Getting Back to Street Canvassing

Contributor: Alonso Hernández

While the pandemic is not over and we are still far from declaring safety in this new reality, some outdoor campaigning practices (with the necessary safety protocols in place) are once again possible, and in fact, some campaigns are gradually bringing them back. Without any doubt, canvassing is one of the most important of them.

Canvassing means staying in systematic direct contact with individuals. The practice is very well-known in electoral campaigns as part of door knocking GOTV (Get-out-the-vote) efforts, and also used for grassroots fundraising, community-awareness actions, and member recruitment. It is quite popular in the US and among countries with first-past-the-post electoral systems. It is not, however, that popular in Europe due to the different data-protection regulations.

This tactic is well known among organisers, and we’d like to emphasise its crucial value for campaigns in general, which lies in this direct human contact. Social movements are built on the basis of personal relationships, which is why canvassing is a practice that is worth leaning towards.

Canvassing can play a role within all three groups of actions included in Tectonica’s Five Part Framework for Digital Organising: communication, mobilisation and organising. It can support providing and gathering information to significant constituencies, and be used for conducting research and polls among supporters. It can be applied for mobilising practices like voter turnout, fundraising, or collecting signatures. It can also be framed as an organising action through deeper engagement that has a transformative effect on supporters. The latest practices are sometimes called deep canvassing - what defines the scope is the objective of the contact that occurs.

We may be wondering what the digital component in all of this is. We see it in the tools that can help us coordinate these actions and get the most out of them in a highly efficient way. Canvassing can be a heavy lift for the organisation since we want to cover the largest possible extent of the population, and for this, we need to involve a large number of volunteers. In relation to this, we want to highlight Ecanvasser.

Ecanvasser is one of the tools that we recommend the most to our clients, its team is one of the most experienced and the platform is one of the most comprehensive and complete in this field.

It covers all the canvassing angles with different specific tools, including:

  • An app called Walk App for door-to-door canvassing. It has a very friendly interface that allows volunteers to have everything they need to carry out the programmed canvassing actions. They can manage walk lists of contacts, maps, scripts, forms to gather information, and more.
  • Ecanvasser organizing dashboard, which helps organisers generate canvassing campaigns, and manage the content and available actions seen in the apps (like adding maps, walk lists, assigning permissions...) by the volunteers, etc. In correspondence with this, they provide real-time tracking of canvasser activity and useful insights about the campaigns and volunteers.
  • Leader dashboard, to be used for distributed organising. This allows you to create different accounts for local offices or individual district leaders and you can assign, manage, and track campaigns and all sub-accounts.
  • Community engagement through its mobile survey application: Go App. With this, it is possible to capture data anywhere in a very simple and spontaneous way. As an example, it is ideal for coordinating engagement actions in large events or festivals that may be taking place in the city.

As mentioned, the list of available features is very extensive. Among this we would like to highlight some of the most advanced ones, like:

  • Geolocated control of the registered conversations to verify their correctness.
  • Possibility of capturing consent with signature. In other words, a person can provide their consent by drawing a signature in the app when they are interviewed by the volunteer.
  • Possibility of configuring the modules of the canvassing app with a drag and drop feature to adapt the app that the volunteers will use to the specificities of the campaign.
  • Recently launched, volunteer events, through which you can work on the engagement with the volunteers and the impact of the actions. Including sending invite notifications to Ecanvasser's mobile apps so your volunteers can confirm attendance. Additionally, events help track members through the ladder of engagement into becoming team leaders.

Ecanvasser is clearly a platform that can help us engage substantially with our supporters and volunteers. One issue we foresee is that the platform can have a steep learning curve at the beginning, mostly because of the extent of its functionalities. It might make sense for organisations to work with experts at the beginning to have help with the onboarding and the strategy in using it.

That being said, there are other interesting canvassing tools out there like Qomon, formerly called Quorum, that we have featured in past editions of this newsletter. You can read more about it here.