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Deep Canvassing and a New Era of Engagement

Updated: Mar 27

Many of you will have heard me ranting and raving about an incredible book published last year called The Persuaders by Anand Giridharadas. Like so many of us, I was hungry to learn about a new kind of politics and a new way of engaging with target audiences. But once I settled into learning from the campaigns Giridharadas profiled, I realized it was more of a remembering than learning something new. Because deep down we all know how to persuade someone. Humans at our core are meant to seek connection. I believe this principle is at the heart of what is being called “deep canvassing” as well as a renaissance and professionalization of public engagement.

Deep canvassing is a technique that involves structured, in-depth conversations with voters. While there are specific steps to follow, I have found it mimics how we naturally converse with each other. Make some small talk, get to know details about the other person, approach difficult topics only after you’ve built trust. It’s worth noting Queer activists have been using this technique for decades and the rest of us are just catching up.

The key to the whole process is trust. And trust is a sticky, elusive topic for organizations and institutions these days. The Edelman Trust Barometer, a corporate-leaning research tool, just released their 2024 report. And the results are fascinating. Trust in traditional authorities, like government, media, and businesses is at an all time low. Who do we trust for information? Our peers: “someone like me.”

What an incredible opportunity for those of us knocking on doors, or facilitating difficult conversations. As we move into an increasingly complex world of misinformation, climate emergencies, and fear mongering, what stands between us and these scary scenarios is the trust we have in each other. It’s time to lean into seeking connection.

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