Fast Company

Congressman Eric Cantor Taps Quora Crowd for eDemocracy Experiment [Exclusive]

The Congressman's office has launched a Quora question to investigate how social media can enhance the legislative process.

Eric Cantor

The office of Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor has just launched a Quora question to tap the Fast Company audience's collective intelligence. Cantor hopes the crowd can help him flip one of the last stones unturned in the recent wave of eDemocracy: legislation. Aside from a handful of experiments, such as an uneventful attempt at wiki-style legislation in Brazil, few have been able to successfully merge lawmaking and social media.

Nevertheless, Cantor’s Digital Communications Director, Matt Lira, hopes that the future of participatory legislative technology will move “technology into the function of government.” As an example, YouCut, an SMS-based voting platform, allows citizens to decide which government programs are most in need of cutting--and members will actually vote on it. For Lira, this satisfies what he calls the “realness” rule, where citizens have a “genuine impact on the legislative process.”

Having been on the forefront of many congressional eDemocracy projects, we asked Lira to share some lessons readers should keep in mind as they contribute.

1. Focus on the process of lawmaking

Congress needs to know how to reach the best experts, reduce the cost of legislation, make regulation effective but not cumbersome, and improve the public’s knowledge of law (or, anything that helps law function as intended).

2. Specificity

“Be as specific as possible,” says Lira. Our audience should “look at technologies that have worked in their own experiences or that they’ve read about.” Working models are ideal, and they don’t necessarily need to be related to a specific solution.

For example, he notes, his office's rapid-fire responses to the President’s State of the Union was partly based on the popular Old Spice campaign. “If you just looked at the Old Spice campaign, you wouldn’t think there was anything there that could be helpful in making democracy more responsive,” he says. “But, in reality, the core of that idea became one of the most responsive methods for members talking about policy and ways to grow the economy with the public that has existed after a State of the Union.” In other words, they're looking for ideas that work, but the ultimate execution may be hammered out through the Quora community’s discussion.

3. Personal Relevance

Participants are often most knowledgeable about areas in which they work. If the question were about job creation, for instance, Lira would target the “people in the business of creating jobs, entrepreneurs, small businesses, [and] large businesses.” Fast Company readers come from all sectors: small technology firms, large universities, or nonprofits; many may have personally seen great solutions that lawmakers could use.

For instance, he notes, Republicans recently crowdsourced knowledge of wasteful National Science Foundation spending. And, a job that would otherwise have been “prohibitive for a small staff to review” yielded (what his office considers) many worthwhile leads.

4. Brevity (our suggestion)

We expect a lot of answers and we’re hopefully they can all be read. Keeping it short will ensure all contributions are combed thoroughly.

Readers can view the question here. Participate in the discussion and share it all across the social media universe. Your government is listening.

Follow Gregory Ferenstein on Twitter or email him.

[Image: Flickr user Medill DC]

Add New Comment

11 Comments

  • Bob Jacobson

    What do social media or people's opinions matter when all you do is vote "No!" and "Cut Taxes and Spending!"?

    I guess the idea is to refine the Big Lie technique. You go for it, Eric.

  • Ryan Servatius

    Even the Intel CEO said it costs an additional $1 Billion per plant to open here State Side, so that is why they do NOT.

  • Ryan Servatius

    The GOP needs to get back on being fiscal conservative while NOT getting involved with social issues.
    Leave them alone, the money used for what we need the basics is all that we need to fund.
    We lose so much to great citizens because of our stance overall on gay/lesbian issues as well as other topics of social interests.
    Get us back on track to being pro business and NOT anti business as we are now with such items as #2 world wide for corporate tax rates with only Japan higher than us, but even they are lowering their rates to 15% next year so we will be #1 once that happens. Why would anyone want to open business here with that.
    Even the Intel

  • Chris Reich

    I am amazed at how easily corporations sold that line about being over taxed. Pure nonsense. It's so incredibly easy to open a business in the U.S. that people come from all over the world to do so. It takes three years to get a phone line in Venezuela. You have to grease the palms of dozens of "officials" in Mexico to get started. China owns all means of production. Japan has an insanely high cost of living. Canada? Look at the new GST. No, the poor U.S. corporations will squeak by...

    If you look at the growth of CEO pay over the past 20 years I think you'll see that they have a little bit left over to pay those at the top.

  • Lucretia Pruitt

    Seriously?
    Can we please not pretend that Rep. Cantor is listening? This is Matt Lira listening. Which is fine, and more power to Mr. Lira - but representing this as Cantor is violating that very "realness" which Mr. Lira seems to value so much.

