Constituent Communications and Policy Monitoring Strategy: Best Practices for Success
by Thea Schmid, on August 09, 2021
A data-driven strategy is no longer a tool of large tech companies. Big data has permeated all sectors of life — from a smartwatch to the halls of Congress. In fact, the two biggest jobs in congressional offices, policy monitoring and constituent communication, are increasingly driven by data.
If this wasn’t obvious before, the pandemic made it clearly evident as the onset of remote work multiplied our reliance on data-driven platforms. Understanding how to leverage constituent communication platforms and policy monitoring tools is no longer an option — it’s a requirement for success.
To help you fine-tune your workflow, here’s a look at some of the best practices in policy monitoring and constituent communications, and how they can work in conjunction with all sides of a congressional office.
Connecting Congress to its Constituents
The amount of mail, digital and otherwise, that floods into a congressional office is only rising. Choosing the correct platform to manage the influx is incredibly important as the efficiency with which your tools handle mail, as well as the workflow they promote, will determine your office’s ability to build rapport with constituents. To master outreach, mail management, and casework processes, your office needs to take full advantage of your CRM’s capabilities.
Craft your Outreach Plan Early
An effective and well-scaled outreach plan can be the difference between strong district engagement and a disconnected constituency. Nailing down frequency and medium of contact at the start of the session ensures that your efforts throughout the term will be cohesive rather than sporadic.
Often, offices find the most success when they diversify their communication mediums. For example, some constituents prefer paper mail over an e-newsletter, or website updates rather than telephone town halls. But no matter the medium, keeping your content consistent across all platforms is essential. Constituents rely on their representatives for dependable and up-to-date information; content that’s inconsistent or outdated, no matter where it’s housed, can undermine their trust in your office.
Handle Blackouts with 499 Campaigns
Sixty days before elections, mass mailers are prohibited; you’ll need a newsletter platform that can run smaller campaigns with the allowed 499-person audiences. To easily do this, make sure it properly integrates with your constituent information database. If they can’t share data, you’ll miss the chance to target the narrow demographics that these campaigns speak to most.
Turn Around Mail Quickly
Since 2017, Fireside has measured an unprecedented level of civic engagement, and the numbers continue to trend upward. If you properly configure your CRM to automate certain tasks in the mailroom, you’ll dramatically cut the time spent logging mail and mailing out form letters.
But not all mail can be handled with automation. A robust mailroom should separate personalized emails from the templatized campaign mail using A/B comparisons. That way, staffers can spend more time responding to thoughtfully crafted messages, while using form letters to respond to campaign mail.
Follow up with your constituents
As bills and issues progress through the legislative pipeline, you can update constituents who’ve shown interest in certain issues. Sending a follow-up message to these folks doesn’t require prior approval from franking, and helps notify them of the work you’ve been doing on their behalf.
Manage your Casework
If the need for a robust congressional casework tool wasn’t clear before the global pandemic began, it’s been made quite apparent over last year through all the loan requests, unemployment claims, and other crises that came flooding into Congress in 2020.
Congressional casework occupies a unique space in constituent communications. The reactionary, multi-way conversations with agencies, constituents, and staffers require an altogether different tool than the one-to-one conversations in the mailroom. Tools and processes should intuitively organize casework’s message threads and documents, otherwise, constituents’ needs will slip through the cracks.
Staying on Top of the Policy that Matters
In the first half of 2021, more than 9,500 pieces of legislation were introduced at the federal level and over 131,500 at the state level in the United States. You can’t afford to miss an update, but the pace can be maddening. Policy monitoring technology helps you make sure you’re staying one step ahead of tracking, responding to, and influencing the legislation and regulations that impact your constituents the most.
Use Reliable Big Data for Analysis
Given the volume of bills on Capitol Hill, prioritizing efforts can be hard. While big data can’t address backroom deals, it can help you target the most strategic lawmakers to engage or figure out who should sponsor or amend a bill. It can also give you insights into how likely a bill is to pass if it gets a floor vote.
Predicting what happens next is also all but impossible to do on your own. You can’t possibly comb through the hundreds of pages of text, line by line, to pinpoint the exact section of U.S. Code a bill would modify. By leveraging artificial intelligence, you can quickly identify how pending bills would change current laws, or look at an existing statute to see how proposed bills would impact it.
Relying on a qualitative understanding of relationships in Congress is not enough anymore. A successful legislative strategy leverages technology to efficiently supplement qualitative expertise with data-driven insights, enabling a much more effective action plan. With the right technology, you can quantify relationships by vote count, predict the probability of passage, analyze how effective legislators are at moving legislation, and draw upon trends to devise strategies to move forward.
Set up Alerts to Find What You Need and Prepare for What's Next
Things change fast, and you need to know the moment your bills get updated (or new bills are on the way). But wading through irrelevant information wastes time. Policy monitoring tech can help you find exactly what you are looking for within the thousands of documents produced by the federal government, and can set up real-time, precision alerts with updates on those issues, ensuring you are always the first to know.
Having relevant information at the right time is the best place to start, but staying on top of policy requires more than notifications about the evolution of particular bills or rules. Understanding what might happen next, what trends to look out for, and how to take action is key — and it’s easy to do with the right technology partner.
Report frequently so you can make sense of it all
Gertrude Stein once wrote, “Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.” When it comes to reporting, you don’t want to drive the recipients to a state of numbness or near-lunacy. Rather, some say you should give them a KISS. By “KISS,” of course, we mean the acronym for “Keep It Simple, Stupid.”
But when you work in different systems, compiling and narrowing down all the information from the actions you’ve taken on specific issues can be an arduous task. By leveraging technology, you can automatically pull the most relevant data and quickly build fully personalized reports. These reports can compare two versions of a bill, show the voting history of a member, and deliver a summary of key bill facts. This can help you show the value of your work, get your team on the same page, get buy-in on a next-steps strategy, and identify the information you need to communicate to your constituents.
Combining Constituent Communications and Policy Monitoring for a Well-Rounded Strategy
With Fireside and CQ Federal, you can do all of this and more. Fireside brings simplicity to the complex processes of the Hill and CQ brings clarity to the labyrinthian, vast information produced in Congress. Together, they can help you build a robust strategy to better engage your constituents and increase your legislative success rate.
With more than 90 decades of experience combined, Fireside and CQ have built a legacy of trust serving Capitol Hill. Through our understanding of the Hill’s unique ecosystem, together with agile, data-driven platforms, we’ve built reliable and secure tools you can trust to handle policy monitoring and constituent communications in one successful strategy.