Strategy 3 Ensure the Responsiveness of Government Institutions

Make Congress More Responsive

Strategy 3
Ensure the Responsiveness of Government Institutions

Recommendation 3.2

Design structured and engaging mechanisms for every member of Congress to interact directly and regularly with a random sample of their constituents in an informed and substantive conversation about policy areas under consideration.

Read in the Report

The Problem

In the Commission’s listening sessions, many participants said they feel better represented by their state and local representatives than by their congressional representative.

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Source: Pew Research Center

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Source: Gallup

The Solution

Ensuring that members of Congress are responsive to their constituents calls for mechanisms that go beyond traditional public hearings and meetings. Representatives should commit to regularly engage in policy conversations with randomly selected groups of constituents.

New meeting designs and technologies make it possible for members of Congress to engage in deliberations with broad and representative cross-sections of their constituencies. Simple random sampling can identify participants, who are representative of each district. Once constituents are identified, a specific policy issue should be selected as the focus for the conversation. Constituents should be provided with high-quality, nonpartisan information and briefing materials on the issue from different sides of the policy debate. The meeting should take place on platforms—both digital and in-person—that encourage substantive and civil discussion.

Every member of Congress should commit to participating in such forums a minimum of four times per year. This new level of participation and communication is paramount to helping restore voters’ trust in Congress. Ideally, elected officials at all levels of government would also regularly participate in these types of forums.

“I’ve had good experiences with our local legislators who serve at the state level. I’ve met both of them, they’re very receptive. … They’ll respond if I contact them about an issue. So, that feels like a great connection, and I don’t feel that connection with the people who represent me federally.”
—Ellsworth, Maine
“Most of the officials that we elect I don’t feel like come from where we are. … They have no understanding of killing themselves and working four jobs to support their kids and their athletics and their schooling, or whatever. I just feel like they don’t have an idea of what we go through in the middle-to-lower class.”
—Jackson, Mississippi
“Truth and trust. And there’s so much wrong with that right now in our so-called democratic society. I think the basis of a democratic society is you have to be able to believe the people who are leading you. You have to believe that you have the opportunity to elect people who are the people you need speaking for you. And you have to trust them, and they have to trust you. And I think that’s really broken in our world right now.”
—Lexington, Kentucky

Example

Multiple projects have demonstrated the potential for digital platforms to connect elected officials directly with constituents for conversations that impact policy outcomes. Successful examples include digital town-hall meetings and representative citizens’ panels, like Voice of the People, that combine digital deliberations with in-person discussions.

Champion

The Participatory Budgeting Project and Voice of the People are committed to working to implement this recommendation in order to help reinvent American democracy for the 21st century.

The Participatory Budgeting Project is a nonprofit organization that empowers people to decide together how to spend public money, primarily in the US and Canada. We create and support participatory budgeting processes that deepen democracy, build stronger communities, and make public budgets more equitable and effective.

Voice of the People (VOP) is a nonpartisan organization that seeks to re-anchor our democracy in its founding principles by giving ‘We the People’ a greater role in government. VOP furthers the use of innovative methods and technology to give the American people a more effective voice in the policymaking process.

See the full list of Our Common Purpose Champions.

In order to implement Recommendation 3.2 by 2026, the Commission proposes the following milestones to complete by year-end of:

2021

  • Form an implementation group to design the mechanism and identify 3 Congressional offices to pilot it

2022

  • Conduct 5 additional successful pilots with members of Congress              

2026

  • 20-25 percent of members of Congress are utilizing such a mechanism 1-4 times per year