Better Walk Lists: Building Custom Report Formats

Categories: Campaign Advice • Published on December 3, 2013 at 1:27 AM

Wellik Block WalkIn the previous article, Building Better Walk Lists, we discussed the out-of-box formats that come with VAN (specifically and some of the essential ingredients to that format.  In this article, we are going to follow-up on that theme and discuss how to create custom Report Formats.  These formats can be easier to read by walkers, and help eliminate some confusion that can occur in the field.  This article is part of an ongoing series designed to share knowledge on how to make field operations more efficient by using specific features in VAN.  Future articles will discuss adding campaign-specific data to walk sheets and replacing traditional paper walk sheets with tablets.

Custom Reports and the Robert Miklos Campaign

The walk list below is a sample that I created for the Robert Miklos Campaign when he sought to unseat Kenneth Sheets in Texas State House District 107 in 2012.  Robert has a reputation in Dallas Democratic circles for being an ambitious block walker and employed a large field team to knock doors.  Unfortunately, the campaign’s data entry strategy had trouble keeping up with the field team’s large size and daily influx of completed walk sheets.  Robert asked me to join the campaign to help streamline the walk program and clear the data entry backlog during the final months of the General Election.

As a first step to streamlining the field operation, I put together the below walk format for the field staff.  The original format being used did not give any past voting history for targeted voters, and some field staff were getting confused with the codes being used.  The walk list below forgoes the section that VAN normally reserves for a Script.  Instead, the Script’s questions and answers are hard-coded directly in the Report Format.  While this prevents this Report Format from being used by multiple scripts, it does provide maximum explanation of what each answer entails.

Walk List Version 2

Custom walk list report format created for General Election campaign

Building the Report

The image in this section shows how the custom report designed above looks in the Report Builder under the Report Formats section of VAN.  The report has 9 columns with 5 rows of data, and uses a Landscape orientation.  I would recommend using 10 point font size so the report is easier to read, but 8 point font size does allow more space for extra columns and text.

No Script Report Format main settings

Screenshot of the Report Format’s primary settings

For those unfamiliar with building custom Report Formats, you can access the sections displayed below through the following instructions.  If you cannot see some of these options, you may need to check with your VAN Administrator to ensure that you have access rights to the Report Format section.

How to access Report Formats:

1. Start at the Main Menu
2. Select “Reports * Forms * Labels” from the left sidebar
3. Select Report Formats

From this screen, you will see the reports that your VAN account has access to.  Some reports cannot be modified because they were created by the State VAN Administrator or others with higher permission levels than your account.  To create a new Report Format, press the button “Add New Report Format.

Removing the Script Section

Screenshot of custom Report Format in VAN that does not have a section for a Script

This table outlines the field values being displayed in each of the columns that are displayed above.  All of the values beyond Column 5 are displayed using Text and Check boxes, rather than pulling an actual Survey Question or Activist Code value.  Recent voting history for each Primary and General Elections can be added onto reports to be displayed for voters.  This allows field staff to customize their message based on the voters that they are speaking to.

Column 1 Column 2 Column 3 Column 4 Column 5 Column 6 Column 7 Column 8
Voter Name
Phone #
Voted in
Voted in

Cracking the Codes

The Report Format also cuts the 21 available canvass results down to just 4 codes.  A 5th code, Canvassed, is only used by VAN when one or more Survey Questions (or Activist Codes) are answered during the walk program.  If a resident claims the targeted voter is dead, then I normally instruct the field staff to write that down by the voter’s name.

Walk Results VAN Codes When to be used
Not Home NH (Not Home) Voter is not home, busy, or otherwise unavailable.
Moved/Vacant MV (Moved) Voter has moved from this address.  Vacant house.
Gated/No Solicit IN (Inaccessible) House is gated, has dogs, no soliciting sign, etc.
Refused to Speak RF (Refused) Voter refused to speak or even open front door.

The clear text also helps new field staff easily understand which check box to mark after speaking with a voter.  They no longer have to wonder if “No Solicitation” signs should be marked as NH for Not Home or IN as Inaccessible.  Depending on how a campaign responds to voters marked as Refused, this walk result could be merged with Not Home.  The question is whether a campaign will go back to these homes marked as Refused.  If the Refused walk result is merged with Not Home, then other results such as “Spanish Only” or “Other Language” could be added in its place.

Setting Defaults for Reports

Default settings can be an easy overlooked time saver when printing walk lists.  If you are creating a custom Report Format that removes the Script section as described above, I would highly recommend also configuring the Report Format’s default settings.  This allows the report to be tied to a specific Script and sort order.  You can also set additional options depending on whether you are creating walk lists to be printed on paper or downloaded to tablets.

Using Default Settings for Report Formats

Screenshot of the Default Settings under Report Formats

Some Key Options for Default Settings

Setting Script: Setting a Script in Default Settings is a necessary option for Report Formats that do not use VAN’s Script section.  This ensures that the Script that this Report Format was designed for shows up automatically when selecting the Report Format.  The default setting makes it harder for the individual printing the Walk List to make an error and choose the wrong script.

Printing People: I normally create a separate Report Format specifically for tablets and MiniVAN, in which I uncheck the Print People option.  As the name implies, VAN will print a walk list sans any voters with just the Script, Map, and Directions being printed.  These small sheets can then be given to field staff using tablets, which include: 1) a paper copy of the script for review, 2) map of target area, and 3) directions on how to get there from the Staging Location.  This is especially useful for drivers who drop-off and pickup field staff at designated turfs.  Even a field program using just tablets is not going to be entirely paperless.

Driving Directions: While VAN does not allow the setting of a default starting location for Driving Directions, I have found printing driving directions on both small and large campaigns to be critical.  Otherwise, I have experienced walk teams wasting precious time in looking up addresses on their phones and trying to get directions to the location.  By printing directions directly from VAN, the field team is able to eliminate wasteful map searches and get directly on the road.

Exclude People: Unless a campaign is entering the Early Voting period or Election Day, I would highly recommend not checking this option.  It adds the possibility that someone could be still falsely marked as early voted from a previous election, and would not appear on a newly printed walk list.  This has actually happened to me during some May Municipal Elections when the State VAN Administrator had not unchecked the Early Voting flag from the November General Election of the previous year.  While easily corrected, it emphasizes the point of leaving nothing to chance.

So what is Next?

Now that we have covered the creation of custom Report Formats, we will next briefly move into adding custom campaign data to these reports.  After that article, we will begin discussing tablets, MiniVAN, and best practices on how to incorporate them into a field campaign.