Oct 09


CongressCamp was a great success and we’re working to continue that momentum and leverage the community that grew around it to transform citizen engagement with Congress through social media and collaboration technologies.

Towards that end, we are beginning to discuss the next one – while nothing is solidified yet, it’s kinda looking like it will be in early January.

In the meantime, we are developing the Compass – a wiki-based guide to use of online communications and social media by Congressional offices.

If you’re not already signed up on the Google Group, do so. Get involved. Stay involved. We are in the midst of a significant paradigm shift for Congressional communication – and together, we can make it into something really amazing!

Sep 09

A repository of social media best practices for Congressional offices

One of the last sessions on Sunday at the Congress Camp unconference focused on the concept of creating an online resource for Congressional staffers to use in applying social media for government. The session was proposed and facilitated by Wayne Burke, one of the organizers for the event. Suggesting the session itself catalyzed a discussion of the language used to describe the “best practices.” Something catchy, like a “geek’s guide to social media in Congress” drew some appreciation. In the end, best practices stuck. Here’s a guide to the discussion, including a goal, an audience, a hosting plan and a way forward.


“Bridging the gap between citizen knowledge and Congressional needs”

Semantics aside, the goal is simply help Congress use social media better by leveraging the knowledge of the online community and experience of existing staffers. Choosing the right title matters, since users will be searching for it online. A Congressional staffer present, a deputy press secretary, said that she believes it’s likely there’s only one contact in the each office for social media use. That person needs to get good information somewhere. That makes the audience new media officers (or their bosses) searching for ways congressional offices could do to engage their communities.


The discussion then turned to where the repository would be hosted – foundation, House servers or another location? After going through the option, CongressCamp.org was a consensus choice, extending the weekend’s activities further into time.


Another staffer present posed a scenario rooted in recent reality, given that the officer where he works on a press staff of 4 people is currently redoing website, to launch in October. What would have been helpful would have been one place where experts and colleagues share “what you can do, here’s a tool that’s helpful for that task, this is how it helps to do it and, this is how to explain it to your boss.”

Ease of use is also critical. Navigation and UI is key, as is using simple, declarative language. The resource should be editable by community members, which makes permissions an issue. Authentication to prevent vandalism is important, as is a means to flag content to the community. Users are more likely to benefit from a canonical document that evolves over time, as the wiki grows.

The Congress Camp attendees agreed that different sections for committee versus. Representatives and Senators wasn’t needed, at least to begin. Similarly, the resource should not be broken up by party. A staffer present, in fact, noted that he was impressed by how non-partisan the technology has been to this point.

The resource should provide case studies and examples of successful use of social media platforms by Congress, including an emphasis on care in the approach. For example: “Twitter helps us promote our hearings” but we need to dedicate resources to listening while sharing information.

Dealing with different levels of knowledge can be a challenge in educating others about new technologies; sometimes people who get it are bored, those who are new are overwhelmed. Therefore, there should be a gradient of tools and examples for each level, with a natural progression.

Next steps

Assign different roles to key stakeholders, including software procurement, design, content seeding, promotion and then community management.

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Sep 09

Photos from Sunday


Big ol’ hi-res photos available for download, print use, web publication, self-promotion etc. (with Photo credit to www.xiana.com) here.

Sep 09

Embracing Gov2.0: Social media case studies and tools in Congress

Understanding how Congress could approach social media can be usefully grounded in how Congressional offices are already leveraging the medium. After Saturday’s sessions at Congress Camp, digging deeper into case studies of social software use by Congressional offices was a natural evolution. The second session of the day, on tools and case studies, grew from that need, focusing in on the questions posed by a member of Senator Sanders (D-VT) office:

How do we keep up with all these tools and identify the useful ones?

He asked for ways that Congressional offices could:

  1. Listen to constituents
  2. Develop and build upon trusted relationships with constituents
  3. Filter conversations, given the massive amount of communications
  4. Manage a two-way dialogue

The session looked at many different examples of Congressional use of social software, starting first with Senate or House pages and then moving to the digital outposts themselves.

