What’s new in version 1.7

You may have updated CapitolBuddy to the latest version on Friday. If so, getting news on legislators at the capitol just got easier — I’m happy to introduce Public Notes.

Public Notes

Think of it as a place to share your good news and bad news on legislators, hearings, and anything going on at the capitol. News stories are always a good thing to share, maybe news on an upcoming vote, maybe congratulate a legislator on an award by letting everyone on CapitolBuddy know. The options are open for how you use CapitolBuddy.

Reorganized Menu

The old menu didn’t really put the emphasis on the right features. I saw users struggling to create teams, usually they didn’t even know it was a thing. Now it’s right in the main menu and the screen includes some instructions to get you going. The whole thing could probably use a tutorial still, but we’ll get there, when necessary.

District Lookup

Thanks to the Sunlight Foundation API and Google Maps API, it’s very easy to look up the state legislators for an address. So District look-up has also been added to the main menu — that’s a feature people are often looking for.

NEW District Maps

No more PDF maps on your iPhone. The new map section is a legitimate apple map, with overlays of each district. You can search to find a specific one and tap the pin callouts to be taken to a legislator’s profile. The very first time it loads, the maps will take a while because the app has to download the boundaries for every district. But after that first load, you’ll have quick and easy access to interactive district maps.

 

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May 8th RI Capitol Notes

For my second observation day at the Capitol this week, I tried to talk to a few more people about the app and their work. But mostly I just watched people.

I think one of the most interesting things to note is which groups were there. Today’s focus seemed to be a children and developmental disabilities. I saw two press conferences, but there may have been more. One was on developmental disabilities funding. They had a press conference just outside the entrance to the building with several legislators and candidates present, including Sen. DiPalma (D-12) and Rep. Hull (D-6) (Yes, I did use CapitolBuddy to store notes on those two — I even made them public, so everyone can see).

I believe the other press event had to do with Home Care services. And some children’s groups like RIght Now for Kids had booths set up.

The most exciting piece of news is that CapitolBuddy will be getting a place in the State House Library’s info stand. Ask and ye shall receive.

I did watch the lobbyists mingle outside the door after the gavel rang to start the floor meetings, as I has planned. It’s not much to gaze upon — but it would be a good time to tap a shoulder and do a user interaction survey. So that’s my goal for next week, get some feedback and watch people interact with the app.

Home care press conference

Home care press conference

5/8 at the Capitol

5/8 at the Capitol

May 7th RI Capitol Notes

I spent the day at the Rhode Island State House. My goals were to observe the groups who were there doing advocacy and what kinds of things they were doing, how they moved about the capitol, and what legislators they were focusing on. As I learned in my prior visit to the building, things are generally very busy in the hour before assembly is called to order.

I saw the following groups working hard on their causes, but I’m sure I missed some groups that perhaps weren’t being as boisterous — or that maybe didn’t bring a big crowd that day.

  • Homeless Connect is there every Wednesday from RI Coalition for the Homeless. I love this service and the whole concept. They use the state house as a soup kitchen of sorts and provide bag lunches to the homeless, great way to bring homelessness to the front of legislators’ minds.
  • RI Association of Realtors had a press conference about several pieces of legislation, ranging from clean energy to independent contractor regulations. A shame they didn’t deal with the acoustics better (it’s always awful in the rotunda). I’ve seen groups have better luck with events that take place in a hearing room. Then I had a brief twitter-conversation with them afterwards, in which introduced CapitolBuddy.
  • American Heart Association was actually the first group I saw when I walked in. It looked like they were having a lobby day with several people wearing AHA buttons and carrying their folders of information. I really wanted to see what they included in the folders, because I bet ULobby could replace it!
  • Rhode Island State Nurses Association must have been there too, I saw several people with RN badges walking around, and they were honored during the session by having the second week in May being devoted to them.

Moving on to the actual legislating, I chose to watch the proceedings in the House from the balcony, but I may learn more about the advocates and lobbyists if I went to the main floor and observed outside the chamber door — I hear that they group up over there during the floor meeting. So I shall focus on that when I head over to the Capitol at 3pm, today.

I’ll post my notes from that adventure tomorrow.

Rhode Island State House

 

Internship Opening: Legislative Ninja

CapitolBuddy is currently available as an iOS app that helps advocacy groups be more informed and effective while working around their state legislatures. CapitoBuddy provides reliable and up-to-date information on state legislators as primary component of our product.

