April 13, 2021
We at Rewired are building a new tool that we think has the potential to fundamentally change the landscape of organizing technology, laying the foundation for the Left to have its own powerful and independent digital infrastructure. It’s called Assemble.
Assemble is a collaborative database that uses spreadsheets and other easy-to-use views to manage projects and organize workflows. Combining the power of a modern database with the simplicity of online collaborative spreadsheets means that Assemble can be used for just about any organizing project. It doesn’t matter if you’re organizing voters, volunteers, workers, or tenants – the flexible design of the platform will enable you to organize your contacts in a way that works best for you and your team.
Right now, the closest thing to this kind of software is Airtable, but three key features set Assemble apart: expanded data capacity, customizable permission settings, and native software extensions specifically tailored to grassroots political organizing.
Your database needs to be able to handle the data you throw at it. Currently, Airtable’s three out-of-the-box plans limit the number of records (or rows) you can have per project to 1,200, 5,000, or 50,000. But what happens if you’re running a regional, statewide, or national campaign targeting hundreds of thousands or millions of voters? What happens if you’re a membership organization with over 50,000 members? Your options are to either arbitrarily break up your universe into many different projects to stay underneath the record limit or use a CRM that has strict limitations on what fields you can have, how they relate, and what workflows you can build on top of them.
Assemble will be able to handle hundreds of millions of rows, not tens of thousands. This enormous expansion in records per project is because, unlike Airtable, it’s backed by PostgreSQL. The implications are straightforward: your database will scale alongside the growth of your organization without overwhelming it. No row limits. No work arounds. Just all the data you need, organized the way you want.
Once your data is loaded and organized, you’ll need to determine which members of your team can access which records. Assemble’s customizable permission settings will ensure that your spreadsheets are tailor-made for your team.
Typically, permission settings are set ahead of time by the software you’re using, with predetermined user roles corresponding to different levels of permitted data access. These permission systems are fixed, linear, and vertical, meaning that you have a definite number of user roles, each with greater or lesser degrees of data access. For example, Airtable’s permission settings system includes Creators, who can create, edit, and comment on spreadsheets, Editors, who can edit and comment on spreadsheets but not create new ones, and Commenters, who can comment on spreadsheets but not create or edit them.
While simple and intuitive, this arrangement has severe limitations for more complex organizing projects. What happens if you want volunteers to be able to edit some spreadsheets, but only comment on others? What if you want a field organizer to be able to edit certain records and fields, but not others? What if you want a team lead to be able to create and edit spreadsheets for their team, but not for other teams? You’re forced to make a choice: you can organize your projects around your permission settings (rather than the other way around), risk data security by granting overly broad permissions, or create inefficiencies by granting overly restrictive permissions, thereby making some users dependent on others to access the data they need.
What’s needed—and what Assemble will provide—are permissions settings defined by the user, not the tool. Permission settings in Assemble will be malleable, dynamic, and multi-directional, meaning that you can create as many as you need, using a diverse range of criteria that allows you to define custom user roles that precisely meet the needs of your organization. What this means in practice is that any given database user—at any level, from any location, and in any specific team—will be able to access exactly the data they need to fulfill their role.
Now we can imagine that you have all your data organized and all the members of your organization have the data access they need to get to work. The question then arises: What tools will you use to contact your target universe (voters, workers, etc.) and how will those tools connect to your database?
Most databases now either rely on manual .csv imports or API integrations to move data into and out of your digital outreach tools. Assemble will support both of these options, but over time, you may not need to use either of them. That’s because Assemble is going to be built as the centerpiece around which a new ecosystem of organizing technology gets developed: texting tools, dialers, canvassing apps, event management tools – they will all be built as native software extensions of Assemble.
Imagine logging into a single platform and having access to all your data and all of your organizing tools. Imagine being able to query and create a universe of contacts, target those contacts in an outreach tool, then have the results automatically updated in your database. Imagine then having workflows where different outreach results automatically define those contacts as the targets for another round of outreach via a different contact tool. Imagine spending most of your time as an organizer not cutting turfs, loading lists, or pulling reports, but building systems and supporting teams that are able to handle those tasks and many more as efficiently and effectively as possible.
The combination of these three features—expanded data capacity, customizable permission settings, and native software extensions—means that the possibilities for designing powerful organizing systems will be virtually endless. This design flexibility means that any organization will be able to use the platform to build systems that truly meet their needs and allow them to quickly respond and adapt to changing organizing conditions.
Beyond these technical features, Assemble will stand alone in that it will be a database designed specifically with Left grassroots organizations, unions, and campaigns in mind. Its purpose will not simply be to advance organizing technology for its own sake, but for the sake of growing and consolidating a genuinely social democratic, class-struggle oriented current in American politics that can win and wield power, so that all people in our society can live a decent and dignified life.