Building Trust & Effectiveness in Congress
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Award-Winning Characteristic #4: Constituent Services and Casework

In our continuing series about Gold Mouse criteria, this week's topic is about meeting the needs of your constituents online. Every Member office website should answer constituent questions about how the office can assist them with specific federal agency issues. In addition, your website should include information on all of the basic services that congressional offices provide, such as internships, flag requests, and tours. Fortunately, most of the drafting of this content need only be done once, and does not require significant updating unless policies change.

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Five Ways to Manage and Capitalize on Redistricting

Ah, it’s that time of the decade again! As you know, every ten years states undergo a redrawing of districts that affects the make-up and boundaries of each district – and will impact your boss’ constituency in the coming Congress. In some districts the population might not be altered very much, but in others the Member’s constituency could be completely different.  You may end up representing a new ethnic population or add a military post. Whatever the results may be, it is important for you and your new constituents to get to know one another so that your office can provide the best possible service. CMF has outlined five areas you should keep in mind while learning about and supporting your boss’ new constituency.

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CMF Disagrees with NYT Op-Ed on Casework

Part of CMF's expanding mission is to explain to the public how Congress actually works and dispel the myths perpetuated in mainstream and online media. Regrettably, we found the need to do this after the New York Times published a rather uninformed opinion piece on casework operations on Sunday.

Follow the link below to read CMF’s reply, written by our Chair Emeritus of the Board of Directors and former CMF Executive Director, Ira Chaleff.

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Highlighting Online Innovations in the House

As we mentioned last week, our Gold Mouse Award researchers have their jobs cut out for them, reviewing 92 criteria for each of the 538 Member office sites (there were three vacant seats). (Review our detailed methodology here in PDF.) Needless to say, it stands out when an office is doing something online that others are not. That’s why we wanted to highlight these features – they may not seem innovative by some standards, but their novelty on the Hill is worth sharing in the hope that other offices get creative and inspired in their own communications with constituents.

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Adding Value Through Innovation…by Hill Standards

Last summer, as CMF combed through 618 congressional websites to identify the Gold Mouse Award winners, our researchers kept an eye out for innovative features that we weren’t seeing on other congressional sites, or features that were being done particularly well. They don’t guarantee you an award – you must have the underlying content and timeliness we look for – but they certainly don’t hurt.

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Back to Basics: The Foundations of a Good Website

Members of Congress are always coming up with new and innovative ways to engage citizens online, but no congressional office should neglect their website. After all, in our survey of over 10,000 citizens, we found that the website of the Senator or Representative is the one of the first places they turn for information. So it's essential that congressional websites provide at least a basic level of information and services. With limited time and resources, where should offices focus their efforts? Here are the 4 most critical areas to focus on, the questions to ask yourself as you improve your website, and examples from award winning websites from the 111th Congress:

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Turning Websites into Online Offices

For congressional offices looking to improve their online communications, one of the biggest challenges can be deciding what information to put on your website, or what's most important. We find that it can be helpful to think of the website as another district or state office which serves constituents 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. What services do your physical offices provide to constituents? What questions and concerns do they hear? Let the answers to those questions be your guide.

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Communicating with Distressed Constituents

Our friends over at the American Psychological Association recently brought to our attention a publication created by their affiliate, the California Psychological Association, entitled 'A Legislator's Guide: Communicating with Distressed Constituents.' (PDF-418 KB) The document was authored by clinical psychologist Sandra R. Harris, Ph.D. and was originally created and distributed to members of the California State Legislature. The information that it provides, however, translates well to the challenges Members of Congress and congressional staff face at the federal level when assisting constituents with casework requests, taking constituent comments over the phone, or answering constituent letters or emails.

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