How Mobile Canvassing Has Transformed Field Campaigns

April 26, 2016 | Elliot Rysenbry

Technology hasn’t given us flying cars – but it has transformed the way we do things. Why canvass with clipboards and several forests worth of paper, when you have an incredibly powerful smartphone in your pocket?

Last week, we caught up with Amanda Coulombe, NGP VAN’s General Manager of Organizing (and no stranger to GOTV), to ask her about her early paper canvassing experiences, and how the latest version of MiniVAN and the all new MiniVAN Manager have changed the way field campaigns are run.

ER: What was your very first time canvassing like?

AC: I was an organizer on John Kerry’s presidential campaign way back when – I feel super old! But I do remember feeling very confused and disorganized at first. You get thrown out there with a turf packet, and you think that it’s going to be really straightforward. Then you realize, “Oh gosh, I don’t really know where I am!”

I remember my canvassing partner and I pulling over into a parking lot because we needed to reorganize all of the different sheets we had and check the map we had in the car (because back then you still had maps in the car) and we said to ourselves “well, we can do this street, and then that street” just based on driving around and looking at the map – talk about the Dark Ages!

ER: How did using MiniVAN change GOTV for you?

AC: First heard about MiniVAN around 2005, and got my first training from Mark Sullivan (one of NGP VAN’s founders), as part of the gubernatorial race I was working on – this was back when MiniVAN was on PalmPilots!

I immediately realized that this changes everything. Suddenly, canvassers were able to navigate neighborhoods and enter data, and organizers no longer needed to deal with data entry, printing off walk sheets, photocopying precinct maps, etc.

After we built it on Android and iOS, it was even better – you don’t have to buy a bunch of obselete devices, or deal with uploading and downloading at the end of the day like you did on PalmPilots – now all you need is a (ubiquitous) smartphone!

I personally refuse to use paper while canvassing anymore. I preach MiniVAN’s benefits to everyone – it makes organizers’ lives better and it makes the volunteer experience better. 

ER: Flash forward – You’ve just finished MiniVAN Manager – what were some of the problems you encountered as feild director that you worked to solve?

AC: It’s always problematic trying to keep people organized and safe and it’s always difficult to know if people are getting lost. You hit a certain point in time where you need to check on people, and if they haven’t come back, then you need to call them. Sometimes you’re thinking, “Oh gosh, are they actually going to bring back their packets?”

I might have also heard some stories about people sitting at a bar and filling out the turf packet instead of canvassing… [That’s] hearsay though. But still not a great thing if you’re managing paid canvassers.

ER: Why are you excited about MiniVAN Manager?

AC: Firstly, you can now see the data coming in. You can check to see if there’s a really big gap of time where there’s been no data sent back – to me that’s indicative that there’s a problem, that someone might be lost.

Secondly, now you can check in on the map and see where someone is or if they’re off course. A lot of times, the problem is people traveling around who aren’t familiar with the area.  For field managers,  it means so much to be able to reach out and check in or offer directions. 

I guess you could say that MiniVAN manager allows you to ‘helicopter parent’ your canvassers in a way that all organizers wish they could!

If you’re serious about canvassing, MiniVAN and MiniVAN Manager are smarter, more accountable, and much more user-friendly tools to run a smoother, more organized field campaign. 

It’s worth noting that for anyone using VAN or VoteBuilder, you’re already set up to start using MiniVAN for free – you can set up a consultation with us, or check out MiniVAN Manager.

ER: No worries Amanda – thanks for talking to us!