How many people do you know have actually contacted a Member of Congress to talk about a problem they want to solve? Not many. While attending a hackathon after coming back from traveling abroad, I joined forces with a NGO, Rebuilding Alliance, to change this. Their mission: to stop the demolition of villages in the war-torn areas of Israel and Palestine. I helped bring their vision to life by architecting and designing a mobile app for Android. The end result is an app that fosters citizen engagement by making contact with legislators easy and taking action simple.
How can we enact change through our congressional leaders?
A depressing number of people in Israel and Palestine are losing their homes due to demolitions and war. This leaves them without light, food, water, and a home. Rebuilding Alliance has been working to rebuild these communities and fight for these people’s rights since 2003. However, they need more help.
The primary method of advocacy to rebuild these communities is through contacting legislators, whether it be via phone call, e-mail, letters, or petitions. Rebuilding Alliance wanted to get more people to advocate for the rights of people in war-torn communities. However, not only do people not know how they can advocate, but also they have no idea who they can advocate to. And at the heart of the problem, Rebuilding Alliance needed more information to show to legislators about where and how many people care, and how to get more supporters.
Get people to take action
The end goal was to motivate citizens to advocate for human rights in this particular region. This meant establishing specific actions people could take that are effective forms of advocacy.
We would achieve this by making contact with legislators as easy as possible. A mobile app would provide people with information about their Members of Congress automatically to make contact happen instantly. We also wanted to see where concerned constituents are located and how many in each district— a count that is valuable information to legislators to learn which issues are most important.
Through user interviews, market research, and some government investigating, I was able to discover valuable information that defined the product requirements:
General lack of knowledge
Members of Congress listen to the constituents in their assigned districts and areas only, but the vast majority of people cannot even name who is representing them.
Calling is the best form of advocacy
We found that with just 20 calls (or fewer) regarding an issue, a legislator would bring up the issue in Congress and even cosponsor a bill in support.
People are scared to speak up
It's not that people don't care about making a difference, but that they are unsure of what they can even do. General distrust in the government and skepticism that their voices will be heard prevent them from doing anything.
Congress keeps a tally
Though it may seem surprising, Members of Congress do listen and hear their constituents. Staff make note of every issue mentioned in calls or e-mails, keeping an actual tally of what is most important to constituents.