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For the future, public policy will most likely have to be tailored to
the characteristics and potential applications of specific emergent telecommuni
cation channels in order to ensure that basic rights are reinforced, that the
potential advantages or beneficial effects are maximized, and that the possible disadvantages or detrimental effects are minimized. Further research along the
lines suggested earlier will be of fundamental importance to the development
While the benefits and costs of using emergent telecommunications to
address problems of congressional-constituent communication cannot yet be
predicted with complete confidence, this exploratory assessment does provide a clear picture of the range of possibilities from the perspective of the
Three of the emergent channels--cable television, information retrieval,
and the videoconference--are perceived by more than half of the congressmen
and staff in this sample as being potentially useful for constituent communica
tion. Most frequently cited advantages are the potential to reach more people
more effectively, significantly improve upon currently available channels,
save time and energy of members and staff, and increase the level and quality of
citizen participation and feedback. These channels are viewed as offering
citizens improved means for learning about the Congress, acquiring more relevant
information about the legislative process and specific issues, and communicating
views and opinions to their congressmen on a more timely and informed basis.
The Interview survey also identified several possible disadvantages or problems in using emergent telecommunications--especially for cable TV polling and the videophone. Mentioned most often are the possibility of: abuse and
overuse (How can ve ensure unbiased use, protection from information overload,
privacy of privileged communication, and fair and balanced access?); people problems (Is there adequate constituent understanding and interest?); insuffi
cient need (Do the energent systems really offer a significant and needed
improvement over current systems?); high cost (will the emergent channels be
cost-effective relative to existing channels and other competing priorities for
use of funds?); reduction in person-to-person contact (will the human dimensions of politics be further eroded?); excessive time consumption (Can the emergent channels actually help members and staff use their time and energy more
efficiently?); limited acceptance (Are these channels consistent with the role
and responsibilities of congressmen in the American political system; is the public ready to accept emergent channels?); and limited availability (When, if ever, will these channels become a reality?).
Such an assessment has not heretofore been made in any systematic and scientific way, primarily because of (1) the lack of the requisite emergent telecommunication channels within a reasonable feasibility horizon, (2) inadequate familiarity with relevant concepts and technology on the part of members of Congress, and (3) uncertain and/or undesirable political power consequences
at least in the eyes of researchers.32
328ee Kenneth Janda, "Future Improvements in Congressional Information Support," in Information Support, Program Budgeting and the Congress, ed. Robert L. Chartrand, Kenneth Janda, and Michael Hugo (New York: Spartan, 1968), pp. 47, 94; Janda, "Information Systems for Congress," in de Grazia, The First Branch, pp. 441-443; Saloma, New Politics, pp. 177, 230-231; Davidson, Congressional Reform, pp. 121, 166-167; and Frank Ryan, "Information Systems Support for the U.S. House of Representatives," in U.S., Congress, House, Select Committee on Committees, Working Papers on House Committee Organization and Operation, 93rd Congress, 1st Session (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, June 1973).
As for (1), the feasibility horizon of several emergent telecommunication channels is now close enough, as identified through the technology analysis, to justify serious research on potential applications for congressional
constituent communication. With regard to (2), the familiarity of members of Congress with concepts and technology relevant to the potential use of emergent telecommunications has increased markedly in recent years, due in part to
developments in several areas of congressional communication and information support, as documented through the survey interviewing. 33
Finally, in the area of (3), based on the present study, the judgment
of this researcher is that the political power consequences of such applica
tions can now be identified and, if used as a basis for public education and
appropriate public policy decisions, the potential of the emergent channels for
serving the public interest and improving democratic political processes can
33while this research focused on external communication and information systems, the internal use of such systems--broadly defined--is under study and/or development by the Congressional Research Service, General Accounting Office, Office of Technology Assessment, House Select Committee on Committees, Senate Subcommittee on Computer Services (of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee), and Joint Study Committee on Budget Control, as well as by the House Information Systems Office (of the House Administration Committee) and the Joint Committee on Congressional Operations which were mentioned earlier. See, for example, U.S., Congress, Joint Committee on Congressional Operations, Improving Fiscal and Budgetary Information for the Congress, House Report No. 92-1337, 92nd Congress, 2nd Session (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1972), and Summary of Proceedings and Debate: A Pilot Study, Senate Report No. 93-294, 93rd Congress, 1st Session (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1973); statements of Robert L. Chartrand, Kenneth W, Hunter, and Frank Ryan in U.S., Congress House, Select Committee, Working Papers; 11.s., Congress, House, Committee on Science and Astronautics, Office of Technology Assessment: Background and Status, report prepared by the Congressional Research Service, Science Policy Division, 93rd Congress, 1st Session (Washington, D.C.: GPO, August 1973); John S. Saloma, "The Quiet Revolution: The Development of Information Technology in the U.S. Congress," a paper prepared for the APSA Study of Congress Conference, Washington, D.C., October 1973; and U.S., Congress, House, Select Committee on Committees, Committee Structure and Procedures of the House, working draft, . 93rd Congress, 1st Session (Washington, D.C.: GPO, December 1973).
