Optimizing Your Congressional Office’s Tech StackJuly 30, 2018 / Michael McGrady
The congressional software market is small and slow moving. The options are limited. Innovation is rare. Even more troubling is the lack of information sharing of tools, best practices, and creative hacks.
In the private sector, companies are rapidly integrating automation and enabling workforces and workflows to be digitized and streamlined. Whether deploying an internal chat tool to better communicate with their teams or integrating a fully virtual office suite, private sector tech stacks allow office workforces to simplify jarring tasks with a click of a button. For example, successful startups like Instacart or Medium utilize a slew of open source and software as a service (SaaS) products for their business and development operations.
In Congress, a typical technology loadout differs starkly from a private sector company. For example, constituent engagement and service is a primary return on investment concern for member offices in the House and Senate. To ensure the highest possible returns in these areas, a tech stack for a congressional office boils down to four basic elements.
- First, an office requires a powerful correspondence/constituent management platform (CMS or CRM), to manage all incoming communications and direct and indirect interactions. Typically, the best platforms allow users to control incoming and outgoing correspondence of all types (phone call logging, email management, office faxes, etc.) while appending records to a database management system that captures demographic and geographic information on constituents. The best CMS systems house press, outreach, and casework functions of a congressional office in-platform.
- The second element of having a strong tech stack requires a legislative monitoring platform. Legislative monitoring platforms that feature deep research databases, access to thousands of previous legislative proposals, financial impact statements, and committee reports allow legislative directors and their staff to support the decision making process of their member properly. Though the best platforms are “standalone” experiences, some CMS systems feature a fully stocked legislative directory, member history database, and repository of information that includes voting histories, co-sponsorships, and most supplemental documents.
- The third element is maintaining reliable task management and communication platforms for internal office use. Every office is lucky to have email at their disposal; however, as the tech experience evolves, internal communications is experiencing a major face lift. Several instant messaging-style chat tools connect with free task management services, providing a collaboration continuum for project management. Both chat applications and task management tools are secure and allow for offline backups. CMS systems and approved legislative platforms have task management and chat features for live collaboration between a member’s District and Washington offices.
- Fourth, offices should have a robust marketing stack. CMS systems and even some legislative monitoring platforms have built-in e-newsletter tools for constituent and advocacy mailings with social monitoring and listening tools added on top. Email service providers like Constant Contact are also excellent options for email engagement. Plus, utilizing a dedicated social media management platform can provide additional insights for a press secretary or communications team.
We can’t forget to mention that employing multiple tools requires cross-integration. By utilizing APIs and software connectors, tasks can be further automated and updated across platforms; custom integrations can be created through a variety of free and cheap online services. Zapier, IFTTT, and Automate.io are all excellent tools private sector organizations use to integrate their various platforms and could prove useful to staff on the Hill as well.