While the founders of the American republic may have conceived Congress as the linchpin of our democracy – the branch of government closest and most responsible to the people – few would argue that our contemporary Congress shares much in common with this early republican ideal.

The partisanship slowing the legislative process to a grind, doused with ample helpings of nearly unlimited campaign contributions thanks to Citizens United, has soured much of the American public on Congress, with congressional approval ratings hovering in the low teens. Recent years have seen productivity in both houses of Congress – as measured by newly enacted laws – as among the lowest on record since World War II.

Congress needs “fixes” – but where will these new tools and solutions come from? By bringing together political scientists, technologists, designers, lawyers, and lawmakers under the banner of #Hack4Congress, the Ash Center hopes to foster new digital tools, policy innovations, and other technology innovations to address the growing dysfunction in Congress.  

#Hack4Congress Cambridge

The overall winner of #Hack4Congress was Team HillHack for its proposal, Congress Connect, which is designed to facilitate more productive face-to-face conversations between every-day citizens and their members of Congress. Congress Connect, designed by Taylor Woods, Chris Baily, Kat Kane, and Jessie Landerman is a platform where constituents can directly request meetings on the Hill or in their district office, access tutorials to prepare for their meeting and connect with other constituents who share their advocacy goals.

The finalist for Challenge 1 – Improving Law Making Process was the Dear Colleagues for its website to enabling collaborative law making, ensuring organizational memory, and offering customized alerts on issues members care about, and providing analytics.

The finalist for Challenge 2 – Facilitating Cross-Partisan Dialogue was DICO, a crowdsourcing app that allows both citizens and representatives to identify, act and respond to public opinion on major issues.

The finalist for Challenge 3 – Modernizing Congressional Participation was Team Awesome, which also received honorable mention overall for its OpenHearing tool for congressional committee members to conduct virtual hearings that solicit and disseminate citizen testimony.

The finalist for Challenge 4 – Closing the Representation and Trust Gaps was HillHack for its Congress Connect website, which was also recognized as the overall winner of #Hack4Congress.

The finalist for Challenge 5 – Reforming Campaign Finance was Consensus, for its Bill Exploder to translate overly technical campaign finance reform bills into human language.

#Hack4Congress San Francisco

The overall winner of #Hack4Congress SF was Confluence Labs for its project entitled CDash, which helps provide congressional offices with critical metrics on what is happening specifically in their congressional districts on everything from health care indicators, to unemployment figures, to graduation rates, and economic growth numbers.  CDash, was conceived by Madlene Hamilton, Kate Wing, Fabion Kauker, Elyse Lefebvre, Judith Mayer, and John Kelly.

    • The finalist for Challenge 1 – Improving Law Making Process was Confluence Labs for its entry, CDash.
    • The finalist for Challenge 2 – Facilitating Cross-Partisan Dialogue was Team Policies Beyond Partisanship for its non-partisan bill drafting and revision platform.
    • The finalist for Challenge 3 – Modernizing Congressional Participation was Project Lobby with Friends for its tool to sort members of Congress by their influence on the issues and then connecting users to Facebook friends who are their constituents.
    • The finalist for Challenge 4 – Closing the Representation and Trust Gaps was Project TL;DR Congress for its one-page personalized “report card“ for voters, which also provides an opportunity for elected officials to give explanations of their congressional records.
    • The finalist for Challenge 5 – Reforming Campaign Finance was Project Urban Borough for its tool to unify how everyday constituents can financially pool behind a congressional candidate in a social, more transparent way.