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Collaborative Research: Connecting to Congress: The Adoption and Use of Web Technologies Among Congressional Offices      (Back to Search Results)


Grant Number: 429365

  • Description: Continuing grant
  • Associated Project:
  • Award Date:
  • Award Period: 2004-10-01 to 2005-09-30
  • Amount: $ 150651.00

Primary Investigator:
David Lazer

Researchers
David Lazer
Jane Fountain

Technology:

Government Domain:

Primary Institution:
Harvard University

Project Home Page:
None

Latest Project Highlight:
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Abstract:
The Internet has the potential to transform our democracy.a potential that has begun to receive substantial scholarly attention. This attention has focused on the potential transformational effects of the technology on civil society, and, in the political realm, how the Internet might transform political discourse. Researchers have devoted little attention, however, to how the Internet might transform existing institutions for connecting citizens to elected officials. This relationship is the fundamental building block of a epresentative democracy, and it has come under increasing strain as our country has grown since the time of the founders, as the number of matters the state is involved in has multiplied; and as policy problems have grown more complex. The Internet offers a set of tools that might help to arrest this trend, and to fundamentally alter the level of participation of citizens in the consultative process with their representatives. Strikingly, this potential for change has largely been unrealized and unstudied. While there has been a considerable amount of scholarship on the impact of the Internet on government, governance, and society, there has been little systematic research on how Members of Congress use or should use the Internet to provide information to and interact with their constituents. This research has both a qualitative and a quantitative component, where each of these components complement and inform the other. In the statistical component, longitudinal data to will be collected to explain the diffusion patterns of web-based technologies among the congressional offices. All congressional websites will be assessed along such dimensions as their informational value, accessibility, usability, and interactivity. Data will be collected on factors that might plausibly affect adoption ecisions.e.g., regarding the characteristics of districts, Members, the mechanisms for information spread in Congress, and so on. The qualitative component will entail fieldwork in approximately 12 offices, stratified by the degree of web technology adoption, as well as by political party and tenure. This in-depth field will allow study of the dynamic micro-processes that underlie and ultimately explain the aggregate patterns of technology diffusion, and will allow exploration of the internal practices and the relative efficiency of how congressional offices manage digitally-mediated information and feedback from constituents. An important partner in the work will be the Congressional Management Foundation, which will provide unique access to data and individuals. The intellectual merit of the project has several dimensions. The research combines rigorous quantitative and qualitative research to address novel questions regarding the practice of digital government in legislative settings. The research will contribute directly to the political science research on congressional behavior and institutions, and in particular to an emerging literature on entrepreneurial behavior among legislators in the U.S. House of Representatives. The research also will contribute to political scientists' and sociologists' research on the processes for the diffusion of innovations, and would be the first study of the role social networks play within the U.S. Congress in the timing of adoption of new forms of governance and new institutions for legislative representation. The research team includes political science and information technology research faculty at four major research universities, who are linked through the National Center for Digital Governance (NCDG) at Harvard University. The research will produce a series of conference papers, academic journal articles, and an academic press book on democracy in the digital age. In addition, the Congressional Management Foundation and the U.S. Congress itself will help to ensure that the knowledge that emerges through this research will help to transform the adoption and use of digital technology in Congress through a series of best practice reports, debriefing sessions, and annual conferences.