Together, we’re the first to apply machine learning to how Congress responds to your needs.
I’m excited to share that Represently has joined Fireside21. This is a momentous step towards accelerating our goal to help people achieve transparent, impactful, and timely representation and transform the way people connect with their government.
Humble Beginnings in the Halls of Congress
In 2015, I attended the Second Annual Congressional Hackathon. I was working on the Facebook Government and Politics team at the time, a key force in organizing the event for Congressional staffers, non-profits, and civic technology companies to come together and openly prototype tools that would improve the way Congress leverages technology to serve its citizens. Staffers rattled off obstacles to listening to citizens with real problems — many that I knew all too well from interning in Senator Grassley’s office years prior. I wondered how the technologies core to creating the world’s most used communication platform (Facebook) could re-engineer the way Congress listens to its constituents.
In Spring 2016, I assembled a small team, and we began building the first prototypes of Represently — a tool individual Americans and Congress alike could trust for authentic and efficient communication on issues that matter most to them. We received a vote of confidence from the GW New Venture Competition, earning third in a pool of 102 companies, yielding $10,000 in seed funding and crucial mentorship. Last summer, we assembled a Fellowship of diverse talent (from a professional basketball player from Greece to a Rhodes Scholar focusing on AI and nearly everything in between). We created tools connecting individuals to the legislative process on issues of healthcare, recreational sporting, and environmental awareness.
Then A Notable Election Changed Civic Engagement
After a surprising election result in the fall of 2016, political participation skyrocketed. Many engaged in having their voices heard for the first time. We saw many civic technology companies join our space to fill the need to find town halls, raise funds, send messages to Congress, and organize.
But as it becomes increasingly easy to contact Congress, an absolutely critical consideration has been comparatively left behind:
How are we making it easier for Congress to listen, understand, and action our requests?
The U.S. Congress is, in many ways, the customer support arm of our government. Offices have reported receiving over 300 messages per hour. (Could you meaningfully respond to five text messages per minute?) What’s more — the same technologies that have been criticized for enabling democratic obstruction are actually essential to empowering our institutions against it.
This is why Represently is proud to join Fireside21, an organization that is critical to leveraging technology to improving how our democracy functions in hundreds of Congressional offices, thereby answering the above (sometimes forgotten) question.
Fireside21 + Represently
Fireside21 creates products that enable members of Congress to communicate with constituents, squarely inline with Represently’s mission. When we first partnered to explore Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) innovation, our shared passions became evident.
Thanks to the support of the DemocracyFund, Fireside21 is investing heavily in leveraging machine learning to improve their CRM. Combining Represently’s track record of product innovation with Fireside21’s scale, existing Congressional relationships, and resources will allow us to make a tangible impact than if pursuing the vision alone.
The possibilities for improving CRMs with machine learning are truly endless (topic modelling of constituent communications, bot detection of inbound communications, a letter library search engine), and our teams have already dove head-first into building the first: recommending existing office responses to inbound constituent needs so staffers may focus on writing meaningful responses rather than solely sorting letters. (See Josh’s post on the Fireside21 blog for more).
I’m personally excited to continue working alongside Josh Billigmeier and the entire Fireside21 team to consultatively lead machine learning research efforts. I’ll conclude with the infamous, catchy words of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers: “What we’re seeing is a 19th Century institution often using 20th Century technology to respond to 21st Century problems. We need to change that.”
A deeply personal thanks to the colleagues that has been a part of the Represently team: Bob Specht, Tyler Whirty, Michael Gasparovic, Lucas Baier, Chris Benka, Jeffrey Ding, Tessa Haldes, Brandon Obas, Ryan Swope, John Tomczak, Jacob Witt, Michael Blank, Kevin Connell, Nathan Pigott. Many more to our mentors, customers, and friends along the way.
Joseph Nelson, Represently Co-Founder, CEO