We are looking for someone who is interested in researching state politics around the country and finding the most engaging material. You don’t have to be an expert to apply, just be ready to join an exciting start-up that is shaking things up at state capitols.

Legislative Ninja (Internship)

Job description:

  • We’re looking for someone who is passionate and eager to dive into the inner workings of state governments.
  • As a legislative expert you’ll be writing stories and blog posts about state governments, effective advocacy, legislator profiles, and more for the purpose of content marketing.
  • It will be your duty to be aware when big changes are happening and to be a reference point for our data gathering.
  • We will look to you for advice on what info might be valuable to our users as we expand our services.
  • You will reach out to the advocacy organizations that are potential users of CapitolBuddy, listen to their needs, and then share the value of our legislator relationship management tool in their work.

Qualifications:

  • Passion for creating change on a state level.
  • Experience around state legislatures, politics, and advocacy is a plus.
  • Online marketing and writing experience is good.
  • Honesty.
  • Hustle.

Compensation:

  • Unpaid internship, with opportunities for growth as the company grows.

How to apply:

Standing out in advocacy

It’s easier than ever to have a voice in your state government, but with all these voices, who is being heard? To figure out how to stand out, we have compiled some tips from experts and various articles.

  1. Remember important things about the legislators and be friendly. Essentially, you’re building and maintaing a relationship with legislators. So listen to them, take note of things they mention about themselves or their passions. And review those notes before you meet with them again.
  2. Don’t just stop by when you need something. We’re building relationships here! So make contact with your key legislators even when there’s nothing going on. Set up a schedule for yourself and make sure your VIL’s (very important legislators) don’t forget you, and that you don’t forget them.
  3. Be an expert, but don’t be a fake expert. Especially if you’re a non-profit, you are primarily a source of info for legislators. You know a lot about what you work on, and what you know must be convincing. Why else would you be working on it? So use that knowledge to your advantage, without feeling the need to ever make things up. You can be honest by saying, “That is a good question, I’ll check on that.”
  4. Buddy up with staff people. Staff are the gatekeepers to state legislators. Know their secretary and legislative assistants. Occasionally, you should just ask to meet with their staff to make your points instead of the legislator themselves.
  5. Have great written materials to leave behind. Hopefully, you’re already bringing info to leave behind. It could be news articles, or your latest study, or letters from their constituents. Those are all great options. But choose your items for a reason and give them a brief summary and context during your meeting.
  6. Don’t waste your time with people that are combative. As sad as it is, many people are just going to totally disagree with your stances. That’s ok, just let those legislators be. Spend time with the folks who will at least try to understand your issue. It’s generally a good idea to privately rate the likelihood that someone will be on your side and prioritize your time as an advocate accordingly.
  7. Say thank you. Legislators have to meet with people like you all day, you should really be thankful to them. 🙂

A vision for working around legislatures

When I worked around a state legislature…

I spent some time at Missouri’s state capitol as part of my work with Renew Missouri, but more often I heard about the struggles from my colleagues, who at peak times, might have to make the trek to Jefferson City 4 out of 5 business days. And when I went myself, there was always a maelstrom of making appearances in offices, handing out info, calling to get meetings, etc. One colleague had a book of all the officials and would actually take notes in there messily in the margins as we made the rounds. Then there’s my boss who usually just scribbled on whatever piece of scrap paper he had lying closest to him, and sometimes that note made it into Evernote later  — if I could get my hands on it.

It seemed like there was a better way and that perhaps other people and organizations had similar issues with keeping organized and on top of everything at the capitol and with the legislature in general. In fact when I first started at Renew Missouri as an intern in 2010 — one of my first fun projects was asking if my brother could make an app that had all the legislators’ info in it. Well I talked with my brother about it and long story short, we both let that project drop until 2012 when I decided to learn to code and just do it myself. So now I have CapitolBuddy — everyone’s friend at the legislature.

And I think CapitolBuddy could be the solution to a lot of the small but inconvenient struggles of capitol life. I think it could be a hub of communication and a great learning resource for those just getting their feet wet working in the legislature. You’ll still need to know the right people and still need to do the hard work, but in a centralized way. Keep your notes with your legislator ratings and scorecards. Make a count of the votes for an upcoming bill with their past voting history available for comparison. Get important notes on a bill or legislator out to everyone in your coalition, where they can make comments and give feedback. CapitolBuddy can be the place where you do all of those things. [Note: not all of those features are available currently, but they’re in my vision.]

Check the video: