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One of the important objectives of this exploratory research was to
generate information which can be used as a basis for further inquiry and
generally to identify new lines of investigation. Of course, any such endeavor reflects a basic value judgment that the area merits additional attention.
Without question, research priorities should also include such areas as
congressional organization and procedure, the committee and seniority systems,
separation of powers and executive oversight, the election process and campaign
finance, and congressional information and analytical support.
Any further research on emergent telecommunications for the House
can logically move in one of two directions.
If the results of this explor
atory study are felt to need further confirmation, then a more definitive study
based on a larger and probably random sample, or even a census, of the House
membership seems justified. The key questions and dimensions identified in the
present research can serve as the basis for development of the more refined research instruments needed for any additional effort.
Or, if the exploratory results are considered to be reasonably satisfactory, the follow-on research might be a pilot test or demonstration project with a judgmentally representative group of congressmen and staff, perhaps even the same sample. Such a pilot test could provide participants with an opportunity to actually experience and "get the feel of" the emergent telecommunications, rather than just react to pictures and sketches.
the exploratory results, and at the minimum provide some basis for a fairly
definitive confirmation or refutation. But in order to be fully realistic,
such a project would logically have to include constituents. And this raises
political and policy considerations which lead some to suggest that pilot
projects might better be organized from the ground up (that is, by the
This line of inquiry could also be extended to the Senate and to the
institutional level of Congress, both of which received only a passing glance.
For the Senate, very preliminary results in this study based on interviews with
senior staff in ten Senate offices did seem to be generally consistent with
the findings for the House. Overall usefulness was perceived as quite high for cable television, information retrieval, videoconference, and teleconference. In sharp contrast, overall perceived usefulness was very low for cable TV polling and the videophone, as was the case with the House perceptions. Preliminary results at the institutional level are discussed in the next section.
But the implications for further research clearly go beyond the Congress Itself, the legislative branch of the federal government. The congressionalconstituent focus of this study is really a subset of the more general governmental-citizen communication process which occurs on the state, metropolitan,
and local levels as well as the federal level; and which involves the admini
strative, executive, and judicial branches of government as well as the
A productive project for the future might be to test the applicability
of both the research methodology and the substantive results of this study to
attention should be given to the effects of alternative communication systems from the perspective of the people and the polity,25 and, to the extent possible,
from the viewpoint of general systems theory and cybernetics.26
An effort should be made to interpret the data and analysis of the present exploratory study in terms of possible advantages and disadvantages (beneficial and detrimental effects) of alternative communication systems on at least four levels of society and along fifteen specific dimensions: the time
budget, financial budget, communication channels, information sources, political
power, and political security of the congressman; the political information,
competence, and participation of the constituency; the political information,
effectiveness, and power of Congress as an institution; and political feedback,
opportunity, and change in the larger socio-political system.
24The role of the executive branch of the Federal Government in regard to emergent telecommunications was the subject of recently completed hearings held by U.S., Congress, House, Committee on Government Operations, Subcommittee on Foreign Operations and Government Information, Federal Information Systems and Plans--Federal Use and Development of Advanced Information Technology, Parts I and II, 93rd Congress, 1st Session (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1973); Part III, 93rd Congress, 2nd Session, is forthcoming. Also see Clay T. Whitehead, "Government Communications Planning Program," Circular No. 12, office of Telecommunications Policy, Executive Office of the President, Washington, D.C., October 12, 1973, and Report of the Interagency Audio-Visual Study Group, February 11, 1974.
25 Several pilot studies are currently in progress on citizen and community use of emergent telecommunications. See Amitai Etzioni, "Minerva: An Electronic Town Hall," Policy Sciences 3 (December 1972): 457-74; Thomas B. Sheridan, "Progress Report of the MIT Community Dialogue Project," mimeographed, Cambridge, Ma., July 1973; and Stuart A. Umpleby, "Is Greater Participation in Planning Possible and Desireable?" Technological Forecasting and Social Change 4 (1972): 61-76. For background on citizen participation, see Sidney Verba and Norman Nie, Participation in America: Political Democracy (New York: Harper and Row, 1972).
26See, for example, James G. Miller, "Living Systems: The Organization," Behavioral Science 17 (January 1972), and Frederick Bernard Wood, Communication Theory in the Cause of Man 1 and 2 (1971, 1972) for further discussion.
Congress of course exists as an institution--with two houses, several
caucuses and organizing groups, dozens of committees, and literally scores
of subcommittees--as well as a collection of 535 individual congressmen.
inherent difficulties of covering a diverse and complex institution like
Congress, coupled with the technical and economic limitations of the existing
mass electronic media, in the past have limited media coverage to a relatively
small portion of total congressional activity. Several congressmen and start
in this study believe that limited coverage has contributed to an incomplete,
unrealistic, and perhaps even innaccurate public understanding of Congress as an institution, and has weakened the role of Congress relative to other
branches of government.
Emergent telecommunications offer the prospect of additional channels
at lower cost and with greater flexibility, which will make it possible to carry
congressional activity to an extent simply not feasible over broadcast channels. For example, through the use of satellite and microwave interconnected educational and cable television systems, committee and subcommittee hearings and
floor activity in both the House and Senate could be transmitted on a selected
basis via live coverage, videotape, or even videocassette to regional locations
around the country. Several possibilities are illustrated in Figure Five.
2 This discussion is based largely on the statement of Frederick Bruce Wood, "Congress on the Cable: The Potential for Citizen Education and Participation," in U.S., Congress, Joint Committee on Congressional Operations, Congress and Mass Communication, Hearings, 93rd Congress, 2nd Session (Washington, D.C.: GPO, forthcoming). In early 1973, the Joint Committee initiated a study on how Congress as an institution can make more effective use of the mass media, and has recently completed hearings on this subject. See also U.S., Congress, Joint Committee, Congress and Mass Communication: An Institutional Perspective, & study conducted by John Stewart under contract with the Congressional Research Service, 93rd Congress, 2nd Session (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1974).