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George E. Humphries (Technology Assessment); Fred B. Wood III (ComputerCommunication Engineering/Systems Science); Steve and Pm1ly Fishe; and Erica Wood (Public Law), all of whom have contributed ideas to and/or reviewed parts of the research manuscript.
As for the survey interview phase of the research, the level of participation for most congressmen and senior staff from the 40 offices in the sample far exceeded expectations, due in part to the assistance of Rep. Don
Edwards (D-Cal) and his staff in pre-testing and facilitating my access and
interview strategies. Since these participants are nowhere else acknowledged
in this report, I want to take the opportunity here to express my appreciation
cooperative. In addition, while not the central focus of the research, I
would like to thank senior staff in the offices of Senators Brock, Cannon,
Cranston, Dominick, Eagleton, Mathias, Metcalf, Mondale, Stevenson, and Taft
for a comparative perspective on senatorial-constituent communication.
The research responsibility and substance of course are mine alone.
Fred B. Wood IV
Not too many years ago, this research would have been considered "blue-sky," "way-out," "highly speculative," and "ignorant of political reality." But the times have indeed changed. Today, many of the problems of
congressional-constituent communication are matters of widespread concern.
From the perspective of the congressman, a sample of such problems
commonly includes the difficulty of getting access to and communicating with
citizens, and the resultant uncertainty regarding constituent opinion on the
complex issues before Congress.
At the same time, many congressmen are
concerned about the heavy burden of coping with a rapidly growing interaction
volume (mail, phone calls, and visits) with constituents who, for example,
are affected by federal programs and don't know where else to turn for help.3
Other recurrent problems involve time, staff, office space, and
financial constraints which frustrate full response to constituent needs and
interests," and inadequate newspaper and television coverage of congressional
Also important are concerns about the lack of citizen
1Charles L. Clapp, The Congressman: His Work As He Sees It (Washington, D.C.: Brookings, 1963), p. 86.
3Kenneth G. Olson, "The Service Function of the United States Congress," in Congress: The First Branch of Government, ed. Alfred de Grazia, (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Doubleday, 1967), p. 332.
Ibid., p. 343–47.
Donald G. Tacheron and Morris K. Udall, The Job of the Congressman: An Introduction to Service in the U.S. House of Representatives (Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill, 1970), pp. 101-107.
understanding of and confidence in Congress in general, and the constituent's
typically limited knowledge of the legislative process, poor identification of the congressman, and low awareness of his votes on the 1ssues. 6
The situation apparently looks a little different from the perspective of the constituent, but the problems are there just the same. These may include frustrated desires for meaningful participation in the political process due in part to very sketchy Information about what their congressman is or 18 not doing, or to unreliable information which 18 primarily oriented toward personal promotion and partisan persuasion. More citizens perbaps nou feel a greater need for consultation on legislation in response to changing social conditions, but find it increasingly difficult to get the knowledge necessary for understanding these issues and forming Intelligent opinions. 10
The scientific community has yet a third perspective, one that has
gone through a quite significant metamorphosis. From an initial "hands-off"
position vith regard to research on political implications of technology,
recent years have seen an upsurge in what might be called "intelligent
John S. Saloma, Congress and the New Politics (Boston: Little-Brown, 1969), pp. 5-6; Roger H. Davidson, David M. Kovenock, and Michael K. O'Leary, Congress in Crisis: Politics and Congressional Reform (Belmont, Ca.: Wadsworth, 1966), p. 77. See also U.S., Senate, Committee on Government Operations, Subcommittee on Intergovernmental Operations, Confidence and Concern: Citizens View American Goverment, 93rd Congress, 1st Session (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing office, December 3, 1973).
SHarold Sackman, Mass Information Utilities and Social Excellence (New York: Auerbach, 1971), p. 100.