Case Studies

The pages chosen were by no means comprehensive or representative of the makeup of either of the two chambers. Each was simply suggested by the participants in the Congress Camp audience and then discussed in the context of how external social media platforms and digital tools were being employed and displayed.

Congressman Latta, for instance, used mobile technology in an innovative way by setting up his own SMS shortcode.

Cory Booker enabled visitors to translate the content of his page using Google Translate.

Congressman Culberson had his Qik feed embedded on his page, presenting a livestream to visitors if he chose to broadcast from his phone.

Metrics for success

As the discussion ranged far and wide, substantial questions emerged about measuring success – what are the metrics? And what are the risks? Noel Dickover pointed out that creating mashups or data feeds for agencies and offices can create legitimate concerns grounded in security and privacy.

If revenue follows engagement in business use of Web 2.0 or Enterprise 2.0, what’s the parallel for Government 2.0? A vote? Passing a bill? Registering new voters? Location-aware technologies may matter in this context, in the future. The goals of the social media efforts of the Center for American Progress, for instance, is measured in terms of extending reach, policy and expertise.

Metrics include:

  • Successful delivery of services
  • Signatures or delivery of petitions
  • Usage of platforms by constituents
  • Engagement, as measured by @mentions, retweets, reshares, likes or video replies
  • Raw numbers, as expressed by followers, fans, friends, clicks or viewsOne example of the latter is video of Michigan Representative Mike Rogers’ opening statement on the healthcare debate. The video went viral and has registered more than 3 million views on YouTube.
  • Tools

    The list is long, particularly when it came to Twitter, but one clear suggestion preceded the discussion:

    “Don’t focus on one – try many to see what works.”

    Choosing tools to integrate into a Congressional office or campaign should also, ideally, be directly tied to the desired outcome. (See “Metrics” above. ) Some platforms, like Facebook or Twitter, are now so big that any public entity is well-served to be represented. Others, like YouTube, are worth considering against smaller options like Blip.tv, Viddler, Veoh or livecasting services like uStream or Qik.

    Choosing tools from amongst the many “Web 2.0″ options also shouldn’t ignore “Web 1.0″ options like email, text messaging and HTML-based websites. All of these technologies are familiar to constituents, are lightweight and are not as hindered by issues of accessibility or access to broadband Internet connections.

    Acquiring a SMS shortcode for mobile – like txt “LATTA” – is a lightweight way, for instance, to engage constituents who do not own PCs or have Net access. For rich discussion of some of these issues, read this post on discussion of the digital divide at CongressCamp.

    Digital strategies involve more than just social media too: Keyword research for search engine optimization (SEO) is important for getting Congressional efforts online to rank high for searches. Google offers a free keyword research tool that helps with that effort. Search engine marketing (SEM) can also help to target constituents looking for specific information. For those who are new to the blogosphere, mapping out influence using blogrolls can help create a list of influencers for targeted social media outreach.

    Twitter came up again and again in the discussion of tools. The ecosystem of applications and services that make use of Twitter much effective is substantial and constantly growing, as documented by social media blogging powerhouse Mashable.

    The Twitter tools that were brought up included basics, like using Bit.ly for shortening and tracking links, establishing #hashtags for aggregating conversations and leveraging #FollowFriday to find people and build community.

    J.mp now offers an even shorter option than bit.ly, with the same advantages.

    More advanced options include using TwitVid for adding video to the microblogging network.

    Act.ly is now integrated with GovTrack.us for easy bill tracking. For instance, just plug in http://act.ly/HR2221 to an address bar or share it on Twitter for easy tracking of the cybersecurity bill.

    TweetCongress is useful to those looking for ways to track the tweets of Congress.

    A growing directory of government accounts can be found at GovTwit.com or followed on Twitter at @GovTwit.

    TweetProgress tracks progressives on Twitter. The True Conservatives on Twitter social network on Ning.com tracks #TCOT.

