DemLabs blog

Personal connections make a big difference. Especially in peer-to-peer canvassing where volunteers encourage their friends to register to vote.

How can volunteers be equipped to easily collect details for a campaign from their friends? A little research and creativity led to the development of a mobile app using free existing software services. How can this fast, low-cost approach to innovation be applied to other campaign needs? Hint: No new software has to be developed.

The trade-off is similar to deciding whether to get a custom-fitted suit or choosing one that is ready-made. There is a lot more time, expense and effort involved with a custom made suit. A ready-made one is usually good and at a fraction of the price.

Peer-to-peer (P2P) canvassing relies on volunteers to use their social connections to encourage their friends to vote. Research indicates that "voting can be contagious; the more people in your network who vote, the more likely you are to vote".

People are reluctant to share all their contacts or online address books with a campaign. Instead they prefer to selectively contact their friends and upload only data those who are interested.

Solution design considerations

  • The solution has to be usable on a phone without first having to install an app.
  • Data collection has to be fast and simple.
  • Volunteers should have access to the data that they have uploaded.
  • Ability to consolidate data from multiple volunteers into a single file.
  • Ability to change the data being collected.
  • Ease of setting up the system quickly and training new volunteers.
  • A free or affordable solution so even grassroots groups can use it.

With these considerations, the DemLabs team decides to use Google Sheets which provides a free, personal online platform to organize and store data. We chose GlideApps to build a mobile app because its free and easy to use. (Credit to Social Movement Technologies for bringing GlideApps to our attention).

Try the app here. Add a new contact or search for one already on file. You can do this from a phone or laptop without installing an app.

Try the app by clicking on this link on your phone.


Frugal Innovation
It pays to first consider existing, affordable solutions before embarking on a new software development project. It's cheaper, faster and involves less risk. Major software vendors innovate continuously, regardless of the election cycle which ensures that campaigns always have the latest technology. Their apps are designed for ease-of-use which saves consulting fees.The money saved with free software can be used on other more pressing campaign expenses. This leads to cheaper and smarter campaigns.

DemLabs approach to innovation for progressive groups is simple. Identify needs, find and test existing solutions and then freely share what we learned so other groups can use it on their own as well. Google Sheets and GlideApps are both free and can be used without programming skills. Innovation isn't just about throwing money at a problem. It is about finding the most cost-effective solution to a problem that involves the least amount of time and risk.

Innovation is an equalizer between upstart campaigns and well-funded campaigns. Let us know of other good, affordable campaign apps. We'll be glad to test them in a project and freely share our findings so other progressive/democratic groups can use them too. It really does take a village!

Co-Founder, DemLabs

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DemLabs applies innovative technology and storytelling tools in service of democratic values. It lowers the barrier of funding for worthy candidates and non-profits by applying existing free/affordable solutions.