Tuyehezkel Dror, Design for Policy Sciences (New York: Elsevier, 1971), p. 127; Donald N. Michael, "Democratic Participation and Technological Planning," in Information Technology in & Democracy, ed. Alan F. Westin (Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University Press, 1971), p. 291.
speculation" or "reasoned conjecture" on such things as, for example:
a. Whether or not the on-line voting and opinion polling capability of
two-way cable television will bring power to the people or to those who might control the timing and wording of the information flow;11
Whether or not the citizen, assisted by the computer, will be able to acquire the information necessary for intelligent participation or will find such new sources of data to be largely irrelevent to the political process;12
Whether or not cable television and the computer together will permit
And now the call has gone out for extensive scientific research and
experimentation on the social and political potential of telecommunications.
As the National Academy of Engineering's Panel on Telecommunications Research
concluded in June 1973, the United States "is not doing so well. . . from
the standpoint of exploitation of telecommunications technology in the public
interest" because "the issues raised involve complex social, economic,
political, legal, regulatory, and related problems" which go much further
than the technology itself. The Panel's recommendation is for "interdis
ciplinary research and analysis" on the social, political, and other
11 Edwin B. Parker, "Planning Community Information Utilities," paper prepared for the Fall Joint Computer Conference, November 1971, pp. 4-5. See generally, Parker, Barry Boehm, and Harold Sackman, Community Information Utilities: Conference Summary (Santa Monica, Ca.: RAND Corp., 1972) and Parker, "Implications of New Information Technology," Public Opinion Quarterly 37 (Winter 1973-1974): 590-600.
12 Michael, "Democratic Participation," p. 291; Sackman, Mass Information, p. 169; Heinz Eulau, "Some Potential Effects of the Information Utility on Political Decision-Makers and the Role of the Representative," in The Information Utility and Social Choice, eds. Harold Sackman and Norman Nie (Montvale, N.J.: AFIPS Press, 1970), p. 190.
13Herbert Goldhamer, The Social Effects of Communication Technology (Santa Monica, Ca.: RAND Corp., 1970), pp. 13-15; Duncan MacRae, "Some Political Choices in the Development of Communications Technology," in Information Utility, p. 207. Also see Ithiel de Sola Pool, Talking Back: Citizen Feedback and Cable Technology (Cambridge, Ma.: MIT Press, 1973).
implications of emergent telecommunications that, "when carried out compe
tently and objectively, could provide the basis for policy determination in the public and national interest."14
This research on the potential of telecommunications for congressional
constituent communication anticipated and is responsive to the recommendation of the Panel. Underlying the present study are three important premises.
First, unlike earlier periods of technological change, in this
Communication Era, society now has both better tools and greater opportunity
to "direct the development of the technology to meet positive social goals,
instead of becoming the beneficiary (or victim) of uncontrolled technological change."15 The task is to develop a "humane technology," that is, "to marshal more of technology to the service of human purposes."16
Second, as the NAE Panel has recognized, to develop such a "humane
technology" requires an interdisciplinary approach. "Bridges of genuinely interdisciplinary study" must be built to provide "the sound base of research and analysis. . . with which to design our communications future, "17 Social
scientists need to work with communication engineers, not against them, "ir
14National Academy of Engineering, Panel on Telecommunications Research, Telecommunications Research in the United States and Selected Foreign countries: A Preliminary Survey (Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Engineering, June 1973), in two parts Volume I: Summary, see p. 32, and Volume II: Individual contributions, see p. 12.
15 Edwin B. Parker and Donald A. Dunn, "Information Technology: Its Social Potential," Science 176 (30 June 1972): 1392.
ToAmitai Etzioni, "Humane Technology," Science 179 (9 March 1973): editorial page.
17 Douglas Cater, "Communications Policy Research: The Need for New Definitions," forward to Aspen Handbook on the Media, eds. William L. Rivers and William T. Slater (Palo Alto, Ca.: Aspen Program on Communications and Society, 1973), p. X; also see Cater, "A Communications Revolution?" Wall Street Journal, 6 August 1973, editorial page.