CMF kicked off our biennial Gold Mouse Awards project after Labor Day. Below are answers (updated March 2014) to some of the most commonly asked questions regarding this research. Don't see your question answered below? Please contact us.
CMF's evaluation of congressional websites began after Labor Day and is now complete. Sites were evaluated in random order—with no exceptions.
No. To maintain the veracity and impartiality of the evaluation process, CMF cannot accommodate any special considerations, including altering a site's evaluation date. All sites are/were evaluated in random order.
You do not have to submit your congressional website for evaluation. CMF evaluated all official House and Senate Member personal and committee office (majority only) websites. Unlike previous years, we are not evaluating leadership websites. Also, CMF does not evaluate the websites of institutional offices or other legislative branch organizations, subcommittees, commissions, or Member or staff associations.
There was, however, a submission process for the social media awards, but that deadline has also passed.
CMF's website evaluation criteria are based on years of research and focus primarily on how well each site meets the needs of its audiences. Prior to beginning the evaluations, we updated these criteria, which combine quantitative and qualitative measurements, to reflect current tools and best practices. For Member websites, we have grouped the criteria into 10 categories:
- Information on Issues
- Constituent Services and Casework
- Promoting Accountability to Constituents
- Legislative Process Information
- District/State Information
- Floor Proceedings
- Diversity of Communications Content
- Diversity of Communications Channels
The first 5 categories are of particular importance. As we've noted previously, our awards are going to recognize those Members who are using their online communications to further transparency and accountability in government. For Member websites, this means focusing on the degree to which a constituent visiting your site can determine where the Senator or Representative stands on the issues, how he or she voted on key pieces of legislation, and what he or she is doing in Congress on constituents' behalf.
Please note that CMF does not evaluate the accuracy or validity of any policy positions or issue stances.
This year, we have reorganized the criteria discussed above into rounds that prioritize the most critical content. First, Member websites must meet a minimum threshold for accountability and transparency (see additional detail in previous answer), as well as for constituent service, to advance to the second round. Next, sites must meet a usability threshold in the areas of navigation, organization, design, readability, and timeliness. Finally, the sites that make it to the third round will be reviewed in detail on the remaining criteria to determine the finalists. At this point, the criteria and categories are weighted by importance, and this formula is used to determine the award winners.
The focus of this year's awards is to highlight the best of the best in Congress, not provide a complete assessment of Congress's online communications. By eliminating sites through rounds, only the finalists will be judged against the full set of criteria. This approach means we will not be issuing grades or "report cards" to offices noting how well your site performed in our evaluations. Instead, offices should look to the award winners as examples of what you could be doing with your online communications.
Sites are evaluated by nonpartisan CMF staff who are trained extensively on the criteria, grading standards, and how to objectively evaluate sites. Evaluators go through several rounds of test evaluations to ensure that each criterion—especially the qualitative ones—are applied consistently. During the evaluations, evaluators overlap on select sites to further ensure accuracy.
CMF offers a lot of information on how to improve your online communications:
- The blog posts on the 10 categories above are a good place to start. These categories outline the specific criteria we look for in our evaluations and questions you should ask yourself when conducting a self-assessment of your site.
- We also encourage you to browse the websites of past award winners. At the time of our last evaluations in 2011, these sites modeled best practices and were excellent examples of how to create an online office that serves constituents.
- For additional information, such as how to maintain/manage your website and advice from award winners, CMF has published guidance in several Gold Mouse Reports.
To be considered for an "Innovation in Social Media" Gold Mouse Award, offices must nominate themselves. Through a brief submission form, tell us how you are using social media in an interesting and/or forward-thinking way. CMF will review the submissions as they come in, and follow up with the office for more information, if necessary. Our team will select the social media practices that we feel are most innovative and most deserving of recognition. Only practices used by personal offices in the 113th Congress are eligible.
CMF will recognize Senators and Representatives who are using social media in interesting and forward-thinking ways. In other words, we are seeking to highlight offices who are thinking creatively about social media and how it can improve your online communications. How does your use of social media set you apart from your colleagues? Additionally, while you might have a large number of followers or likes, or be a prolific Tweeter, these are not innovative practices. As you consider your nomination, think about whether you have used social media in exceptional ways to:
- Improve information-delivery to constituents and/or others (e.g., followers, the press);
- Foster transparency and accountability;
- Engage and interact with constituents and/or others;
- Collaborate or consult with constituents and/or others; or
- Educate or inform constituents and/or others about what is happening in Congress.
The final release date is subject to change, but currently CMF is planning to announce the winners of the 113th Congress Gold Mouse Awards on April 8.
CMF is posting information about the Gold Mouse Awards on our blog (subscribe via RSS), as well as on Facebook and Twitter. We also regularly send emails to House and Senate Chiefs of Staff and Communications Directors. If you would like to receive these updates via email, please contact us and we will add you to our notification list. You can unsubscribe at any time.