Represently is Joining Fireside21

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.


If you play “Eye Spy,” you can see me standing at the whiteboard at the 2015 Congressional Hackathon, iterating on the beginnings of Represently. (See the report Rep. McCarthy and Rep Hoyer’s offices created here.)

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.”

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Four Key Insights from the Annual Data in Advocacy Summit

With the amount of data collected doubling every two years, how should grassroots advocacy professionals adapt? The Grassroots Professional Network hosted their second annual Data in Advocacy Summit to find out exactly how organizations are taking advantage, challenges they face, and opportunities to improve grassroots tactics.

In 2013, if you stored all data on iPhoneXs, everyone in the world could hold one in each hand.

The Represently team has distilled the panels and keynotes into the key takeaways from the event.

1. Silos are the single biggest inhibitor to improved grassroots advocacy.

Nearly every panelist and keynote speaker could not help but mention “data silos” hindering their staff from taking advantage of the new gold rush of information. Data silos are when one set of data about advocates is only kept within one team – like if fundraising data is not shared with the advocacy team. But as Jessica Cooper of the National Federation of Independent Business noted, information siloed between teams is fundamentally an org structure problem. Fundraising, programming, and advocacy staff must share advocate lists between teams. Software tools and infrastructure that unify these disparate sources are key to an organization’s success.

2. Humanizing a campaign has never been easier.

As the internet adapts to social networking sites being the most frequently trafficked, creating advocacy campaigns that share compelling, individual stories should be central to a team’s strategy. Amalia Kruszel from the Arts Action Fund described that their most successful campaigns emphasize how art plays a role in everyday life: art is tied to early childhood education and art centers bring together a community. Moreover, collecting and sharing user-generated content from advocates builds deeper relationships and provides momentum for future advocacy.

3. The value of an advocacy firm increasingly depends on its ability to adapt new technology.

“I would rather have a firm with less experience and a better understanding of new technology than the inverse,” said Michael Ramlet, CEO of Morning Consult. He would know: As compared to traditional polling methods, Morning Consult can more cheaply reach 435 Congressional Districts with 2,000 responses each in 10 days. (Though Ramlet noted their most cited poll ever continues to be their Game of Thrones “Good or Evil; Ugly or Beautiful” study covered in this New York Times piece.)

As technology progresses, high-impact tactics can be prohibitively expensive one year and almost free the next. Thus, it’s essential that organizations work with technologies that are capitalizing on new trends to deliver higher quality results for cheaper.

4. Working with a fraction of advocates can yield better campaign results.

Not every advocate is right for every campaign. What’s more—and despite common political campaign emails—the sky is not falling (again). Given these two facts, it’s a wonder why advocacy campaigns don’t segment their communications more thoroughly, or work with select supporters based on the issue. As Sarah Hutchinson Vice of the Neimand Collaborative put it: “You don’t need to boil the ocean” to have a successful campaign. On the same panel, Vanessa Kermick of the Airline Pilot’s Association said she runs gamified advocacy campaigns with 460 pilots – encouraging airlines to compete to send the most letters to Congress.


Ultimately, the keys to leveraging data into successful grassroots advocacy are familiar themes: a collaborative team, close  relationships with advocates, and software tools that enable (not constrict) innovative practices.

For organizations behind in using their data, Emil Pitkin of GovPredict and Todd Vanet of The Herald Group left the summit with an encouraging analogy: “The best time to plant a tree is yesterday. The second best time to plant a tree is today.”

To learn more about Represently’s peer-to-peer advocacy tools that multiplies your campaign’s impact with original advocate content and allows you to measure your impact, request a demo today.

Presenting Represently’s Summer Fellows: Brandon Obas Spotlight

Brandon Obas

One Word that Best Represents You:


Tell Us One Time You Hacked Something:

I once helped to build an app called Iris at a hackathon that allowed users to communicate with their browser through voice. The app was designed to service people who were unable to use their hands.

When Was Your First “Political” Moment:

My first political moment was in 6th grade when we watched president Obama’s 2008 inauguration in class.

Ninjas or Pirates:

Pirates – the freedom of the sea and just doing whatever you want with your best friends sounds like the dream.

What’s a Random Topic on Which You are a Pseudo-expert:

I once watched an hour-long video on the meanings of different facial expressions. So, I’m a little knowledgeable on micro-expressions, which are expressions that people unconsciously make that reveal their true emotion.

Why Reviving Representation Matters to You:

The American government was built to serve the American people and it seems that people have become more disconnected to government. We need more effective representation for government to serve the interests of all Americans. I want to make a difference in how the American people and politicians communicate. Technology has allowed us to significantly change the way politicians and people communicate for the better. The more people who voices are heard, the better our government works.

Brandon Obas, who studies computer science at the University of Pennsylvania, built an award-winning project in PennApps, UPenn’s massive hackathon.

