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Smart Congress

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United States Capitol Building

Many contemporary and urgent policy issues require nuance, deliberation and expert judgment. Unfortunately, in many policy contexts, the United States Congress lacks this organizational capacity due to its antiquated systems of referral, sorting, communicating and convening. As a result, our first branch of government is struggling to deliver timely and proficient outcomes to address complex issues, including those with global and technological implications. Smart Congress will explore how to re-engineer the ways expert information flows into the legislature.

The goal of Smart Congress is to examine how information sharing might be modernized in the legislative branch--perhaps with a system of “21st century knowledge hubs.” By tapping the deep reservoir of knowledge that exists in states and congressional districts across the USA, and leveraging a combination of this expertise and technology, Smart Congress aspires to redress the deficiencies in the current congressional information system.

Examples of this knowledge hub model include:

  • experts outside of DC conducting real-time fact checking in hearings via mobile device,
  • crowdsourcing committee questions or floor statements for Congressional staff from states and districts,
  • creating specialized research wikis and teams of experts who can help both with forecasting assessments and with expert judgment. 

The project is seeking means to provide standing support for Members and staff and to help our leaders answer questions with a broader perspective--something not always available from lobbyists and advocacy groups.

For example, we recognize the need to expand our understanding of national security: The narrow, DC-centric views of national security are constrained by concepts like deterrence and dominance; but Congress must also address modern security concepts such as credibility, connectivity and resilience.

A centerpiece of Smart Congress is the creation of a fellows program on security and technology. Fellows will act as conveners and nonpartisan knowledge facilitators. They will be selected on the basis of their past experience working in “disruptive” environments, where a key outcome is the creation and adoption of new processes and tools. Smart Congress findings will be disseminated through a variety of conventional and new media such as blogs, Twitter, Tumblr, and Quora.

The project expects to evolve as new transparency rules impact the capacity and functions of the legislative branch. The project staff will seek, discover and share tools and technologies to facilitate informed self-governance. We are interested in learning about other pilot projects and proofs of concept models that occur at the intersection of technology, expert knowledge and governance. We'd also like to connect with innovators in the realm of citizen engagement.

The long-term goal of this project is to help the US Congress become a leading democratic institution in today’s global public square.