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Deep Canvassing: A Step By Step Guide

What Is It? Why Should I Care?

Deep Canvassing is a conversational system that was created to “generate larger and longer-lasting impacts on voter’s core attitudes.” The conversation is typically initiated by political volunteers who knock doors in a neighborhood. Statistics estimate that 2 of every twenty five people become new supporters, and stay that way for at least 4 1/2 months.

We wrote this summary article so that you can increase your ability to change people’s opinions in the long term by adopting some of these methods.

Does deep canvassing work? There is some controversy over which methods work, but many of their techniques are founded on proven scientific principles.

  • Self persuasion – persuasion is more effective when people convince themselves than when someone else forces a way of thinking on a person.
  • Active processing – questions are asked to get the person to think deeply about an idea. Deep thinking is theorized to “produce larger and more enduring changes to their attitudes.”
  • Perspective taking – when people are asked to take the perspective of a group they have prejudice towards, that prejudice is reduced.
  • Cognitive dissonance – the brain doesn’t like contradictory ideas. Canvassers get people talking about personal experiences that contradict what they say they believe. This creates dissonance which leads to the brain changing it’s mind.

How Do You Deep Canvass?

Deep canvassing is dependent on your ability to get people to be comfortable talking with you. This means being a good listener, modeling vulnerability, and not being judgemental when they do speak. The other person should be speaking significantly more than the canvasser. Here are the steps to deep canvassing.

  1. Build Rapport – ask for people’s point of view in an open and trusting way. Listen as they speak and don’t judge. This often includes being vulnerable and being willing to share your story of being judged or attacked first. You also want to make it clear why you are speaking to them and what your goal is so they aren’t apprehensive. Transparency increases trust.
  2. Real Experiences – get people out of theory and into real experiences they have had. They are more able to empathize with people when they are out of their head. Get the person focused on a situation where they felt the same way that the group you are advocating for has felt. “When was a time somebody showed you compassion when you really needed it?”
  3. Using A Scale – ask people where they are on a 0-10 scale. This allows them to attach a concrete measure to their ideas. Ask where they are on the scale at the beginning and end of the conversation.
  4. Tactfully Note Contradictions – when a person has contradictions in their belief system, it leads to them wanting to expel one of the ideas. If you have followed all the other steps, you have a higher chance of the wrong belief being expelled.
  5. Rehearse The Change – ask the person if and why they changed their opinion. Rehearsal facilitates active processing.

Steps

  1. Introduce yourself and state your purpose.
  2. Ask the scale question. “On a scale of 1 – 10, where are you on this issue?”
  3. Get a specific experience they have with the group you are trying to advocate with. “Who do you know that has experienced X? What do you know about their story?”
  4. Get a specific experience they have had where they felt the same way the group you are trying to advocate with felt. “When was a time someone showed you compassion when you really needed it?” “Can you describe a time where you felt like you were different or not wanted? How did that make you feel? What other areas of your life did that effect?”
  5. Share your motivation or experience of how you were rejected or disparaged or felt a certain way.
  6. Ask for their fears about the rule, law, or idea you are challenging. Present a counter narrative.
  7. Ask the scale question again to see if they have changed.
  8. Have them rehearse the main reasons they changed.

Example Scripts

Remember, we aren’t looking at these examples because we agree or disagree with either topic. WE DON’T CARE WHICH SIDE IS RIGHT. We simply want to learn all we can about how long term persuasive methods work.

Example 1: Guns In Schools

(Introductions)

Canvasser: “I’m canvassing the neighborhood today and I am really interested in what you and other people think about the proposal to arm teachers in the US. I’m wondering on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 meaning you disagree and 10 meaning you agree completely, how effective do you think arming teachers would be in stopping school shootings?” (USING A SCALE)

Person: “I think it would be highly effective, you could put me at a 10.”

C: “Oh a 10, I would love to hear more about why you think it would be effective.”

P: “Well I work at the high school down the street. I’ve been the custodian there for 25 years.”

C: “Oh the high school? I graduated from that high school.” (RAPPORT)

P: “Oh great I don’t remember you. Maybe you’ve changed over the years.”

