Data is Your Organisational Lifeblood by Mark Pack & Edward Maxfield

By at August 5, 2013 | 12:54 pm | Print

Data is Your Organisational Lifeblood by Mark Pack & Edward Maxfield

Mark Pack

Errors using inadequate data are much less than those using no data at all.
Charles Babbage

Data makes your campaign efficient because it means you can reach the right people with your messages. Political campaigners have understood the importance of data for longer than you might think.

Look back through the records of UK political parties from a hundred years ago and you will find something that might surprise you. One of the main electioneering tasks – one that warranted the employment of party agents to make sure it happened – was the annual registration drive. For the registration drive to work effectively the local party needed comprehensive and up-to-date records. Data mattered then in electioneering and it still matters now.

 Ask yourself what you need to do to win. Encourage your supporters to vote? Ask helpers for a little bit more help? Send a rebuttal email about a breaking news story? Let parents know about a new schools policy? You need data for all of that.

Data is what tells you who the most important voters are to contact in the next week. Data tells you which messages will work best with those people. Data tells you who is willing to help contact those voters. Data tells you how to get hold of them.

A very simple example of the power of data came from the Dunfermline by-election, the scene of a shock victory by the Liberal Democrats as the party nationally was plunged into a leadership crisis. The party had very little voter ID data for the constituency, which meant the most valuable task was the phone calls made before polling day. The initial canvass data was inspected, matched to geographic and demographic information, and a target list was created of priority people to call whose characteristics most closely matched identified supporters. The list was then tested by phoning voters at random and it was consistently found that calling the priority list resulted in half as many supporters again being identified for each batch of calls than calling at random. Increasing the campaign’s hit rate by 50 per cent was a major productivity boost.

 To be able to identify your own similar lessons, you need to love and cherish data, and keep a close eye on both quality and quantity. Far too often campaigners fail to keep an eye on either, resulting in lost opportunities and mistakes made.

Identify the key pieces of data you need, for example supporters willing to put up posters and voters pledged to vote for you. Then make sure someone is regularly tallying and reporting the totals so the campaign knows how its data gathering is going. (Regularly checking the totals also gives an immediate warning if a horrible data mistake has been made and records lost, over-written or misfiled – something that happens far too often for comfort.)

But also make sure the campaign team is checking on the quality of the data. For each of the key pieces of data, think of one way of checking if the data is good and make sure you keep track of this, too; for example, what proportion of the poster sites called on during the last week said yes to a poster?

That way you can be sure your campaign is getting the high-quality data it needs or, if not, you will know in good time that you have a problem and can fix it.

This lesson was taken from our book, 101 Ways To Win An Election which in addition to the 10 in this series has another 91 for you to learn from! Buy the book

Dr Mark Pack is the co-author of 101 Ways To Win an Election and former Head of Innovations for the UK’s Liberal Democrat party, where he ran the party’s 2001 and 2005 online general election campaigns. His internet campaigning firsts include arranging the first British political party leader on Facebook and the first British election candidate website to take online donations.

@markpack on Twitter

Dr Edward Maxfield has worked as a campaigns and communications professional for over a decade. He currently runs the constituency office of Norman Lamb, UK Member of Parliament and Health Minister in the Coalition Government. Ed was a member of the Liberal Democrats’ national campaigns team from 2001 to 2006 and has also worked as a lecturer, a lobbyist and for some of the world’s biggest business consultancy firms.

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