I had the pleasure of asking questions of Congressman Mike Honda, via his Legislative Correspondent/Online Communications Coordinator, Ahmed R. Bhadelia. While a more direct communication is always preferable I appreciate the Congressman, and his Staff, taking time out of a very busy schedule to respond.
Q. What are your views on the open government directive and what value do you see it providing to citizen’s and public employees?
A. As a former educator, I have always believed that involving stakeholders in decision-making yields greater results than if one were to go it alone. This method works in the classroom, but also works when governing. The American people are our nation’s greatest resource. Empowering the public with information can lead to better public policy. Representing the interests of constituents becomes easier when technology enables elected officials to more easily tap into the knowledge and expertise of the public. I have spent my career in Congress pushing this belief, and I recognize that the technologies developed in my Silicon Valley district can be implemented by Congress to allow citizens to have better access to their representatives.
In this regard, I have been successful in implementing several projects. For example, I included language in the Fiscal Year 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act to directing Congress, the Library of Congress, and the Government Printing Office to research the feasibility of giving the American public advanced search and sort capabilities for legislative and public information. I also undertook a pioneering project to improve civic engagement in Congress using a technique called crowd-sourcing. Hundreds of designers and thousands of my constituents participated in submitting and rating designs to build the first federal government website created by the people for the people. The purpose of the website redesign was to move America closer to Government 2.0, when the public’s ability to access and provide advice to Members of Congress is enhanced by new technology and new online participation.
All this said, I still believe we have a long way to go. We’ve jumped over some major hurdles, but we’re not all the way there yet.
Q. Why do you use social media? What are you looking to do? How does it fit into your overall communication strategy? + What results are you seeing? Have you seen results from social media that you could not have replicated using other communication channels?
A. I use social media because it allows me to get my opinions out to the public and get my constituents opinions to me without any filter or middleperson, be it advocacy agencies, news media or other third parties. There is no bias, there are no misquotes when you use social media.
There are definitely challenges to using Social Media. Keeping messages short and concise is a big challenge. Making sure the entire interaction is dynamic is another challenge. There can be a temptation to just repost articles and reuse content from other places. I believe people sense when you are putting in a real effort into using social media versus just going with the trend. Another major feature of social media is that I can talk about what I want, when I want. Often issues that are not as popular and may not get covered by the mainstream media can be discussed using social media. Governance requires that you be able to multi-task and social media allows me to participate in conversations on a multitude of topics.
I think being from Silicon Valley and a 5-time CMF Mouse award winner allows me to lead while also moving to cutting edge arenas. This lets me set best practices through experience. In this regard, I’ve seen an exponential increase in the use social media as policy education tool over the last year. The health care debate is a perfect example of this.
Q. What social media usage policies/guidelines do you have in place for employees?
A. I know that my staff has a passion and an interest in their work. Social media is one way to express this passion. Many offices place stringent rules on the usage of social media. I, however, have always believed that when you deny people the opportunity to express themselves, you deny people part of their character. Rather than putting rigid rules in place, I tell my staff to be smart about what they are posting, who they are posting it to and how they are posting it. I trust my staff because they were hired for having good judgment and an ability to handle responsibility.
I do, of course, place some limits on social media. Confidentiality is essential to the political process. People who meet with me should feel comfortable that there is a certain privilege in our conversations. My staff knows and respects that.
Q. Do you also use a CRM application?
A. Most Congressional Offices use Constituent Management Systems of some sort. There are a few popular ones out there. We currently use Internet Quorum by Lockheed Martin.
Q. Do you have any success stories, based upon the use of social media that you could share?
A. I believe social media in government as a whole is a success story. Five years ago, who could have imagined unfiltered communication between elected officials and their constituents?
In my office, we’ve had some great examples of social media transforming our website design into an innovative, creative, and communicative process. I mentioned crowd-sourcing my website earlier. I also held a challenge on Facebook for tickets to the inauguration of President Obama. Two programs were created for constituents to request tickets. One asked people to post to my Facebook Page about why they want to attend Obama’s inauguration. The other asked my constituents to propose ideas for how to reduce educational inequity and reform America’s education system. In addition to reflecting on the historic meaning of the inauguration, I also wanted to get people to think about a specific area in dire need of change. The response was substantial and cemented the role of social media in our society in my mind.