Rethinking the canvassing concept
If we look at the world we live in now compared to 10 years ago it has changed completely, it has changed technologically and it has changed in terms. of how we do grassroots organizing. In this context, the idea that political parties and candidates can continue with the twin-track approach to the campaigning of doing a few PR events and getting their canvassers out to knock on doors in the run up to an election simply does wash anymore.
When we look at canvassing this year we see it being pulled apart by campaigners all around the world. Canvassing, the act of talking to voters directly, has to change to meet the needs of a modern electorate and it is people like us that need to make the changes needed. We have a motto here at Ecanvasser that the indivisible unit of political life, the one thing that cannot be dispensed with, is the conversation. That conversation happens now in ways and in places that didn’t exist in 2012.
1. Channels of outreach have exploded, particularly online with multiple different platforms being used in political campaigns, most notably probably Facebook.
2. Data has become king in winning campaigns, it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Data helps campaigns to understand what voters think and want which is entirely in keeping with Democratic principles, however data does need to be gathered fairly and safely so the democratic process isn’t undermined.
3. Voters have an expectation now that communication is always a two-way street, it is not good enough to simply shoot a pamphlet in someone’s door, you need to engage people in a real way, even if it is online.
4. GDPR in Europe has changed the way campaigners gather data and how they get consent to do so at the point of sale so to speak. Data protection rights are a growing trend in every country and campaigns would do well to get ahead of the curve on this.
5. This year, conversing with voters needs to be far more fluid, it needs to take place on multiple channels like online, face to face, or by phone/email and all of these channels need to connect to each other so that intelligence is built not lost. This is now possible.
6. Finally, the frustration we have felt coming back from campaigners over the past few years has been around connecting the online support campaigns receive to the real world, converting supporters to activists.
Traditional campaigning involves a number of people, ideally a large number of people, trained to reach out to the community to spread the campaign message. If they are really good at their jobs, they are capturing information about voters effectively in a way that is actionable subsequently. Relational organizing doesn’t get in the way of this type of activity but it adds to it. Relational organizing is designed to get supporters to become activists by making this transition really easy. For relational organizers the goal is to get the campaign to take off through the independent actions of supporters who want to help out. Typical actions might include a supporter setting up a campaign event in their own area, canvassing friends and neighbours for the campaign, peer to peer texting of pre-written campaign messages, or promoting the campaign through their social media network. Relational organizing is supposed to be more fluid, dynamic with a life of its own that isn’t directly controlled by the campaign management team. Good examples of relational organizing are the Bernie Sanders campaign, AOC and the UK Labour party in the 2017 general election.
For campaigners, the challenge is to make it easy for supporters to become activists like giving them access to p-2-p tools like Outreach circle and our own Ecanvasser Go app for community surveys and canvassing. If supporters are sufficiently inspired by a campaign and the tools are easily available then it is possible to see digital supporters become IRL supporters preaching the good word, running events and capturing data for the campaign through direct voter outreach.
There is a huge blindspot in political campaigning that we see everywhere and it is that campaigning is cyclical, it is on or off. The problem with this is that voters feel distrustful of campaigns and politicians who they only see at election time. You wouldn’t treat anyone else in your life like this, only showing up when you need something, and expect great results. What we are beginning to see now though is an understanding of this blindspot and a willingness to embrace always-on campaigning not because it is the right thing to do but because it is just a better way to campaign.
Why is it better? Well it results in better visibility and name recognition for candidates, better fundraising, better data being fed back, stronger networks of activists and ultimately better results on election day.
So what does always-on campaigning look like? Simply, it means running every day like it is part of the election campaign but at a much lower level, less outreach, less data gathering, less listening, but still a base level that keeps the campaign top of mind for voters so when you come calling at election time they know you.
Was there ever a less appealing prospect than a digital transformation agenda! And maybe that is why so few organizations get around to doing it.
Let’s go back to basics for a minute. If you are serious about listening to the hive (your supporters, voters, community, whatever) then you have to do it through digital means. You have to do it through connected systems, softwares and processes that reveal what voters and members are thinking. It's just that simple. The drive for transformation comes from the grassroots operatives that are actually doing the work on the frontline. They are the ones that want digital tools so the work they are doing is being heard, analyzed and acted upon.
Digital democracy is a huge trend. In Europe, the Five Star Movement, Podemos and the Pirate parties are all moving to internal systems that allow members to propose and vote on issues for governance. In France and Spain, citizen participation projects are allowing city residents to input on how budgets are spent or how legislation proceeds.
What are the simple benefits of digital transformation? Cost savings, safer data protection settings, and more successful outcomes in elections.