CMF announced the winners of the 113th Congress Gold Mouse Awards on Monday, April 28. Below are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions regarding this research. Don't see your question answered below? Please contact us.
(Originally published April 2014. Updated June 2014.)
CMF's evaluation of congressional websites began after Labor Day and is now complete. Sites were evaluated in random order—with no exceptions. Member office websites were reviewed from September-December 2013, and committee websites were evaluated January-February 2014. Leadership and minority committee websites were not reviewed.
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 were evaluated in random order.
CMF evaluated all official House and Senate Member personal and committee office (majority only) websites. Unlike previous years, we did not evaluate minority committee or leadership websites. Also, CMF does not evaluate the websites of institutional offices or other legislative branch organizations, subcommittees, commissions, or Member or staff associations.
You did not have to submit your congressional website for evaluation. 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, CMF reorganized the criteria discussed above into rounds that prioritize the most critical content. First, Member websites had to 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 had to meet a usability threshold in the areas of navigation, organization, design, readability, and timeliness. Finally, the sites that made it to the third round were reviewed in detail on the remaining criteria to determine the finalists. At this point, the criteria and categories were weighted by importance, and this formula was 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 were judged against the full set of criteria. This approach means we will not issue 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 the 113th Congress winners, whose websites scored the highest in our reviews.
- 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. The 113th Congress report, released simultaneously with the awards, includes updated guidance as well as information on communicating effectively via social media.
As with the website awards, CMF wanted to recognize Senators and Representatives who use social media to further accountability and transparency in government. As we finalized the winners, we considered whether the practice we were reviewing:
- Demonstrated an effort to be transparent and accountable;
- Focused on constituents and constituent service; and
- Attempted to keep constituents informed of, and engaged, in the work of the Members and of Congress.
Only practices used by Member personal offices in the 113th Congress were eligible. The winners of the 113th Congress Gold Mouse Awards for social media were announced on Monday, April 28.
With the number of platforms available, and the volume of content Members have on social media, it would have been impractical to conduct a comprehensive evaluation. Instead, CMF invited Member offices to nominate themselves for a social media award using a brief submission form. CMF reviewed the submissions and forwarded the finalists to an expert panel for their review. Then, using input from the expert panelists, we selected the social media practices that we felt focused on the guidelines outlined above (#7).
The Gold Mouse Awards for the 113th Congress were announced on Monday, April 28, at 8am on CMF's website, including the list of winners for websites and social media as well as our report for the 113th Congress. Award-winning offices were notified via email at that time.
As noted in Answer #5 (above), CMF did not conduct comprehensive evaluations of congressional websites this award year, so there are no grades and report cards. If you are seeking to improve your online communications, we encourage you to use the resources listed in Answer #6. Additionally, CMF hosted a briefing for House and Senate staff on improving online communications. The slides from this briefing can be found on the main page of the 113th Congress Gold Mouse Awards.
No, but we can tell you how offices generally performed in the review process and how to improve going forward.
For the website evaluations, CMF was quite lenient in our advancement of sites, yet most still did not pass the first round. Take a look at the depth and breadth of your issues section and your casework assistance, compared to your colleagues who won awards. That’s the most important part for making it past the first round. Then, look into your usability, particularly whether your information is up to date and whether your content is written for the web so that it’s really easy to scan the pages and get what you came for rather than having to read long pages of text.
For more information on the evaluation rounds, please see the "Methodology" section of the 113th Congress Gold Mouse Report(6 MB). Additionally, the "Characteristics of Effective Member Websites" section outlines all of the criteria we used in our reviews — look for the bullets under the "specifics we look for" text.
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.