C: “It’s been many years ago.”

P: “I’ve just seen a lot of things about how kids treat the school. I’ve seen certain behaviors that are very questionable. I think arming teachers would certainly single out or prevent, I should say, any lone wolf who thought it would be a good idea to shoot up a hallway of students and myself. I want myself protected as well.”

C: “I completely agree. I can’t imagine working in a school in 2018. That sounds really scary. Thank you so much for the work you do.” (RAPPORT)

P: “You’re welcome.”

C: “You know from my perspective as a student. I don’t think walking into a classroom where the teacher is armed I would feel safe. I remember watching some of my peers fight teachers. Sometimes it almost got physical. I can’t imagine what would have happened in that situation if a teacher had a gun.” (REAL EXPERIENCES)

P: “I can. That student would have sat down.”

C: “Maybe some of them would probably have, but others would have tried to grab the gun from the teacher. I don’t honestly think that having teachers armed is actually going to be effective. I don’t know if you’ve heard the story of the teacher who walked out of a classroom and talked a student down from shooting the school. She walked out of the classroom and herd the gunshots and she could tell the kid needed help… And she actually convinced him to drop his gun until the cops came and they you know arrested him. I just thought that was really beautiful because it showed me that her are other ways to prevent these things from happening that just giving people more guns.” (REAL EXPERIENCES)

P:” Yes but that was one teacher.”

C: “Yes it was just one teacher but I think the other teachers were capable of doing it.”

P: “I mean I don’t know I’m just thinking about some of my buddies were also custodians at the middle school down the street who lost their job last year because of budget cuts. So I know firsthand it takes money to invest in teachers to make them where they need to be. Because teaching is a hard job. It might take money.” (REAL EXPERIENCES)

C: “I completely agree with you. I think we need full funding for public education and I also remember having one guidance counselor for like five hundred students The guidance counselor didn’t even know my name until senior year and that’s because she was supposed to help me apply for college. So I think we definitely need more guidance counselors in our schools, right. If young people walked into school feeling supported emotionally do you think that maybe less students would want to shoot up the school?”

P: “It is possible.”

C: “Well I definitely think that we need to figure out other ways to prevent these school shootings. I definitely think we need to keep school safe. I think we need to keep people like you safe who are working hard to keep our schools clean. I do think there are other solutions and I’d love to think more with you about other ways to make that happen. Not that we’ve had this conversation I’m wondering what you think again on a scale of 1 to 10 how effective do you think it would be to arm teachers to stop school shootings.” (USING A SCALE)

P: “I mean just based on this conversation I’m at a seven okay, but until I see those changes where kids get supported you know I think it’s totally fine that teacher should be armed in the mean time.”

(Closing comments)

ANALYSIS: The canvasser did use some of the techniques well, like the scale or the share your story technique. However they spent much too much time speaking. The other person is supposed to do most of the speaking. They didn’t rehearse much at the end either.

This script can be found here.

Example 2: Rights

An excellent example of deep canvassing technique.

ANALYSIS: This canvasser did a much better job than the last one. They used scales, good questions, and more. For example, “what is a reason you would vote for it and what is a reason you wouldn’t vote for it?” Then they got the person talking specifically about a person they knew. After that they shared a personal experience where their friend was hurt because of a person’s reaction. Following that the person connected the dots themselves, realizing that they had made people feel that way with their actions. This marked the beginning of their change of opinion. They later shared an experience they had about being treated poorly in a workplace, and expressed their fears about a law changing.

How You Can Use These Technique Anywhere

There are a few simple takeaways from this style of persuasion. First, notice how they try to drum up emotions from the person’s experiences. Then they bring up how that connects to their topic. This is slightly emotionally manipulative. See more on this here. Basically they are trying to create emotional reasoning by getting people to feel empathy. It is, however, quite effective if done well.

Second the use of a scale helps the person make their stance concrete and helps them realize they have changed.

Next questions and stories drive this method of persuasion. The best questions can be hugely influential. See our guide on asking persuasive questions here.

See also this book summary on techniques used by the street epistemology community, a group of people with similar goals to the deep canvassing movement.

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