SUMMARY OF METHODOLOGICAL RESEARCH RESULTS
The methodological objective of this research was to develop an
appropriate and effective exploratory approach for conducting research on
emergent congressional-constituent communication systems.
The results are
A. Exploratory Methodology
The study utilized an exploratory or heuristic approach which sought
not to test hypotheses but instead to systematically gather information about
the real-world situation being investigated, discover significant variables,
and generate ideas and exploratory findings for further research.34 This
approach employed a number of specific methodologies:
systems model-building (which served to integrate existing knowledge and
conceptually guide all subsequent phases of the study); technology analysis
34The literature on behavioral and systems research makes clear the distinction between exploratory or heuristic and hypothesis-testing research. See, for example, Richard F. Ericson, "Glossary for Management Cybernetics," July 1970, George Washington University, p. 13; Fred N. Kerlinger, Foundations of Behavioral Research (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964), p. 388; W. Charles Redding, "Research Setting: Field Studies," in Methods of Research in Communication, ed. Philip Eromert and William D. Brooks (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970), pp. 116-17; William G. Scott and Terence R. Mitchell, Organization Theory: A Structural and Behavioral Analysis (Homewood, Ill.: Irwin-Dorsey, 1972), p. 321; Robert Boguslaw, The New Utopians: A Study of System Design and Social Change (Englewood cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1965), p. 13; Van Court Hare, Systems Analysis: A Diagnostic Approach (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1967), p. 17; Stafford Beer, Decision and Control: The Meaning of Operational Research and Management Cybernetics (New York: John Wiley, 1966), pp. 422-23; and Beer, Brain of the Firm: A Development in Management Cybernetics (New York: Herder and Herder, 1972), pp. 68-71.
(which identified and analyzed emergent telecommunication channels likely to be feasible within a ten-year time frame); a sample survey (which applied a stratified Judgmental procedure to select congressional respondents); and semi-structured interviews (which utilized instruments with a pictorial and worksheet format to survey the attitudes and perceptions of congressmen and senior staff).
B. Model-Building Methodology
A congressional-constituent communication systems model played an
important role throughout the study. The objectives of this model were to
(1) draw on relevant information in any applicable scientific discipline or
field of study and thus serve as a framework for the research and literature
review, (2) relate such information together in a meaningful way so as to
facilitate conceptualization and understanding of the communication system, (3) help identify key variables and relationships, and (4) serve as a conceptual guide for subsequent phases of the research.35
The basic structure of the model derived primarily from these sources of communication theory and research: Claude E. Shannon and Warren Weaver (telecommunications engineering and mathematics), Harola D. Lasswell and Richard L. Merritt (political science), and Irving L. Janis and Carl Hovland (social psychology).36 The key model variables were specified as follows:
35This conception of models and model-building is based primarily on Gordon L. Lippitt, Visualizing Change (Washington, D.C.: NTL Learning Resources Corp., 1973); Stafford Beer, Decision and Control, esp. chaps. 6 and 7, and Brain of the Firm, esp. chap. 6; Robert T. Golembiewski, William A. Welsh, and William J. Grotty, A Methodological Primer for Political Scientists (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1969), p. 427; and J. F. Schouten, "Behavior, Physiology and Models," in Communication: Concepts and Perspectives, ed. Lee Thayer (Washington, D.C.: Spartan, 1967), p. 181.
36Claude E. Shannon, "The Mathematical Theory of Communication," originally published in Bell System Technical Journal, July and October,