RESEARCH & ANALYSIS ON CONSTITUENT CORRESPONDENCE PROCESSES AT THE CONGRESSIONAL LEVEL
The OpenGov Foundation


Summary

The OpenGov Foundation believes that understanding existing structures will provide keen insight into how the civic tech community can help modernize Congress. 
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To begin this endeavor, they began with the Congressional constituent correspondence process—a seemingly simple yet overwhelmingly complex operation—and recruited researchers and strategists to kick-off the first ever Congressional human-centered design project. 

Our team, led by the one Mollie Ruskin, asked these three overarching questions to guide our process:

First, how do Congressional offices manage and conduct constituent engagement? We wanted to learn how offices, in practice, interact with those they represent, hear their views, and respond to their questions, comments, and concerns. 

Second, how does constituent input shape the actions of Congress? To establish context around the processes we intended to observe, we needed to know the results of constituent engagement processes. 

Third, what is the culture of internal change-making in Congress? 

Finally, core to the nature of human-centered design: our work had to be action-oriented, focused on identifying concrete opportunities and clear next steps toward measurable improvement.  

Process
Our research team of four conducted qualitative research in DC offices and multiple district offices across the country. Our research partner offices represented ten different states, from the Mid-Atlantic to the Pacific Northwest, including California, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Texas. We interviewed 58 House and Senate staffers serving in ten different roles, ranging from Chief of Staff to Legislative Director to Staff Assistant to Intern with a strong mix of Republicans and Democrats. This totaled to approximately 100 hours in the field.

We applied a human-centered design methodology and conducted observational research and qualitative interviews. We focused on developing a 360-degree perspective on constituent engagement as it also provided insight into longstanding institutional frameworks, fixed organizational cultures, influential third parties, and other internal operations. 

The human-centered design methodology allowed us to qualitatively understand the current state of correspondence systems and rapidly identify opportunities for meaningfully improving the experience of Congressional constituent engagement.

Outcome
Insights, maps, and other findings from our research catapulted The OpenGov Foundation to proactively move towards deepening the use and application of human-centered design throughout Congress.

The OpenGov Foundation and partners will be fleshing out long-term strategies, considering rectifiable painpoints voiced by district offices, and maintaining the standpoint of constituents every step of the way. 

Report, From Voicemails to Votes, found here.


Position Researcher & Strategist
Role User Experience Design; Organizational & Systems Design; Research & Analysis; Facilitation; Project Management