For plenty of Americans, the presidential campaign and election made 2016 one of the most politically charged years in recent memory. Now that Congress is back in session, state legislatures are meeting, and Donald Trump is issuing controversial orders, it may be time to get acquainted with PopVox. If you’re looking for a way to make your voice heard in 2017, this civic tech site is a good place to start.

 

Meet POPVOX

POPVOX is a civic engagement platform that combines real-time legislative data with users’ personal stories and sentiment, and delivers public input to the government. It provides you with a 360-degree view of every bill and resolution, aggregating personal letters from people just like you, as well as professional opinions. All you have to do is click, and you’ll get an access to an online tool where you can write a letter to the appropriate lawmaker with guaranteed delivery.

Launched in 2011 by two Washington insiders Marci Harris and Rachna Choudhry,  POPVOX is based off of the Latin words “populi” and “vox,” which means “People’s Voice.” The goal of POPVOX is to ease the communication between Congress, organizations, and the greater public on specific pieces of legislation.

eAdvocacy: How PopVox Gives You A Voice And Gets Congress To Listen

Simply speaking, POPVOX is comparable to a “Legislative LinkedIn” — bringing transparency, efficiency, and accountability to policymaking. Rather than ineffectually tweeting your representative in Congress, PopVox encourages you to register through the site and send certified communications to your representatives that support or oppose specific pieces of legislation.

POPVOXnever endorses or opposes any proposal, its tone is quite neutral. Rather than adding some subjective interpretations of bills into the mix, POPVOX provides a place to view a variety of opinions from issue experts, including advocacy organizations, trade groups, companies and individuals like you, so that users can learn more and make up their own mind. “For the most part, we at PopVox don’t do original reporting, we curate and link out to the work of others, though we do have a team of interns right now attending all confirmation hearings to give people a taste of what it’s like to sit in the room and listen to questions,” says Marci Harris.

POPVOX

How Does It Work?

POPVOX starts with every bill introduced in Congress. Advocacy groups, organizations and companies create a profile and register their positions endorsing or opposing bills or regulations.

Individuals manage and maintain online civic profiles, build their civic reputation, engage friends and have meaningful impact in the legislative process. Public input comes down to the choice to “support” or “oppose” a pending bill or specific issue. With POPVOX, there are no “form letters”. The platform’s goal is simply to share personal stories and experiences with lawmakers in user’s words. And once users submit a letter, POPVOX’s recommendations engine generates other related bills à la Netflix or Amazon, encouraging them to further exploration.

POPVOX verifies individuals as constituents, aggregates, sorts, and counts opinions and delivers input to lawmakers in a transparent, structured format. Comments left on POPVOX usually are delivered to the Members of Congress within 6 hours. POPVOX home page displays the status of the delivery of user’s message. POPVOX is one of the only companies that guarantee 100% delivery. If a message doesn’t go through electronically, they’ll hand-deliver it.

Each pending bill has its own page that measure support and opposition in conceivable graphs and pie charts. They enable the users of POPVOX to see bill-by-bill, district-by-district, what Congress is hearing and where people around the country vote on issues they are concerned about.
eAdvocacy: How PopVox Gives You A Voice And Gets Congress To Listen

Why It’s Important

A big theme for POPVOX is to make the legislative process less intimidating, more accessible and welcoming. A lot of people want to be more politically active, but sometimes it can feel so difficult even to take the first step. Especially right now with things moving so quickly, everyone feels overwhelmed, even experienced politicians. PopVox tries to help with that through the weekly emails, explaining what’s ahead in Congress on Monday and wrapping up the week on Friday.

The POPVOX platform empowers individuals to easily weigh in on the bills pending before Congress. They can follow their lawmakers, get personalized updates, weigh in on pending bills and Impact policy.  For organizations and trade associations, POPVOX provides a single place to publicly display measurable grassroots outcomes. Lawmakers get the opportunity to search position statements and to receive the real-time analytics of public sentiment. So, with two clicks, they can see exactly how their real constituents feel about any bill, at any time—and what other Congressional offices are hearing. The media prefers POPVOX because, for the first time, there is a nonpartisan metric of what people are actually telling Congress, instead of what the press releases from organizations are saying about the people.

eAdvocacy: How PopVox Gives You A Voice And Gets Congress To Listen

 

A “Civic Startup”

POPVOX is one of the first companies to identify as a “civic startup,” a for-profit corporation with a dual mission to scale and return value to investors while empowering individuals and making government more accountable.

POPVOX makes money by providing a collection of fundamental advocacy tools for organizations and companies of any size. Pro tools bring a level of sophistication to their grassroots campaigns, and allow them to monitor how their campaign is progressing in real time. For example, the platform has widgets that can be embedded into the site. So anyone who wants to customize and get back-end analytics can pay for a “pro” version of POPVOX.

 

The State Level

Since POPVOX’s founding in 2011, users have been able to track legislation, and express opposition or support to their representatives in Congress. Now, though, there is a new feature: users can track legislation coming out of all 50 states. Marci Harris feels that a new focus on state policy making is likely to be a major trend in the near future. Republican messaging has long called for returning power to the states.

So much policy is happening at the state level that’s probably more impactful on people’s lives. In 2014, for instance, there were approximately 24,000 bills passed at the state level, compared to about 300 in Congress at that time. And yet there are very few resources really covering the state level, with fewer state house reporters.

I don’t think most people think a lot about state legislatures or how they work. I’ve learned so much trivia about state government. There are anomalies. Nebraska has a unicameral government. New Hampshire is one of the smallest states, but it has the most lawmakers, 400 members of the New Hampshire lower house. There’s some crazy differences between state legislatures. Some stay in session year-round, some are in session for a month. Some have full-time paid lawmakers, others get $12,000 a year. In Texas, it’s only $7,200 a year.

POPVOX

One would say that POPVOX is Gov 2.0 at its best and has every chance to do what LinkedIn did for career networking and what Change.org did for social change advocacy. While the founders can’t say whether PopVox is going to be the next Facebook for Congress, they are definitely hopeful about 2017 and expecting it to be a growth year.  

 

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