Be Right There, Just Need to Text the Mayor

Constituent services have been providing various communication features via SMS for some time. The question being asked now is what a system of individual constituent access to quick communication with government offices would look like.

It would look pretty good! Here’s a roundup of texting and SMS as tools of good government-constituent communication—as well as an accountability and transparency check.

The turn to SMS results from demands all over the world, not just the United States. The online discussion site New Tactics reported some time ago that Kenya and other countries were fielding demands for reliable government news and information sources. SMS can “transmit vote tallies to prevent tampering, track the budget, make the Parliament and Legislative Information System more accessible to citizens,” and monitor referenda and elections. Although anti-corruption and other transparency web sites (such as India’s IPaidaBribe.com) have facilitated the exposure of corruption, SMS allows quicker, more convenient, multi-user/diverse platform communication—more like a conversation than a message board.

SMS messaging is also more likely to be non-monetized, since it’s tied to existing messaging platforms. Non-monetization is another key value of government-constituent transparency. Recently, Arkansas Representative Rick Crawford “announced the formal launch of his new text messaging platform” establishing a direct link between the elected official, their office, and their constituents—everyone in the district. “This system has been adopted by Crawford’s office after the recent news about Facebook’s abuse of personal data and possible manipulation of those who use the platform to engage with constituents,” which Crawford wisely interpreted as a problem of monetization—with the rather uncontroversial understanding that, whatever its other virtues, the profit motive probably shouldn’t govern communication between elected leaders and the people.

This same value is reflected in the other virtue of SMS—that it can more easily be used for communication, not propaganda. The individual, person-to-person nature of the communication actually makes propagandizing inefficient. People can tell when the message they’re receiving is a boilerplate, and they’re likely to be using an SMS interface to get specific questions answered, or weigh in on an issue. iConstituent keeps all those constituent communications in one place in a CRM designed specifically for government.

The shortage of good media for direct constituent communication impacts vulnerable and marginalized communities more than privileged ones, as “local governments can be ignorant about constituents’ changing needs and interests – especially marginalized communities that have been historically ignored or under-represented. Local governments may produce services that they find interesting or please national politicians without any feedback from the people they are expected to serve.” But “targeted two-way communication between local governments and their citizenry” is shockingly easy to implement through text messaging. Essentially, people just need a phone number, and the government offices need interface technology to field the