Email glitch highlights need for better integration of party databases

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.

The 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

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10 Comments

  • Paul In Wokingham 7th Aug '15 - 1:55pm

    @Caron – “how many others are in the same boat”. My email from HQ this morning (the apology for the previous email about conference registration) addressed me as “Dear Paul Anthony” (Anthony being my middle name). It made me smile: only my aunt Julia calls me “Paul Anthony”.

    More generally it is surely common sense to hedge your bets on mass email. Rather than asserting that we’d never attended conference before you would say “If you’ve never…”. Rather like in target letters where you tell a recipient called Doris that “you might be interested in our policies for older people” rather than insisting that she must be.

  • I’ve had an email from party HQ (generated by NationBuilder which linked to a page to join a campaign. Only when I clicked the link, another member’s name and email address appeared. Concerned about this data protection breach, I contacted party HQ immediately. My email was ignored.

  • Now we no longer have government ministers in our ranks……is it too optimistic to hope there be a bit of bright relief in having less heavy security at conference ?

  • Sadie Smith 7th Aug '15 - 3:00pm

    Well, yes we do need sensible databases. Sometimes there are reasons for separation. I get thoroughly irritated by my bank which ‘has to’ keep various bits of client information separate.
    I was not fussed and told Austin so when I got an apology.
    I see it as a trade off for having had a practical problem sorted out by Membership:)

  • John Tilley 7th Aug '15 - 3:03pm

    The plethora of software listed by Caron fills me with dread. They seem to have ‘code-names’ like all those investigations by the police nowadays. Can I warn HQ agains buying any software called ‘Yewtree’, just in case!

    It is tempting to suggest that instead of teaching new members how to deal with a succession of software packages (some of which seem to be of dubious value) we might be better off teaching new members how to get elected by knocking on doors and listening to voters as if they were fellow human beings.

    We might even write things down on bits of paper and keep records that any literate person can understand without going on a training course.

    I realise that is all a bit low-tech and some people have difficulty lifting their eyes from a screen long enough to engage in eye to eye contact with another sentient being – but it might be worth a try.

  • Jane Ann Liston 7th Aug '15 - 11:20pm

    I also received the ‘first time’ e-mail, and I’ve been a member for 30 years. Plus today I received an invitation to dinner during Conference from one of the federal exec. Wonder if that too was supposed to be for new members?

  • I have just checked an old poster which hangs in my house – and it reads that I last stood for election [for the Liberal Party] in 1982, when I was Chairman of ****Liberals. I’m quite sure that John Tilley’s ‘bits of paper’ in party records couldn’t come up with this sort of information but my poster can.
    Sometimes I was so exasperated by some Lib Dem voting in parliament in recent times that I didn’t pay my membership. I know many older members who did the same as me – because the party leadership would not listen to our entreaties while they were in government – to “keep the Liberal Democrat principles flying high and don’t sell out to Tory domination”. Coalition doesn’t mean capitulation of principles. Never-the-less we didn’t leave in spirit when our MPs voted against our principles – because we are Liberals to the core. If we return to the party to try to re-create, once more within the Lib Dems, the party democracy we believe in and is written in our constitution, please note that we are not new members. At the very least we are returning members and don’t need half-baked computer programmes to thank us for becoming liberals.
    If the party doesn’t think principles are important it will lose us again. But I keep plugging away that we need computer programmes which are real in an up-to-date way. Caron has shown that the programmes we have are not fit for ‘membership purposes’. If that is the case – are they are not fit for anything other than short-termism? Does that mean ‘just for the current vote’? There must be computer programmes which allow us to show our support for liberal action and to collect views in an organised way on surveys. LDVoice systems cannot do that as such programmes require serious finance and not necessarily by collecting delegates together at conference who might not represent the membership democratically at all.
    Where are these all-member programmes? Let’s put our money into good computer programmes suited to liberal democracy in the 21st century and not half-baked ones which seem quite useless.

  • Richard Boyd OBE DL 9th Aug '15 - 5:59pm

    Loved the email from Simon. Shows he has a fabulous memory, as the first time
    I met him was in Rayleigh, Essex, at the first AGM of the Rayleigh Liberals in 1974.

  • Allan Heron 10th Aug '15 - 3:19pm

    Why do we have seperate databases at all?

    Another sign of the organisational silos within the party.

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