Earlier this week at our House training on congressional websites and the Gold Mouse Report, one of the attendees asked what his office - as an award winning office - could do to improve their website and perhaps get a Gold or even the Platinum Mouse Award next time around. I love that question because it shows that an office is not resting on their laurels happy that they won an award. It's something we get a lot. The best want to be better. Regrettably, we don't always see that same focus and drive in the offices at the bottom of the list.
The answer to his question is that the highest scoring offices don't stop at our basic evaluation criteria. They seem to always be trying to innovate beyond what we are looking for in our website evaluations.
One example of this type of innovation is something that Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) is doing. In 2009, the House began requiring offices to post a list of their appropriations requests on their website. There was little in the way of guidance about how that needed to be done, but the most common iteration became a list posted in various formats on Member websites - some much easier to locate than others.
However, Rep. Pingree took it a step further by posting a short YouTube video of each organizations' request for government funding. Her website provides links to dozens of these videos where the requesting organization makes its case for earmarked federal dollars, each approximately three minutes long. The requests are open for all of her constituents to see, in addition to information and background about the requestor. In fact, the public is invited to comment on the videos, thus allowing citizens a more direct way to participate in what had been a pretty obscure process. Congresswoman Pingree has committed to take all of this information into consideration before making her final appropriations requests. Here is an example:
When we asked the Congresswoman why she took this approach, she said, 'I think the appropriations process still needs a lot of work to restore the public's faith in how these decisions are made. I want to make it as transparent as possible while still doing everything I can to support the good work being done in our communities. Federal investments present a powerful opportunity to create jobs and spur economic development in Maine.'
That's the key to innovation, always ask the question, 'How could we do this differently to increase our efficiency, the public's trust, or serve our constituents better?'