2004
Publication:
John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

Communication between legislator and constituents is fundamental to effective democratic representation, and devising the institutional means for citizen/legislator communication stands as one of the core and persistent problems in the practice of democracy. A legislator needs information about the preferences, ideals, norms, and beliefs of her constituents in order to do her job well. Similarly, citizens need information about the actions and decisions of their representative in order to maintain appropriate accountability. But as national problems become more complex, and as the political process grows more and more dominated by experts and organized groups, it is becoming more difficult for interested citizens to understand the very meaning of government action, much less to find an effective voice in the process.

Recent developments in interactive information technology create new possibilities for establishing communication links between citizens and their representative. The widespread adoption and use of web based technologies among citizens creates the potential for greater citizen participation in, and knowledge and trust of, their government. Members of Congress are very accustomed to, and tend to be very good at, interacting with constituents face-to-face. Digital interaction, however, is inherently new terrain for many Members, and any new activity entails uncertainty and risk; and further, implementing and making effective use of innovations requires new knowledge and new operating procedures.

These considerations suggest that any study of the adoption and use of web-based innovations requires in-depth, and qualitative, dynamic analysis to identify the mechanisms of adoption and the impact of adopted technologies (as well as the impact of decisions not to adopt). To take a metaphor from institutional analysis, we need to identify the equilibrium path of new adoptions, and how to modify current suboptimal technological equilibria. This paper serves two purposes: 1) present the results of the static analysis, and 2) outline plans for future work to study the dynamics underlying the adoption and use of web technologies among Members of Congress.