Published
Thursday, November 17, 2011 - 12:06
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In doing some research for a potential project, I was exploring what kinds of eAdvocacy options were available to plug in to CiviCRM. Many of the big commercial eAdvocacy tools have big commercial price tags to go with them (and don't integrate directly with CiviCRM besides).

In an older thread on CiviCRM, mbriney describes the problem:

"The problem is not in building a solution... it's maintaining it. Most of the congressional offices utilize a web form as the only method of sending email. These forms often change, are replaced with new code, new systems, the member redesigns their site, someone new comes in, there are many reasons why this changes. What the big advocacy firms do is monitor these sites for those changes and then have a crack team of developers to build a work around for the new forms. I have heard that the forms change on a weekly basis. So you really need a full-time person dedicated to just hacking them up.

Then there's the argument that e-mail is no longer effective. Most offices just funnel the emails into a database where they can sort your letter, get a total count and then send you back a form letter."

Newcomer POPVOX claims to be a solution to that problem:

"POPVOX was designed by people who understand Congress to get your message through in a way that Congress needs to receive it. POPVOX is different from other political sites. It is not a discussion forum. It is a place for action.

The key to POPVOX is transparency and accountability. POPVOX goes beyond just getting your message to Congress. It ensures that your input is counted. Instead of relying on overworked Congressional staff with inadequate tools to process your message through their office procedures, POPVOX counts the positions you take on a specific bill and catalogs your message so that Congressional staffers — and others looking for information on the issue — can assess what people are really saying. When the information coming into your Members of Congress is public, counted, sorted and searchable, your voice is amplified — and Congress can’t ignore it."

I brought up a critique raised by soarhevn ("the limitation on only taking action on specific bills is a huge drawback") and got this response from a POPVOX representative:

"Right now, POPVOX is focused on Congressional-targeted action, but we are considering expanding to actions targeting agencies, for example. We can also create a customized widget for Congressional-targeted actions that aren't attached to a specific bill."

POPVOX offers a variety of widgets that you can embed on your site very easily, however I think there is a lot of potential in regard to creating a tighter integration with CiviCRM. The folks behind POPVOX seem open to and interested in such an integration. Below are some of my initial thoughts on how that integration could look, but I am interested in thoughts from others, as well as any information on other eAdvocacy tools that integrate with CiviCRM already or have good potential.

Possibilities for CiviCRM and POPVOX integration:

  • Users who fill the form out "cold" (for example, without being logged in) would have their information submitted into CiviCRM to go through CiviCRM's rules for creating new contacts (e.g. matching email address could update existing contact, no matching email address creates a new contact)
  • Users who are logged in get any relevant information that is held on file auto-populated into the POPVOX form
  • Users who respond from a CiviMail mailing get a hashed link to click on which allows the form to pull contact info even if they are not logged in to the site
  • When anyone fills out the form it adds something in the activity listing for that contact such as the title and link of the page with the POPVOX form/widget they used.

Any other suggestions or ideas? Please comment below.

 

 

Cross-posted at CEDC.org.

 

Comments

Josh from POPVOX here. I just wanted to reiterate here that we're eager to provide more integration options. As an open source coder myself, I'm particularly eager to work with CiviCRM's community.

Since moving from Convio, IMBA has been missing an advocacy tool to target members of congress. At the suggestion of this blog, we put PopVox on the list of tools we have been evaluating. PopVox looks great and talking with Josh and Rachna about their product has been fruitful.

 

IMBA and PopVox are interested in moving forward with integration. PopVox would like some counsel on the best method for getting constituent data back into CiviCRM. Is the IRC channel the best place for this or could a conversation be arranged with someone from the core dev team?

Just a note to indicate that the latest Webform CiviCRM Integration module includes support for hashed links from CiviMail which auto-populate the form. See this blog post, and particularly this comment.

 

(In case it's helpful for figuring out this functionality in a POPVOX integration)

What many of us are looking for is something to use below the Congressional level, such as state legislatures, county commissions, and city councils. I don't know about in other states, but in Oregon our legislators prefer emails. They are pulled by topic, put together in an electronic format, and available to the member while they are on the floor or in a committee meeting. They can quickly scan through, see what their constituents think, and make a decision. Finding a solution for non-profits and groups so they can do this is almost impossible unless they can spend tens of thousands of dollars.

As far as this oft repeated issue of how Congressional staff handles your email - it's how they handle most of the correspondence that comes into the office. They go through it, see if you are indeed a constituent, and then record your response in some fashion (which is why it is always best to write to YOUR Member of Congress, otherwise you won't be counted). This data is then passed along to the Member of Congress. This happens whether you snail mail, email, call, stop by, fax, etc. Good elected officials will use that information when making a decision on an issue. It was that way when I worked in a Congressional office 14 years ago and it's still that way now. You're entered into the database, tagged for topics, and then you'll get a form letter in response to your letter and possibly when future things come up on that topic (like you wrote about education and your Congressman is having a town hall about education).

Emails to elected officials are still important and I'd love to see this incorporated into CiviCRM some how. In the last year I've probably had a dozen clients who wanted to use CiviCRM, but needed e-advocacy tools. All of them had to go with another tool since this wasn't available.