Assessing Data Needs

As your organization prepares a data management strategy, you’ll need to assess your current technology strengths and weaknesses. Ask yourself the following questions.

Where will we get the information about the voters and potential voters that we contact?

What should we track about the people we contact?

This depends...

How many voters will we be contacting and registering?

Unless this will be a very small localized campaign, the typical answer to this question is hundreds and thousands, which means that you will need a computer system to track the voter contacts. In an effort like Community Voices Heard’s engagement projects, where you might try to have 5-10 contacts with a voter, a great deal of data will be created as a result of continuous door-knocking and phone-banking. Some field operations expect that each volunteer working on a Saturday morning will contact a dozen households. At this rate, forty volunteers will make up to 480 direct contacts. Estimating that the average household has more than one voter, the number of voters contacted could exceed 500. To use the results of a day’s door-knock, you need to get the data into the database so that it can be analyzed. Entering the results of this one canvass is not an insignificant task. Your organization should have the capability to quickly enter the opinions that your volunteers collect. While this data entry can be done by hand, it’s nearly impossible for most groups to keep up with the volume unless they use technology.

How will voter contact information get entered into our database?

There are a couple of technology solutions for data entry. The cheapest solution is to use a bar code reader to scan in the results as recorded on a walk list carried and filled out by the door-knocker. The costlier and more capital intensive, but faster, option: PDAs to record and transfer the data. We’ll discuss data entry, barcode scanners and PDAs in greater detail later in the TechKit.

Do we need to upgrade our computer systems?

To answer this question you should first have in hand the answer to a couple of key questions:

That probably means that you need to finish this course and make a voter education project plan before you can answer this question.

Do we need outside technical assistance?

You will need technical assistance with a number of aspects of the technology – obtaining voter lists, for instance. The cleanest files come from third party vendors who can match your member list against the voter list. When you get the matched file back, you will need to integrate or merge the information into your member list. This step stumps most organizations.
So you will need help, so long as it’s from a database person who really understands what your member file is designed to do. We’ve heard many stories of merge member/voter data that never makes it back into the member database. Or of technicians who take it upon themselves to redesign the original member database and return it to the organization without adequate training. In both examples, the effort is wasted because the data is unusable to the organization.

Click to hear from an organizer

Bineshi Albert describes the challenge of identifying Native American voters in Albuquerque – and the importance of building a database of the community

Bineshi Albert: building a database means overcoming unexpected challenges

Anthony Thigpenn describes SCOPE's planning phases
Anthony Thigpenn: On the database they use