Project Wonderful

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Let's Get Deep (Canvass)

(Note: This video was part of a different, similar experiment from the Los Angeles LGBT Center)

This is MUCH appreciated guest post from Amanda McLain-Snipes, an LGBTQ movement operative working at the Equality Federation, providing direct support to our members in creating successful, targeted issue education campaigns. She is based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The history of studying this kind of canvass is a little fraught, but results could have great implications for how we do field.

We all know the drill. Knock all the doors. Make all the phone calls. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. What if I told you that each of your conversations with a voter would take about 12 minutes?

Yep. 12 minutes.

Let’s dive in and talk about deep canvassing. This summer the Equality Federation, Freedom for All Americans, and the Movement Advancement Project partnered on a research project to decrease bias toward the transgender community, particularly in restrooms. You read that correctly. We spent our summer researching why people are uncomfortable going to the same potty as transgender folks. And let me tell you, what we found was very interesting. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s start from the beginning. At the end of May this year, about 30 operatives gathered at the Rush Center in Atlanta, GA hosted by the Georgia Equality team (thanks for all the snacks!) to train on the latest messaging best practices, volunteer recruitment tactics, and field strategies to kick off our Summer of Action. The project brought in teams from Atlanta, GA, Jacksonville, FL, Scottsdale, AZ, and Cleveland, OH. We were nothing if not ambitious.

One month later our “Summer of Action” teams on-site would be doing their first practice canvass. That means from our time in Atlanta to the week of June 20th, they had exactly four weeks to recruit and train volunteers to knock on doors in the communities they call home and discuss the experience of transgender people. Why? We want to know which methods have the best impact - long or short conversations? Over the phone or at the door?

Wait, what is this about phones? After practicing and recruiting for a few more weeks, our teams went live and started collecting door data across all 4 sites in the middle of July. Then, in August, we ran the experiment again, but this time on the phone. Yep, long form conversations sharing our stories over the phone with voters.

So let’s dive into what these conversations looked like 1 on 1. Right out of the gate, we would get a person’s rating on the issue, after getting an initial ranking and establishing a rapport, our canvasser would show a video - one that our opponents used in a previous campaign. The intention is to trigger the worst of the voter’s potential concerns. We would then have an in-depth conversation, probing fears, asking questions to explore their thoughts and fears. By actively listening and engaging with the voters, we would get to the heart of what was driving their concerns. This is where deep canvassing breaks from traditional outreach. We asked lots of questions and spent a substantial part of the conversation listening to the voter. After exploring any concerns, the canvasser directly addressed their worries, showed a video from our side, and asked for a reaction. Finally, we wrapped up the conversation with one more rating and ended the interaction.

That’s a lot to digest and we’re still combing through our findings. Clearly, the potential implications are high - we will learn how to target our conversations to have maximum impact on the people we need to reach to protect our transgender friends and neighbors from prejudice. Beyond the scientific findings of this project, there are immense implications for the organizing community. You do not build a deep canvass project overnight. We essentially built a small congressional scale campaign across 4 states (no director lived in the same state as a site) and had “election day” within 90 days. Programs like this require rigorous trainings (an avg. training was 1.5 hours), extensive actions (a shift was about 5 hours), and substantial volunteer recruitment efforts (our teams did VRPBs at least 3 nights a week) --- plus a leadership development program to put volunteers in positions to train and run actions as the scale increases (we would often tack a leadership development training onto a phone bank). Keep in mind - there was no proposition on the ballot in any of the places we did this work. That means our teams felt the urgency of the work and our volunteers were motivated by the desire to make every day life better for trans and gender nonconforming folks --- not by a call to action using election day as the prime motivator. By including folks on the ground to the research work undertaken by our movement, our communities are informing the national strategy to win equality in the communities we call home.

The juice of a deep canvass project is to move the voter to a vulnerable place where they can critically reflect on their own views and experiences of the issue --- without feeling personally judged by the canvasser. That’s a hard needle to thread. But our preliminary findings show that once we get someone to come with us who is affected by the conversation, they stay with us in the face of our opposition's strongest messages. Their support is durable. This opens up a world of whole new timelines and tactics for issue campaigns. While many groups from racial justice to gun safety to reproductive rights are working on policy change - effectiveness of the deep canvassing tactic was only publically shown for the LGBTQ movement - from reducing prejudice toward the transgender community to opening minds about the freedom to marry.

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