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Email glitch highlights need for better integration of party databases

August 7, 2015 5:00 PM
By Caron Lindsay in Liberal Democrat Voice
Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

I've had something to say about the content of certain emails which have come out from party HQ. On Wednesday, I couldn't fault the content of the email that came out from none other than party legend Sir Simon Hughes to new members:

"It is my pleasure to invite you to your first Liberal Democrat Conference as a member of the Liberal Democrats.

"This year's Autumn Conference in Bournemouth (19th - 23rd September) is the first big opportunity for our party to gather together in large numbers following the general election and an opportunity to meet with like-minded people to discuss and debate ideas about the party's direction in the future.

"All those attending conference for the first time can register at a special discounted rate of £72 for the whole week or, if you prefer, you can register for just the weekend or for just one day - it's entirely up to you. I would be really pleased, Galen, if you could join me and other Liberal Democrats at our September Conference this year.

"Already more members have registered to attend this Conference than our Autumn Conference last year - a really encouraging increase. Members want to meet the new leader and hear directly from Tim Farron about his plans and ideas for the years ahead.

"To make sure you have a really good time at Conference we've put together a number of 'new representative' events, giving you the chance to meet me and other new representatives. We have also put together a schedule of recommended events to show you what Conference is like which we'll make available shortly."

The problem was that much mirth was caused by the fact that this was received by quite a lot of people who were not what you would call new members. One friend who joined the party the year I was born received it, as did one of our most prolific commenters on this site. A quick head count of all the people I know who got it reveals several hundred years of Liberal Democrat membership between them.

It's worth noting that not one of them decided to take the discount and keep quiet.

2The reason they received it, apparently, was because the email address that they used to register fro previous conferences was different to the one in the membership database.

An apology email went out from the party's member and supporter manager Austin Rathe last night. This clearly came out through the conference database as it was addressed to me by my first and middle names, as this is what we had to give during the dreaded days of accreditation.

Surely this is an argument for making sure that the membership and conference databases are fully integrated. It would make a lot of sense for that to be the case. The party has invested in three major bits of software in recent years, Connect, for voter ID, Nationbuilder for campaigning and what is commonly known as Salesfarce by the party membership. None of these three programmes speak to each other although you can swap data between them. This doesn't happen in real time, though, and comes with a price tag. However, we have come a long way in a short time - people can now join up online by direct debit or recurring credit card which is a major boost to membership retention, even if Salesfarce drives many local party membership secretaries to frustration. Connect is not without its issues, but it has improved dramatically and its capability for phone banking and its iPhone app, MiniVan, makes it much more versatile than EARS ever was. I have to say I still find Nationbuilder an absolute mystery. I had a nightmare getting it to bend to my will during the leadership election and almost caused Team Farron's technical guru to hunt me down and gut me like a fish. Nationbuilder has made a massive difference to local and national campaigning effectiveness and crowd-funding, though, even if it's a challenge for the technically stupid like me.

Conference registration sets up a whole different set of data through another programme called, I think Eventsforce, which, as its name suggests, is a close relative of the dreaded Salesfarce. I am not a clever technical type, but it would surely make more sense to integrate the Conference and Membership databases so that all the information about members was in the one place. Data is a great thing, but it needs to be accurate. this latest glitch caused more amusement than damage but that may not always be the case. The next stage in the party's technological journey needs to address this.

Oh, and if anyone in LDHQ is reading this, my husband refuses point blank to read emails from the party because they address him by his last name. This isn't a problem for him, because he has me to tell him what he needs to know, but I wonder how many others are in the same boat. I could bore you for the next three weeks with similar inaccuracies. This is another issue for the party's digital team to address.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings


Comment

Shirley Holt - East Midlands Membership Secretary and Webmaster

I had just written the email below to membership when I read this post.

"On checking the records on the East Midlands website today I noticed that a member was shown as lapsed. I confirmed this on the "salesforce" database.

"I was surprised as the member is long standing, is chair of her Local Party and a councillor on the District Council.

"On phoning her she was surprised as she had renewed in April, the money had been taken from her bank account and she had then cancelled her direct debit as she was unhappy that it had been increased without reference to her.

"I would be grateful if you would correct the records and confirm to her and myself that this incorrect lapse will not constitute a break in membership and cause her to lose any voting rights".

Needless to say as Regional Membership secretary I would not have known about this mistake if it were not for the Prater Raines website (which unlike Nationbuilder is integrated with "salesforce") as I am not notified when members lapse, die or move. It is only as administrator of the website that I obtain the information from "salesforce"

Other similar comments can be downloaded here