OpenGov Voices: Rocket Lobby brings Yelp-style accountability to state lawmakers

by
Kevin Cate, creator of RocketLobby.com

What if we could add Yelp or Uber-style accountability to our elected officials? We can. And we just did. That’s right: Now you can rate the responsiveness of your lawmakers on a scale of one through five stars with RocketLobby.com.

RocketLobby.com, launched last month, allows anyone to find and connect with state lawmakers for free. After that interaction, you can anonymously rate the responsiveness of lawmakers, which forms a very public ranking.

Imagine being ranked as the least responsive state lawmaker in the United States. Pretty awful feeling, right? Or striving to become the most responsive? Well, that’s our big idea. Just like restaurants on Yelp, Uber drivers, Amazon products or Apple Store apps, real people deserve to know how well their local lawmakers are performing as elected officials.

RocketLobby.com runs on top of the Sunlight Foundation’s Open States API, which allowed my company, CATECOMM.com, to spend most our time perfecting the user experience.

We believe RocketLobby.com is one of those “power to the people” ideas — an idea that will end spam folders that legislators and their aides ignore, unreturned phone calls and ignored meeting requests.

And it’s not just because of the accountability feature.

Having worked with some of the largest campaigns, corporations and associations in the country, we built in a few safeguards that should make great lawmakers and legislative aides happy as well.

First, we don’t allow ineffective communication through form emails or robocalls. According to our annual survey of legislative aides, copy-and-paste or form emails are one of the least effective ways to communicate with lawmakers — only very effective 5 percent of the time, trumped in awfulness only by robocalls, ranked 0 percent. Contrast that with in-person visits at 68 percent, personal phone calls at 55 percent and individualized emails at 46 percent very effective, and you’ll understand why we don’t give our users alternatives to these big three.

Second, we only allow verified constituent emails. Meaning, no longer will advocates be able to haphazardly spray the same form email to hundreds of lawmakers outside of their district. Lawmaker contact information is revealed based only on where you are standing or what legitimate address users have entered.

And finally, we made RocketLobby.com easy and beautiful. Too many products used by advocacy organizations right now either don’t allow real, meaningful communication, or they are too cumbersome for the average user to use on their phones, tablets or desktops — including official state websites.

Ultimately, our mission at RocketLobby.com is to improve communication between lawmakers and their constituents, one email, meeting or phone call at a time. So, give it a shot! Send an email through RocketLobby.com and watch how quickly lawmakers react!

Interested in writing a guest blog for Sunlight? Email us at guestblog@sunlightfoundation.com