    You know what will change the legislative process when it comes to social media? When the people creating the legislation are people who actually understand and use the tools themselves. The way the question is worded is flawed. "How should the United States Congress use social media to enhance the legislative process?" Replace 'social media' with telephone, or television, or typewriter. If the Congressman doesn't use the tool himself, but delegates it to others, would you believe he will effectively use it to better legislation?

    I have no doubt that Matt Lira can use a phone to listen to ideas - or Quora, for that matter. But since this whole premise includes the U.S. Congress and not just their staffers? First thing on the agenda for the U.S. Congresspeople: use the tools yourself.

  • Keith Kelly III

    Transparency is a great idea. Feedback on legislation is a great idea. Letting the general public have a say in actual legislation is a terrible idea. Even worse: letting the general public point out places where the NSF can cut funding. We, the public, are not privy to everything that goes on inside the Fed or associated bodies--nor should we be. Some level of privacy is key to maintaining any relationship, be it person-to-person or government-to-person.

    Aside from that, do you (the reader) really think the average citizen has what it takes to provide valuable feedback here? Sure, small business, entrepreneurs, big business, etc. can help in certain areas to a certain degree--but does the average citizen really have the acumen to make sound policy decisions? Not CEOs, Creative Directors, or their ilk; blue-collar, surviving paycheck-to-paycheck American citizens.

    I'm one of these people, and I know a lot of these people. I grew up in an average, blue-collar small town. Politics, legislation, and spending cuts are not the realm of the average American. The average American sticks to the party line, and spews up whatever they hear from pundits on either side. Very few take the time to think about their politics, or the impact of "hot-button" legislation.

    A far better first step would be to, as a whole governing body, improve public education and awareness BEFORE encouraging participation. I think this is an idea that will be great five to ten years from now, not two to three months from now.

  • Kevin Rochlitz

    My Hats off to Mr's. Reich & Kaufman for their realistic and optomistic points for the new ability we supposedly now have with the GOP. Part of me also agrees with the Guest's rant about the ridiculious notion that anything we submit will be considered. The sad reality of it all is that politics has become nothing more that an "Us vs Them" battle based in religious differences and ideologies, which by design of our constitution should not be happening. If there is one thing we should take a lesson from in the course of human history it's that religious ideaology has been at the basis of every single conflict in recorded history. If there's any place to begin an attempt to change this country's course for the better it's to continue to allow religious freedom but keep it completely separate from our political structure and governing decisions. The mere fact that the "Tea Party" whose core belief's and directives are based in religious ideaology has had an impact on our government already is extremely horrifying. If this party is allowed to continnue it's impact on the population through government channels the results of the effects over the long term will be akin to the religious extremeists we're currently fighting in the middle east. Nonetheless if we can't get religion out of politics then maybe we should keep it simple and follow a religious rule that seems to be at the base of all religions...The Golden Rule. "Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you".

  • Chris Reich

    The reason or motivation for why the GOP wants to hear from us does not matter to me. Politicians are in it for themselves. So, if enough people tell them which way to turn, believe me, they'll turn.

    For all their power and apparent prestige, they really are little more than on-call to our demands. So tell Cantor what you think---and be courteous and brief. You'll be heard.

    Chris Reich
    www.TeachU.com

  • Andy Kaufman

    If you're struggling over this article because of trouble envisioning Eric Cantor or the GOP wanting to listen, try this: replace the party affiliation and the name to a Democratic leader. If you and I remove our political bias from the article and ask the question: "Does it make sense for politicians to be more in touch with citizens, try to tap true experts instead of Washington lobbyists & insiders, seek to keep things concise instead of voluminous, and put systems in place to be more transparent?", count me in with an idealistic but nonetheless enthusiastic "Yes!"

  • Lucretia Pruitt

    Or how about you replace his name with the actual guy who posted the Quora question? As a Republican? I take great offense at a politician *pretending* to be the one listening when he's not even in the conversation.

  • Guest

    Bwahahahahahahah!!!!! LMFAO rolling on the floor. I never knew you guys were a satire publication too!?!? This is brilliant humor. The Onion doesn't stand a chance. Eric Cantor and the Repbulicans wants to know what you think... OH Please stop, it hurts to laugh so hard! At first i thought you guys were just stupid or incompetent as journalists or needed to fill space, but now I get it, because it could only be satire if you've ever seen this schmarmy scum bag in interviews. He and his I'll dont give shit about what anyone thinks beyond the CEOs they worship... Silly Fast Company, for a minute there I thought you were just brown nosing idiots, but now u get it.... ;)

    P.S. Nice touch with the Exclusive in the headline. Just add a "Breaking News" and its a full on trifecta!!