A leader in multi-racial organizing and nonjudgmental and compassionate listening to find common ground and create lasting change
People’s Action Institute (PAI) is a pathbreaker in combining multi-issue and multi-racial organizing with deep canvassing techniques to win real change in people’s lives, build power for communities, and shape an economy and democracy that work for everyone. With 48 affiliate organizations in 30 states, PAI is also one of the largest multi-racial networks in the country.
PAI supports coordinated campaigns across its state-based member organizations, aligning people around a long-term agenda for racial, economic, climate, and gender justice. Its work is centered in rural and small-town America, engaging poor and working-class communities.
PAI has become a leader in using a groundbreaking technique called deep canvassing to create long-term shifts in people’s understanding and views. Deep canvassing involves nonjudgmental, two-way conversations. It involves deeply listening to people’s desires and concerns to build empathy and a shared analysis.
In 2019, PAI launched an extensive deep canvassing experiment in Michigan, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. The groups explored the concepts of scarcity and immigration, and they tested the power of narratives that build a “bigger we” that includes immigrants.
The research was evaluated by researchers at Yale University and UC Berkeley with a randomized field experiment. The researchers found that the deep canvassing had large and long-lasting impacts on people’s immigration attitudes. Approximately eight out of 100 respondents became more supportive of including undocumented immigrants in public benefit programs, such as universal healthcare. The results persisted for at least 5 months. The canvassing appears to have caused a broader worldview shift, as people’s attitudes changes were not limited to including immigrants in the social safety net programs discussed at the door. People’s Action Institute continues to develop this technique and to train others across the country.
Unbound has supported People’s Action Institute since 2019. Its work advances our Public and Strengthen Belonging strategies.
In a time when so many of our conversations feel shallow despite the embarrassment of platforms on which we can have those conversations, deep canvassing offers a promising alternative, a way to find common ground and make human connections in a time of political polarization and tribalism.
Andy Kroll, Rolling Stone on People's Action Institute's deep canvass program