Presenting Represently’s Summer Fellows: Ryan Swope Spotlight

Ryan Swope

One Word that Best Represents You:


Tell Us One Time You Hacked Something:

Driving the way I do with Waze often seems like a hack….For those who don’t know Waze: it is a traffic and navigation app based on crowd-sourced information from users. Some of this information includes where police are stationed to catch drivers speeding. Thus, as long as Waze tells me there is no cop, I’m flying. As soon as Waze tells me a cop is ahead, I slow it back down and likely narrowly avoid a ticket. I would give this “hack” about a 60% success rate.

When Was Your First “Political” Moment:

Weirdly enough the moment I started taking an interest in philosophy was the moment I started caring about politics. I had a kind of pseudo-interest in politics before that point, but largely through what was presented to me by my parents, more politically engaged friends, etc. But once I started studying philosophy, specifically morality and ethics, I began taking a lot more interest in the decisions our government makes.

Ninjas or Pirates:

Ninja in a fight, pirate as a companion.

What’s a Random Topic on Which You are a Pseudo-expert:

Stringing racquets (squash and tennis). I’ve been stringing tennis since I was 15 and squash since a couple years ago. Between stringing and coding I expect full-blown carpal tunnels by age 30.

Why Reviving Representation Matters to You:

I think the most valuable part of reviving representation is that it is inherently non-partisan and universally beneficial. We will all benefit from a more efficient system that better represents its members, and therefore I think this idea of reviving representation has a lot of potential to be a unifying cause in increasingly partisan times.

Ryan Swope, a Middlebury University student who majors in computer science and philosophy, is proficient in React.js and Vue.js and has experience in systems engineering.

Presenting Represently’s Summer Fellows: Jeffrey Ding Spotlight

Jeffrey Ding

One Word that Best Represents You:


Tell Us One Time You Hacked Something:

When I think of “hack”, I think of haggling. No one specific experience comes to mind, but I take a haggler’s mindset to many things – for instance, getting a burrito bowl and a tortilla on the side at Chipotle since you get so much more food that way.

When Was Your First “Political” Moment:

My first political moment was listening to Barack Obama’s keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention. I remember being in the shower at the time, while my parents were downstairs watching the speech on TV.

Ninjas or Pirates:


What’s a Random Topic on Which You are a Pseudo-expert:

I know way too much about League of Legends, which is a multiplayer online video game. Not even from playing the game but mostly from following the rise of the game as a e-sport, and all the drama that takes place on the League subreddit.

Why Reviving Representation Matters to You:

For me, increasing constituent engagement by activating and amplifying the voices of citizen advocates, Represently can increase lawmakers’ accountability to constituents. As a result, broader and deeper channels for civic engagement can both reduce rent seeking and build incentives for legislators to better meet the needs of their constituents.

Jeffrey Ding, a Rhodes Scholar reading for a Master’s degree in international relations at Oxford University, leads the Rhodes Artificial Intelligence Lab, which builds machine learning-powered solutions to social problems.

Presenting Represently’s Summer Fellows: Tessa Haldes Spotlight

Tessa Haldes

One Word that Best Represents You:


Tell Us One Time You Hacked Something:

This actually isn’t uncommon but it felt like a hack, I was able to get Greek citizenship before ever visiting Greece so that I did not count as a foreign player when I joined a team.

When Was Your First “Political” Moment:

My first political moment was the Obama inauguration in 2009. My high school had TVs set up in the lunchrooms and I remember watching it after school with my friends.

Ninjas or Pirates:


What’s a Random Topic on Which You are a Pseudo-expert:

I am the resident poster-making expert.

Why Reviving Representation Matters to You:

Representation is important because I want to live in a country where my voice is heard and my opinions are valued.

Tessa Haldes, who studied Electrical Engineering at Northwestern University, has technical knowledge in many fields ranging from quantum devices and software development with Python, and recently returned to the states from a year playing professional basketball in Greece.


Presenting Represently’s Summer Fellows: Jacob Witt Spotlight

Jacob Witt

One Word that Best Represents You:


Tell Us One Time You Hacked Something:

I once rode more than 3,800 miles from Anacortes in Washington to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The 47-day trip raised $125,000 for Ride 2 Recovery, which helps veterans and first responders affected by post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health issues.

When Was Your First “Political” Moment:

I’m not sure if I remember a “first” moment; I’m pretty sure I’ve been arguing with my dad over politics before I really knew what the word meant.

Ninjas or Pirates:

Pirates – there’s something about the wide open ocean, buried treasure, and scurvy that gets me going.

What’s a Random Topic on Which You are a Pseudo-expert:

Thanks to Stephen Hawking, I have a pseudo-grasp of relativity, non-locality, and some of the quirks of astrophysics.

Why Reviving Representation Matters to You:

Today it seems the prevailing sentiment is that people of all political ideologies don’t feel as though their lawmakers are listening. At a time when intense media scrutiny has both highlighted flaws in our lawmakers while also making them feel more distant than ever, I’m hoping that my work with Represently can increase civil connection and remind people of the good our government does.

Jacob Witt is a rising sophomore at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, where he works as an editor at the award-winning school newspaper.