By Sasha Caldera, Constituency Mobilization Coordinator, and Samantha Burton, former Director, Policy & Advocacy
EWB’s campaign around the 2015 federal election had one goal: to build strong relationships with influential candidates across all parties, by demonstrating that a critical mass of Canadians care about international development. Our campaign– #PoliticsAside– was a success in that regard.
Citizens from 90% of Canada’s ridings contacted their local candidates. 170 candidates responded by participating in conversations about Canada’s role in ending global poverty. 45 of those candidates – 13% of all Members of Parliament (MPs) – were elected to office, giving EWB a solid foundation to build long-term relationships with MP development champions during this 42nd Parliament.
However proud we may be of those successes, we also recognize that #PoliticsAside was riddled with many stumbling blocks stemming from the National Office Policy & Advocacy Team’s failure to rigorously and continuously test our overall campaign strategy and the assumptions it was based on.
In preparing our campaign launch, we created an online tool that would enable citizens to contact candidates in their local ridings. But when we discovered there was no public database of candidates and no contact information, we failed to scope the landscape of groups who were already gathering this sort of data and we failed to use technology to drive public participation.
Instead, we decided to build it ourselves. Teams of volunteers went through the painstaking task of looking up names, addresses, postal codes, Facebook, and Twitter information for approximately 1400 candidates — only to realize that many candidates chose not to publish this information. We invested months of energy trying to build a comprehensive candidate contact database because we made an incorrect assumption about the availability of data. This could easily have been avoided with just a few phone calls. Later, we discovered that another organization, Open North, had built a script to automatically gather this data as it was released. In hindsight, we could have piggy-backed off their approach from the very beginning had we simply investigated what groups were already working on this problem.
As EWB is a learning organization, reporting failure even in the midst of success is something that we need to do more of; moreover, recognizing when we ought to test the assumptions behind our strategies is another area where there’s room for improvement. In moving forward, our team is aiming to learn from other organizations about what checks and balances they use in designing campaigns, and it is our ambition to extract best practices to suit our purposes.
As social innovators, ensuring team-level strategies are rigorously tested can de-risk broader institutional failure (or organizational failure) that can jeopardize an entire multi-year initiative and waste staff hours along with financial resources.