How can a digital platform help create transparency, engagement, and communication between New York State Senators and their constituents?
A Broken Digital Mechanism
As one of the largest and most diverse states in the nation, New York has long been viewed as a national policy leader. But of the 19.75 million people living in New York State today, only one million visitors reached the New York State Senate website annually. Even more alarming, the Senate had only registered 10,000 citizens online since 2013. At fault was an archaic and broken digital platform. The Senate’s site hindered the dual goals of transparency and interaction with constituents, so even the most engaged New Yorkers couldn’t fulfill their civic role. Legislators, on the other hand, had no forum to broadcast achievements or solicit feedback.
Clear Communication is Good Government
The issues behind the Senate’s work are compelling and engaging, but how the Senate works is complex and opaque.
Citizens don't understand how state government works, nor how they can play a role in the process. There is very little transparency to understand where bills are in the legislative process, nor a simple means to interact with elected officials directly. With that in mind, we decided the site should make it effortless for any New Yorker to understand legislation and voice their opinions to Senators. Senators, on the other hand, needed an intuitive platform to broadcast legislative initiatives and explore constituent sentiment. And finally, various constituent groups needed a platform to communicate with one another to drum up support for important issues.
The best legislative website in the U.S. right now
Three Zones of Action
The site offers three “zones of action” to encourage democratic engagement:
(1) Connecting with senators - facilitating the essential interactions at the foundation of our democracy.
(2) Understanding and influencing legislation - demystifying the legislative process and promoting transparency.
(3) Activating additional voices - empowering constituents to identify allies and unite voices to influence legislation.
Legislative Story Arcs
To contextualize and demystify a confusing aspect of American government, the site boasts tools like a trending issues page and actionable bill progress tracking bars so modern New Yorkers can learn before they act.
INSPIRE SENATORIAL COMMUNICATION
Key to the success of the site was inspiring State Senators to actually use it. We conducted extensive research with Senators about how they interact with constituents, responding with features and capabilities that make those interactions effortless and actionable.
A PLATFORM FOR ACTIONABLE FEEDBACK
We built a simple workflow for Senators and their offices, with intuitive Senatorial dashboards that track real-time support or opposition to legislative initiatives. Tools like this help index and visualize constituent sentiment throughout the site, so Senators can respond to the needs of the people of New York and qualify their votes in quantitative realities.
nysenate.gov launched in early October 2015 to critical acclaim.
We targeted these key metrics as the measure of our success:
1. More Senators will be inspired to use the site
2. The site will generate more engagement and usage by New Yorkers
3. The site will become the standard bearer for State legislature sites, and replicated across the country
If we’re to believe The New York Times—otherwise one of the State Senate’s most vociferous critics—we’re well on our way to bringing powerful digital transparency to New York State.