KAPspeakWhat problem is KAPspeak adressing?
Imagine a world where technology hasn’t improved since 2002. That world is called the legislative process. The legislative process is at every level of government---city councils, county councils, state legislatures, and Congress. By and large, they use a combination of web forms, email, and Outlook to manage the hundreds to millions of emails each legislator’s** office receives. Each of these legislator’s offices (think senators or city council members) runs like a small business which can pick their own technology to use; the default technology is whatever the last office holder was using or whatever their collegues (many of whom have been in office for 10 or 20 years) use. Compounding this challenge, legislative IT staff are either non-existant or not inclined to improve legislative communications systems (cost, time, lack of skills, cultural resistance to change).
The result of antiquated technology and communications tools is that citizens’ emails end up in poorly managed, overwhelming files of emails, managed by understaffed offices who are desperately trying to respond to emails and track the top issues they’re being emailed on. Citizens don’t feel heard. And legislators typically use social media as a broadcast, not a listening, tool (this is changing, but not as fast as you’d expect).
So, how do we improve the main method for citizen to legislator communications?
1) Keep what works: citizen’s stories on political topics resonate with lawmakers and influence policy. Keep the ability for citizens to easily, and privately, share their advocacy and stories with lawmakers.
2) Implement tools which leverage standardized tagging--an ontology which identifies and defines the information within the email. (The standard used is called a Basic Advocacy Headline.) This helps legislative staff manage their communications efficiently.
3) Provide lawmakers a simple tool which they can implement within existing websites with little or no technology know-how.
**Legislators: elected officials who service in law-making bodies, such as city councils, county councils, state legislators, congresspeople. They vote on, amend, and pass laws that impact the population which they serve.
Local government example: A city councilwoman wants an easier way to manage her emails without spending limited city money. She has her staff load KAPspeak onto her portion of the city council website, so that emails coming to her office have tagged and formatted subject headlines and emails are routed to the correct staffers in her office.
A 24 year old legislative aide in a state senator's office hears from a friend who works at a city councilwoman's office, that there's a widget---or something---that she can embed on her office's website and it'll make constituent's emails easier to manage. She doesn't have to be "techie" to do it. Maybe, at most, she'll need to ask her political caucus' web guy to make a couple of small tweaks to get it running. Since managing/organizing/tabulating/crafting responses to emails and phone calls takes up 40-60% of her work week, she's eager to try anything that will make her email load easier to handle. Plus, the email widget is free, and created by a non-partisan nonprofit organization. This is an easy tool to get approved by her boss---the senator---and by others she's accountable to (like the caucus, aka the political party, her boss is a member of). Within 15 minutes she's already set up the "who to email" information for each of the email types a constituent might send. If a constituent emails for a "request for services"---which might be something like, "My medical benefits from the state got cut off and I'm not sure why--I need help restoring them,"--then her office's constituent relations officer would get that email. Advocacy emails on political topics would go to her email inbox, and so would all the advocacy emails tied to specific legislation numbers. And each of these emails would have their subject headlines tagged with a simple format that helps her search through, organize, and respond to constituents. The legislative aide reads over the two-page explainer on how the standardized format for the email advocacy subject headlines works and decides to call the caucus' web guy up to help her customize the widget for the office's email system. In 15 minutes, he's able to take the customized email submission form she's created, plug in relevant information for the office's webserver, and it's up on the senator's website. Citizens don't notice a major difference in the look and feel of the senator's site--just a streamlined way to send an email. Within the day, the first formatted emails with the "standardized" subject headline roll in. The staffer considers creating smart folders for those emails to go through, and easily tallies up the pro/con responses on a popular bill, then diving into answering questions on the bill. Through simple searches using Outlook (though she could transfer this to gMail), she's pulling up relevant lists of emails on the same legislation, from the same perspective, or from the same zipcode. Organizing, responding to, and compiling emails suddenly become much easier, cutting her email management time in half while increasing her capacity to respond to citizens and share their feedback with the Senator.
The system is designed to be a simple, no-cost bridge to get governments through a rough economic time and give them an easier way to manage constituent communications. It's not meant to be used at national level governments (rather complicated information and procedures there.) It doesn't have data visualizations hooked in---because this would be on the email side--so it's a lightweight tool to meet a very specific problem.
Gmail plug ins would rock with this service. Data visualization, CRM-like tools, targeted auto-responses, etc, would be fantastic add-ons to this service.
KAPcitizen---Free, nonpartisan legislation tracking tool.
(Log in to see email system---leverages BAH standard.)
Basic Advocacy Headlines Standard
Congressional Research Foundation
A wealth of information on the challenges Congressional offices face in communicating with citizens.
Knowledge As Power already has a big base of people in government who come to our conferences (http://opengovwest.org) who KAP can reach out to, to promote KAPspeak. Knowledge As Power also has a grant-funded program called KAPcommunity which teaches community groups, kids, and civic organizations how to communicate with lawmakers, leveraging the Basic Advocacy Headline standard. This is also a part of KAPcivics, a free, creative-commons licensed civics curriculum that the Dreyfus Initiative (Richard Dreyfus' national civic education promotion group) is working to implement in schools across the US. In addition, KAP is in the position to hold "BAH" trainings with legislative staff and promote KAPspeak as a free tool for their offices.