Thursday, June 12, 2008

Citizen Engagement with Congress: New Report!

The Congressional Management Foundation recently came out with a follow-up to its report on How Capitol Hill is Coping with the Surge in Citizen Advocacy (2005). The new report, entitled How the Internet Has Changed Citizen Engagement included some what I consider shocking findings.

For example, did you know that almost one-half of Americans (44%) communicated in some way with Congress in the last five years? This statistic completely blew me away! I was sure it was much less. And yet, only two-thirds of those who communicated remembered actually receiving a response and, of those who did almost half (46%) were dissatisfied with the response.

Frankly, I'm just not happy with a world where over half the people communicating with Congress either did not receive a response or weren't satisfied with the one they received. It's tempting to blame Congress for this and I'm guessing that a good portion of the problem stems from the fact that individual offices have had to deal with a ten-fold increase in communications -- all with the same levels of staff that they've had for decades.

I think, though, that there's another problem here: a problem that I want to be involved in fixing! I would be willing to bet that many of the communications sent that did not elicit satisfactory responses were not entirely effective. In other words, I believe that those communicating with Congress would see much better results if they applied a few effective advocacy tweaks to their communications, such as personalization, asking for something specific, and persistent (but polite) follow-up.

The interest groups that establish these campaigns have some responsibility, I believe, in helping advocates enhance the effectiveness of their communications. According to the report, citizens rely on and trust the perspectives of those running the campaigns. If groups set different targets for communication, such as judging a campaign by the quality of communications rather than the quantity, they would wind up giving far better advice to advocates. In turn, advocates would see better responses from their elected officials and the world would be a happier place.

We may not be able to get elected officials to pay as close attention as we would like to every communication that comes in the door. That said, we can do more to make our communications worthy of notice. That's truly the mark of an effective advocate!

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