members often have deputies as well.
Below the department level, campaigns vary widely in their structure. On larger campaigns, there will be various coordinators for certain functions within each department. For example, within the fundraising department, there might be a staff member who focuses only on direct mail fundraising.
At the bottom of the totem pole are the interns and volunteers who perform the least glamorous tasks of the campaign. These can include addressing envelopes, entering data into databases, and canvassing voters on behalf of the campaign.

Departments and their respective purposes

Field/Ground Department

The field department focuses on the "on-the-ground" organizing that is required in order to personally contact voters through canvassing, phone calls, and building local events. Voter contact helps construct and clean the campaign's voter file in order to help better target voter persuasion and identify which voters a campaign most wants to bring out on election day. Field is generally also tasked with running local "storefront" campaign offices as well as organizing phone banks and staging locations for canvasses and other campaign events.
On the state level, field departments are generally organized by geography with an overall state field director who oversees the efforts of several regional field directors who in turn manage several local offices. Other field workers below this level include:
  • Organizer : generally responsible for the operations of a single office serving a county or several counties, the local organizer works to build a local organization, mostly of volunteers, that will be used to fill out campaign events, contact voters, and ultimately to provide ground troops for election day efforts.
  • Volunteer coordinator : tasked full time with recruiting, retaining, and scheduling volunteers
  • General Field Staff : the lowest level of field staff, these paid workers generally do direct voter contact full time as well as assisting the organizers
  • GOTV coordinator : generally either brought in in the last few months of the campaign or a re-tasked staffer, GOTV coordinators plan the local "Get Out the Vote" efforts.
In addition to voter persuasion and voter identification, field staff will often provide information for the campaign headquarters as to what is going on in the communities they work in. Field staffers are the primary liaison between the campaign and local influentials such as interest group leaders and prominent community activists. Field departments are also often primarily responsible for the local distribution of "chum" i.e. lawn signs, bumper stickers, buttons, and other such materials.

Communications Department

The communications department oversees both the press relations and advertising involved in promoting the campaign in the media. They are responsible for the campaign's message and image among the electorate. Press releases, advertisements, phone scripts, and other forms of communication must be approved by this department before they can be released to the public. The staffers within this office vary widely from campaign to campaign. However they generally include:
  • A press secretary who monitors the media and coordinates the campaign's relations with the press. Press secretaries set up interviews between the candidate and reporters, brief the press at press conferences, and perform other tasks involved in press relations.
  • A rapid response director who makes sure that the campaign responds quickly to the attacks of the other campaigns. They and their staff constantly monitor the media and the moves of their opponents, making sure that attacks are rebutted quickly.

Policy Department

Researching and developing a set of policies requires a large team to research and write each plank. Researchers also provide information to the campaign on issues and the backgrounds of candidates (including the candidate they work for) in order to be aware of skeletons in the various candidates' closets. The latter practice is known as opposition research. On smaller campaigns this is often folded into the communications department. Most campaigns for a seat in a legislature will not have a full policy department, as party platforms are worked out by the central campaign office. Other races, such as a presidential or mayoral race will require a wide array of policy positions to be developed in-house.

Fundraising Department

The finance department coordinates the campaign's fundraising operation and ensures that the campaign always has the money it needs to operate effectively. The techniques employed by this campaign vary based on the campaign's needs and size. Small campaigns often involve casual fundraising events and phone calls from the candidate to donors asking for money. Larger campaigns will include everything from high-priced sit-down dinners to e-mail messages to donors asking for money.

Compliance and Legal Departments

The compliance and legal departments makes sure that the campaign is consistent with the law and also makes sure that the campaign files the appropriate forms with government authorities. In Britain and other Commonwealth countries, such as Canada and India, each campaign must have an official agent, who is legally responsible for the campaign and is obligated to make sure the campaign follows all rules and regulations.
This department will also be responsible for all financial tracking, including bank reconciliations, loans and backup for in-kind donations. They are generally required to keep both paper and electronic files. Small campaigns will often have one person responsible for financial disclosure while larger campaigns will have dozens of lawyers and treasurers making sure that the campaign's activities are legal. After the election, the compliance and legal department must still respond to audit requests and, when required, debt retirement.

Technology Department

The technology department designs and maintains campaign technology such as Voter File and websites. While small campaigns might have a volunteer or two who know how to use computers, large campaigns will have armies of computer professionals spread across the state or country handling everything from websites to blogs to databases.

Scheduling and Advance Department

The scheduling and advance department makes sure that the candidate and campaign surrogates are effectively scheduled so as to maximize their impact on the voters. This department also oversees the advance people who arrive at events before the candidate to make sure everything is in order. Often, this department will be a part of the field department.
On small campaigns the scheduling coordinator may be responsible for developing and executing events. The scheduling coordinator typically:
a) manages the candidate's personal and campaign schedule b) manages the field and advance team schedules c) gathers important information about all events the campaign and candidate will attend
Candidates and other members of the campaign must bear in mind that only one person should oversee the details of scheduling. Fluid scheduling is one of the many keys to making a profound impact on voters.


  • EMILY's List Campaign Manual
operative in Russian: Избирательный штаб

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Bow Street runner, CIA man, FBI, FBI agent, Federal, G-man, Secret Service, Sherlock Holmes, T-man, accessible, active, actor, agent, alive, architect, armipotent, artisan, author, authoritative, cloak-and-dagger operative, cogent, conductor, counterintelligence agent, counterspy, craftsman, craftswoman, creator, detective, doer, double agent, driver, dynamic, effective, effectual, efficacious, efficient, employable, employee, energetic, engineer, espionage agent, executant, executor, executrix, eye, fabricator, fed, forceful, forcible, functional, functionary, functioning, go, gumshoe, hand, handler, high-potency, high-powered, high-pressure, high-tension, hotel detective, house detective, house dick, in force, in power, inquiry agent, inside man, intelligence agent, investigator, irresistible, laborer, live, machinist, maker, manipulator, mechanic, medium, mighty, mighty in battle, military-intelligence man, mover, narc, naval-intelligence man, operant, operation, operational, operator, performer, perpetrator, pilot, plainclothesman, police detective, potent, powerful, practicable, practical, practitioner, prepotent, prime mover, private detective, private eye, private investigator, producer, puissant, reconnoiterer, revenuer, roustabout, ruling, runner, running, scout, secret agent, shamus, sleuth, spotter, spy, spy-catcher, steersman, store detective, striking, strong, subject, telling, treasury agent, undercover man, usable, valid, vigorous, vital, worker, workhand, working, workingman, workman
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