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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]