DemLabs blog

Some people drive fancy cars. Others bike. It all depends on your destination and budget. Canvassing is the same.

A lack of funds holds back some campaigns from maximizing their canvassing efforts. Others need to supplement voter files with other lists. Some need to add details on new voters met while canvassing. A free solution using GlideApps and Google Sheets now lets even small grassroots group canvass better.

Canvassing is key to political campaigns, grassroots fundraising and building community awareness. Campaigners knock on doors to engage in personalized contact, identify supporters, persuade the undecided, add voters to the voters list and get out the vote (GOTV) operations.However, canvassing is a logistical challenge. Canvassers need to be managed, get timely information, quickly enter meeting notes and campaigns need to make the best use of the information collected. Technology makes a big difference.

The need
Andrea Miller is the founder of People Demanding Action in Virginia and has been organizing for decades. She brought the need for an affordable solution to DemLabs. A good solution had to:
- Be affordable for even small grassroots groups.
- Could be deployed quickly and had an easy to use mobile app.
- Let the campaign decide what information canvassers should collect.
- Have a central database that multiple canvassers could remotely access at the same time.
- Allow for immediate updates from canvassers so the same voter wasn’t contacted twice.
- Canvassers should be able to add records on new potential voters not already on their list.
- Provide a map of contacts to simplify the allocation of contacts amongs canvassers (turf cutting), make it easier for canvassers to locate contacts and minimize travel time.
- Be able to export data so that it could be used to update the VAN (Voter Activation Network)
- Work with the voter file or any other list of addresses.

Background
DemLabs applies existing apps (most of which are free) to meet campaign needs, rather than develop new software. This approach cuts the costs and time needed to roll out solutions. DemLabs share details on the solution so other progressive groups can also use it on their own. After extensive research for the best solution, we picked two free apps (GlideApps and Google Sheets) for this canvassing system.

Google Sheets serves as a database with the details on voters. GlideApp is configured to provide a mobile canvassing app.  The addresses to canvass can be loaded into Google Sheets from a voter file, VAN or any other list of addresses (e.g. union members). The mobile canvassing app reads and updates the Google Sheet. Canvassers use the app to locate addresses, update records with details from their meetings with voters and also add new potential voters. Campaigns can customize the details they want their canvassers to collect.

Canvassing made easy (and affordable)
Canvassers are provided a link which activates the mobile app on their phone and is connected to the addresses of people that they should contact.

Operation
This demo has two screens: the mobile app is on the left and the Google Sheet that it it works with on the right.
- Addresses from a voter file were obfuscated for privacy and loaded into a Google Sheet.
- The addresses are assigned to three canvassers (Bill, Susan, Frank) in column C. Some of the addressed are unassigned so any canvasser can contact those people.
- The mobile app displays contacts to canvass on a map or as a list of contacts.
- Canvassers get their own list of people to contact. They can click on any location to get more details on the person they will contact.
- Canvassers can update records in the Google Sheet database directly from the mobile app after a meeting. The database is updated immediately so the same person isn't contacted twice.
- Canvassers can also add new potential voters they meet. This feature is especially useful when canvassing to build a list of voters from scratch. (e.g. on native American communities or college campuses).
NGP-VAN offering
“MiniVan is NGP VAN’s mobile canvassing solution that’s included for free to all campaigns if they have access to any of the VAN platforms”, said Sam Frank, Product Manager - Platform at NGP-VAN.

Takeaway

Pick a solution that best meets your need and budget. This basic, canvassing solution uses free software and is flexible to handle different use cases. Contact DemLabs here to learn more, or let us know of other campaign needs that could benefit from pro bono innovation. Lowering the cost to campaign helps get the best candidates - not the best fundraisers - get elected.
Deepak
Co-Founder, DemLabs
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