This was a very interesting session–I have often marveled at how little qualitative evaluation there seems to be going on in politics–lo and behold, the New Organizing Institute paid a company called Webitects to do usability research on how front-end users experienced new tools for augmented organizing and field work in battleground states.
Paul Baker and Billy Belchev runs through their presentation. They are still in the process of analyzing their data, but they presented some initial findings today on how people actually used the VAN, MyBO, and other tools in campaign offices.
They mainly focus on gap analysis, i.e., identifying what organizers are supposed to do, what they actually do, and what tools they use to get there.
Most of the presentation focus on volunteer recruitment and coordination, and they provide many examples of how organizers use extra tools beyond the systems campaigns provide–they use spreadsheets, stick-it notes, and what not to keep track of things. These tools have advantages that lead organizers to them (they are easy and accessible), but also problems for the organization they work in (they make data sharing harder, increase risk of dissonance).
In addition, even with the tools at hand, many forms of annotation that are important to the organizers and volunteers in their daily work has no place in the databases, or require time-consuming work to store–all that tends to remain on paper or in the head of a particular organizer. Again, data-sharing is a problem, and without data-sharing people get multiple calls, conflicting messages, etc.
Paul and Billy point out that training can solve many of these problems, but that it may not be as practical and cost/effective a solution as technical features, since there are so many people involved in campaigns, and so little time.
Paul gives as an example data entry into the VAN–he has seen volunteers enter page after page of information, and never save. One solution is to train all volunteers better. Another is a technical design solution, have a little box ask the volunteer after each page, “do you want to save the data you entered?”
In the discussion, people ask a lot of questions about security and control, suggesting that many remain suspicious of distributed and open systems in politics.
I hope NOI will make at least parts of the final findings publicly available. This is very, very interesting work.