It's very exciting and gratifying to see my NGP VAN hackathon project, the OpenVPB.com site, finally launched and in use! Having made my fair share of phone calls over the past decade or so, in elections up and down the ballot, I know the importance of phone banks at every stage of a field operation. Organizers ask their volunteers to make calls to identify supportive voters, recruit supporters to events, and of course, to get out the vote on election day. Phone banks are as much a part of our electoral process as Labor Day parades and yard signs.
But there is one thing about phone banking that's always struck me as inefficient - even in an age where progressive field organizing is driven by the best tools that information technology has to offer, nine times out of ten phone banking is a paper-and-pencil affair. That means that volunteers have to shuffle stacks of paper as they make calls; organizers have to spend valuable time printing those stacks of paper, and inputting the data volunteers have collected; that data is sometimes not available as quickly as we'd like; and so on.
It's not because we lack the technology - indeed, for quite a while VAN users have had to ability to make phone calls to voters and to record their data directly into the VAN. And NGP VAN's Digital Services department has a suite of online organizing tools that make it possible for visitors to a candidate's website to make calls to voters from the convenience of home.
As it turns out, these were the perfect building blocks for the OpenVPB project. VAN's robust and extensive API services include methods for working with Virtual Phone Banks. Our online organizing tools are very good at providing volunteers with a seamless, high-tech phone banking experience for the candidate of their choice. All I needed to do was to extend the VAN API services a bit, and to repurpose our online organizing tools so that a single website could handle virtual phone banks from many different VAN committees.