    If you have more tools, case studies or metrics to suggest, please add them in the comments!

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    Sep 09

    The Digital Divide 2.0

    First big questions:

    • Who are the people getting involved?
    • If only 20% of public are actively online, why not just work with that group instead of working to encourage greater participation?

    Continue reading →

    Sep 09

    Tools & Case Studies from “Picking Tools & Strategies” Session

    Thank you to everyone who came to our Sunday morning session/discussion on choosing online strategies and tools for government officials. By popular request, here are 2 lists that we came up with from the session:

    1) A list of case studies of elected officials online to check out for ideas and comparisons, and

    2) a list of tools to check out and consider using for any government office or elected official just getting online.

    Case Studies of Govt. Officials Online

    Rep. Steve Israel

    Sen. Bernie Sanders

    Rep. Mike Honda

    Rep. Mike Rogers

    Mayor Cory Booker, Newark – great case study of a local politician using social media, esp. Twitter

    CA Secretary of State Debra Bowen – state level politician who is very engaged in social media

    Rep. Bob Latta — great example of Member of Congress using mobile/SMS technology — one of the first Reps to do so

    Sen. Claire McCaskill — excellent use of Twitter & Tumblr

    Useful Tools to Consider




    TwitVid – great for sharing videos on Twitter

    Bit.ly – share & track analytics on links

    TweetCongress - find other Members of Congress on Twitter

    GovTwit - huge directory of government officials on Twitter

    TweetProgress – directory of progressives on Twitter

    Qik – useful for livestreaming video

    SMS – check Bob Latta’s website for ideas on how to use mobile tech to communicate with citizens

    GovPulse – search the federal register

    DataMasher.org – mash up various types of govt data

    Sep 09

    Finding and archiving Congressional data

    Sources of Congressional data:

    The Congressional Record:

    The Congressional Record is the official record of the proceedings and debates of the United States Congress. It is published daily when Congress is in session. GPO Access contains Congressional Record volumes from 140 (1994) to the present. At the back of each daily issue is the “Daily Digest,” which summarizes the day’s floor and committee activities.


    The Library of Congress THOMAS site is the source for federal legislative information.THOMAS provides several options for finding bills and  resolutions.

    Congressional Digest

    Library of Congress Web Archives (LCWA) is composed of collections of archived web sites selected by subject specialists to represent web-based information on a designated topic. It is part of a continuing effort by the Library to evaluate, select, collect, catalog, provide access to, and preserve digital materials for future generations of researchers. The early development project for Web archives was called MINERVA.

    Biographical Directory of the United States Congress

    Search for information on members of the US Congress from 1774 to the present day by entering a name, position or state.

    Office of the Law Revision Counsel

    The Office of the Law Revision Counsel prepares and publishes the United States Code, which is a consolidation and codification by subject matter of the general and permanent laws of the United States.

    Clerk of the House


    American taxpayers spend over $100 million a year to fund the Congressional Research Service, a “think tank” that provides reports to members of Congress on a variety of topics relevant to current political events. Yet, these reports are not made available to the public in a way that they can be easily obtained. A project of the Center for Democracy & Technology through the cooperation of several organizations and collectors of CRS Reports, Open CRS provides citizens access to CRS Reports already in the public domain and encourages Congress to provide public access to all CRS Reports.



    Bioguide id — this tag identifies all members of Congress and is often embedded in various types of documents. We hope to help expose this id table for use by system developer


    Session participants:

    Andrew Weber – Law Library of Congress and Thomas.gov

    Katie  Filbert – Wikimedia Foundation volunteer

    Daniel Bennett – e Citizen Foundation

    Cate Long — Riski

    Sep 09

    The Conversation Prism

    The Conversation Prism by Brian Solis and Jesse Thomas

    Sep 09

    Live streaming

    Live Videos by Ustream

    Sep 09

    Photos from Saturday


    Peruse and download More Photos. Publish to your heart’s content with credit to www.xiana.com.