How To Canvass in Areas Without Cell Service: The Field Maps App

8 mins read

How To Canvass in Areas Without Cell Service: The Field Maps App

Don’t reinvent the wheel! Use the same apps that firefighters and utility workers rely on to canvass in areas without cell coverage.

The uses may seem different, but are identical technically. How do you conduct surveys and collect information from a list of people? Do this in areas without cellular service? How can the information collected be used to update an existing database like a voter file? How can canvassers collect information from people not on their list? How can all this be done quickly on a shoestring budget with volunteers new to canvassing?

It pays to think outside the box. Is there a better solution out there? Is the solution reliable? Is the vendor financially stable and be around after the next election cycle?

Field Maps is an app from esri, a fifty year old firm with thousands of employees. Thousands of users rely on Field Maps but the app isn’t well known in politics and activism. Field Maps app is available for free from the Apple AppStore and Google Play and works with affordable ArcGIS Online mapping software. (Disclosure: DemLabs has no financial stake in this solution. I just think it is amazing technology that more campaigns, advocacy groups and nonprofits should know about).

  • Collecting data when you’re not connected
  • How to canvass with any list of addresses or no list at all
  • How to create maps for canvassing without cell coverage and ‘cut turf’
  • How to update the Voter File with information collected by canvassers
  • How to escape vendor lock-in with better technology
Canvass with any list even when you are offline

Collecting data without connectivity

Canvassers have to know who to meet, the questions to ask and save the information they’ve collected. This is easy to do when they are connected. Canvassers who are working in areas without cellular service do it differently. They download a map of the area they’ve been assigned to canvass along with the survey questions to ask on to their phones while they have connectivity. They canvass even without cell phone service. The information they collect is saved on their phones and automatically uploaded to the cloud when they have WiFi or cell service. Campaign managers can choose to update the information collected back into the voter file.

How to create an offline map for canvassing

Make it easy for canvassers

Canvassers download the free Field Maps app from the Apple AppStore or the Google Play onto their phone. They next choose the area they will be canvassing and download the map and canvassing script. They then collect information while canvassing on their phone through the Field Maps app.

Canvassing offline with Field Maps app

How to create an offline map

  • Create the map with information or houses that canvassers will cover in ArcGIS Online.
  • This data which is being mapped could be from a voter file or some other list of addresses.
  • In this example we have used existing voters and houses without a registered voter.
  • Choose the areas to assign to different canvassers to cover.
  • Create an offline map which canvassers download onto their phones when they have WiFi access.
  • Canvassers can survey people who were not on the list assigned to them.
  • The information canvassers collect is automatically uploaded when they have WiFi.

detailed 10 step instructions to create an offline map

Vendor lock in takes customers hostage and forces them to use inferior technology

Vendor Lock In

“Vendor lock-in makes a customer dependent on a vendor for products and services, unable to use another vendor without substantial switching costs.” – Wikipedia. It’s the equivalent of FORD saying that its cars can only be fueled at a FORD owned gas station. That’s not how it works and drivers are free to choose the gas they want. In technology it is different. Vendors will try to lock-in customers, but restricting them to only use the apps they provide. Or in other words, if you want to use Voter File from vendor X, then you have to use the canvassing app from vendor X.

Why is this bad? Vendor X may have a monopoly on the voter file data that campaigns need but their canvassing app might be inferior to other solutions. They keep their customers hostage by bundling the voter file data and canvassing app. This prevents their customers from using other better canvassing apps. Vendor X has no incentive to invest in improving their canvassing app because their customers depend on them for access to the voter file data.


Best-of-Breed apps

Software is agnostic. Microsoft EXCEL doesn’t care whether you use the spreadsheet to create a budget, or plan homework assignments. It’s the same with software for politics. The same software that business use, works just as well for politics too. Why invest in recreating the wheel, when there is a better solution available for less already?

ArcGIS Field Maps uses data-driven maps to help mobile workers perform data collection and report their real-time locations. It streamlines the critical workflows and built on ArcGIS. Hundreds of groups use it for a range of applications including:

Corporations such as esri serve many markets beyond politics and nonprofit groups. Their software innovation is independent of election cycles. Revenue from thousands of customers gives corporations more money to invest in improving their products and hire talented engineers. Campaigns and advocacy groups should choose the best technology at the best price that can meet their needs. Donors should also consider whether they are paying to reinvent the wheel, when a better solution already exists in the business sector.

TakeAway: Don’t be kept hostage. Do more with better technology to register voters and conduct surveys.


Image credit: Nomadland and Solo Fur Weiss
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Reposted from Democracy Labs with permission.

DemCast is an advocacy-based 501(c)4 nonprofit. We have made the decision to build a media site free of outside influence. There are no ads. We do not get paid for clicks. If you appreciate our content, please consider a small monthly donation.

Democracy Labs is a hub for ongoing technology and creative innovation that serves progressive campaigns and organizations at the national, state, and local levels.

Our focus is on long term, sustainable and affordable solutions. An approach that is longer than an election cycle, and isn’t purely dependant on volunteers, can enable more qualified candidates to run for office and for more issue groups to bring about positive social change.

Democracy Labs is a project of the Tides Advocacy Fund.

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