Back at the 2010 general election I was always the one given the odd direct mails to deliver in the constituency where I was volunteering. Why? Because, armed with an iPhone with GPS and Google Maps, I could find the places no-one with a regular map could locate.
Since then, when doing both regular and telephone canvassing to Labour, I’ve been struck by the paper-based nature of it all. The data gathered either on the street or the telephone will be entered electronically into the party’s records, so why not speed up the process?
The perfect solution was presented to me in Oslo this week by Pia Gulbrandsen, Head of Communication of Arbeiderpartiet, the Norwegian Labour Party.
With local elections across Norway on 12th September, Pia is in the middle of an important campaign, and an iPhone app is central to the party’s activist organisation. Notably the app is for activist use only – it is not public campaigning service akin to Labour’s iCampaign for the 2010 general election.
Arbeiderpartiet’s app gives local party activists maps of the streets in their towns, together with data of what canvassing has happened where and when. Data gathered when speaking to voters is added directly in the app, and updates the party’s database. If a voter needs more detailed information than the canvasser can provide, the question can be noted and a follow-up call or e-mail arranged.
I’m sure some readers will scream “but not every Labour person has a smartphone!” Indeed that is true. But think of the way canvassing is done. Normally one person holds the clipboard while the others canvass. Replace that with a smartphone and you would only need perhaps 1 in 6 Labour people with such a device to make this system work. Make an app work for both iPhone and Android and the numbers would be greater still.
There would be a cost – probably a five figure sum – to make such an app, and no doubt some data protection issues that would need to be overcome. But the time savings thanks to such a tool, not least in terms of data entry, would be considerable, and it would undoubtedly pay for itself in the medium term.
If Labour is genuinely to be “A New Generation for Change” we ought to at least make a start with our own canvassing practices