On Thursday, March 9, 2023 Civis Analytics headed to Washington D.C. to partner with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) to host our first in-person event in more than three years!…
The nonprofit builds progressive power through voter engagement and community organizing to strengthen public education, create shared economic prosperity, advance social and racial justice, and preserve the environment, leveraging data analytics and state-of-the-art modeling to identify the most effective methods to reach and inspire voters.
“After the 2020 election, we pivoted from being an electoral organization to an advocacy organization in order to maintain all of our contacts and our volunteer base, and to continue to organize in communities — and build trust in those communities — so that when we pivot back to elections [in 2022], we don’t have to start from square one again,” says Michael Morales, For Our Future’s national data and analytics director. “The big thing for us is having that year-round presence, so we can activate those communities when legislative issues come up and when elections are going to happen.”
Data is the lifeblood of For Our Future’s efforts. In addition to using voter contact database NGP VAN for data collection, Morales and his team employ an array of broadcast and text-based platforms to support the organization’s voter outreach initiatives.
“All that data needs to come back into our reporting ecosystem,” Morales explains. “We needed to build a cohesive ecosystem that can be queried to create national reports that serve as statements of truth, showing what the organization has accomplished across all of our states and all of our different programs. Having that ecosystem live in one place was really important for us to be successful to that end. Otherwise, defining what success is or isn’t, or defining what a program has or hasn’t done, takes too long and leaves too much room for ambiguity.”
That’s when For Our Future turned to Civis Analytics.
Civis Platform is a cloud-based data management platform that makes it easy for nonprofits, advocacy organizations, and others to import, transform, analyze, and report on their data. Platform allows stakeholders throughout the organization to collaborate in a centralized environment to more quickly generate data-driven solutions, and to close the loop on measurement, activation, and attribution.
“Having a central location for all of our data — that can be accessed very quickly, and that can house all our reports — allows us to establish benchmarks, and figure out what work we’ve actually done,” Morales says. “Before we had Civis Platform, a lot of the discussion was around agreeing what the facts were, rather than discussing the facts and making decisions based off of them. Back then, it took so long to build reports that by the time new information came in, the landscape had already shifted. Now we we spend less time building reports and wrangling data, and more time talking about what’s on those reports, which allows us to target more effectively, which allows to run our programs more effectively, and which allows us the bandwidth to stop talking about what a program has done and start talking about what it can do next.”
Morales and his team are especially reliant on Query, Civis Platform’s in-browser SQL client, which enables users to directly explore their data in real time without leaving the Civis interface. SQL — short for “Structured Query Language,” and pronounced either “sequel” or “ess-queue-el,” depending on whom you ask — is a programming language for interacting with data: Civis Platform users can write SQL queries against their Amazon Redshift database and see the output displayed, with no external SQL client required.
“Having one place where things can be queried very quickly is really important for us, and our reporting and analysis needs, to make decisions that impact strategy and day-to-day management,” Morales says. “As an organization that is running many programs, in multiple states, we need to be able to track our efforts down to the individual attempts for data — a day’s worth of calls, for example — and be able to say what script we were using, how it was paid for, and who was responsible for talking to voters at that time. For a while we tried to use the processing power of our local machines. It was a disaster. So we made the investment to train up our team on their SQL skills, and we’ve managed to expedite the process.”
Morales says that querying the Redshift cluster accounts for about 90 percent of the For Our Future data team’s day-to-day Platform workload and usage.
“We could have used a database visualizer to generate these files, to run a query, get the export file, copy the results, paste it into a CSV, and then upload it separately. Or we could run that same query in Platform’s Query tool, export the results directly — they’re already formatted the way we want them to be, already a CSV — and then load those raw results or that file into our CRM to be able to track everything we need to, with all the specifics we need.”
Query tool enhancements are making life even easier for Platform users like For Our Future. The new and improved Query:
Morales calls the new searchable query history “by far my favorite thing ever,” explaining “For my teammates who use the Query tool on a daily basis, it’s easier to look at the previous day’s query and then change the template just slightly. Sometimes I’ll also run two or three different queries at a given moment, and forget where I was before. Being able to look at it this way is a lot cleaner and less cluttered. Not that it was bad before — it worked for everything I needed — but seeing it this new way, I don’t want to go back. This is everything I want… it’s very much like Data Christmas to me.”
Thanks to Civis Platform, For Our Future’s struggles to clarify and quantify program success are now squarely in its past.
“Having seen where our team was before Platform in terms of loading these files and how much time it took, to where we are now — it’s night and day,” Morales says. “We could not do this without the Query tool. We could have approximated it with a database visualizer and access to a Redshift cluster, but it wouldn’t have been this clean, it wouldn’t have been this clear, and it wouldn’t have been this smooth. Not being able to look at the query history would have made things particularly difficult. Now we have something that can do all the things we need it to do, all in one place, better than anyone else can do it, and easier than anyone else can do it.”