Lessons from Canada on how best to use Connect

Over in Canada, The Star has been looking at how the Canadian Liberals use technology on the campaign trail – something of particular relevance to the Liberal Democrats as they too use the same NGPVAN database which goes under the name of Connect here in the UK.

Gone are the days of volunteers standing on doorsteps with a clipboards and voters’ lists, ticking off likely supporters. The modern Liberal canvasser now carries a smart phone or tablet, loaded with the mini-VAN app. It was developed by U.S.-based NPG VAN and used to great effect by Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns.

Each volunteer is trained to give a brief homily on why they support the party — the personal touch never gets old — and to then follow a script designed to elicit pertinent information, including party preference, willingness to take a lawn sign, issues of concern, email address and phone number.

Responses, along with other information such as a voter’s preferred language, are punched into mini-VAN, which is linked to the party’s central database, Liberalist, where party headquarters can monitor the canvassers in real time…

“Data analytics right now is sort of a bit of the flavour of the month,” says Liberal national director Jeremy Broadhurst.

“But it’s meaningless unless it’s combined with some very long-established, old-fashioned ways of doing politics, which is really about having an army of volunteers.”

He likens it to riding a horse while using a satellite phone to get directions.

“The satellite phone won’t get you very far if you don’t know how to ride that horse.”

Information gathered by canvassers is combined with publicly available demographic data from the national census, polling results and other data mined from responses to party petitions, email blasts and online and social media campaigns to produce what Liberals refer to as analytics dashboards — complex digital graphs and charts.

Dashboards range from a countrywide overview of Liberal prospects down to a microscopic look at voters in each postal code…

Liberal headquarters has used data analytics to assign a health score to each riding, based on factors like the size of its war chest, the number of doors knocked on and number of followup phone calls placed.

This can be cross-referenced with win-ability rankings to fix problems in ridings that are not living up to their potential. Or it might reveal ridings initially thought to be losers but where the local campaign is thriving and where a timely visit by the leader or an influx of organizers could result in an upset.

“It’s about … being able to make smart, strategic decisions that are based on something that is more than just the traditional ways, which was really kind of a combination of high-level polling and kind of gut instinct,” says Broadhurst.

“This is really more evidence-based decision making.”

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