OpenGov Voices: Improving communication between politicians and citizens

An image of Niki Papazoglakis, founder of Freagle
Niki Papazoglakis, Founder of Freagle. Image credit:

Joseph Pulitzer once said, “There is not a crime, there is not a dodge, there is not a trick, there is not a swindle, there is not a vice which does not live by secrecy.”

This describes our broken political system very well. As the Sunlight Foundation states, “disproportionate access to information is power.” Secrecy and a lack of transparency are detrimental to good government and for our citizens to be truly empowered, they must have access to good information about what their government is doing along with the tools to put that information to use.

The Sunlight Foundation and other organizations have made great strides in overcoming barriers to information, but there remains a gap in the ability for effective communication between political leaders and the public. At Freagle, we hope to bridge that gap. Freagle is a virtual town square that combines social networking, big data and analytics technologies to reconnect voters and political leaders in a way never before possible.

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Once launched, our platform will create an entirely new communications mechanism between constituents and political leaders. It will be a Virtual Town Square to restore our founders’ vision for the country but adapted for the Digital Age.

The online community is key. Social networks today were built for interpersonal communications. Freagle’s front-end is being built from the ground up to support a small electorate representing a large populace.

But a network alone won’t do it. So we include a back-end to leverage the data available from the Sunlight Foundation and other OpenGov APIs and apply our analytics to make the information easily accessible and understandable to our users.

Citizens have disengaged and stopped holding elected officials accountable to representing their interests. Most people in this country feel like their voice and their vote don’t count, so why should they bother? Freagle can help change all that.

Have legislators voted the way that they promised when campaigning? Are policy decisions consistent with constituent interests? Constituents will be able to find out directly from any device, anywhere from a single app. Freagle will provide citizens what they want, when they want it and in formats that they can understand.

Our system of government requires a well-informed electorate, but everything about our politics works against that. Campaigns and issues are driven by sound bites and glitzy, expensive 30-second television ads. These ads cost a great deal of money and are limited as to the information they can convey – but they are highly effective.

Political ads dominate the political landscape because despite the fact that 39% of all American adults have used social networking for political engagement, no single platform has emerged that connects all the pieces: the people, the tools and the information. Freagle’s platform could be the antidote to campaign ads.

By allowing direct communications between citizens, elected officials and politicians, our service will provide for a back-and-forth between political actors. Don’t like the way an elected official voted on a certain bill? With Freagle, you can ask them why – and even better, they have the opportunity to explain in a substantive manner, rather than through a sound bite or television ad.

So you may be thinking, “That all sounds good, but how will you get the politicians to use it?” Because Freagle is specifically designed for political communications, it is just as valuable to the politicians as it is the constituents.

Under the current system there is little incentive for politicians to pursue open and honest discussions with their constituents. In fact, it’s very common for an elected official’s explanation of a vote or stance on an issue to be turned against him or her in an opponent’s campaign ad. Many politicians know this and some actively avoid any substantive remarks.

We must hold our politicians accountable, but we should also provide them with an opportunity to inform citizens and explain their votes and actions. To really judge accountability, we must give elected officials a standard against which to be judged. Freagle gives politicians a platform to provide real and substantive information to constituents without resorting to expensive and pithy advertisements.

Please learn more about Freagle hereand find out how you can get involved. It truly will take all of us to drive the much needed change in our political system and Freagle hopes to provide a platform to do just that.

Niki Papazoglakis is the Founder of Freagle and has fifteen years’ experience working in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Niki has also worked in advocacy, lobbying and government contracting. She has been a volunteer with various nonprofits and has served on the boards of Leaders with Vision, the Louisiana chapter of Common Cause and the League of Women Voters of Baton Rouge.

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