How Technology is changing lobbying

In general, in Italy and Europe being a lobbyist does not give you a great reputation because people assume you are dirty and they do not want to be involved, actually, they do not want to know what exactly a lobbyist does because it is something to stay away from. Instead, things are different in the Anglo-Saxon world.

Basically, while in the US the presence of lobbies guaranteed the functioning of democracy, in Europe it undermines the independence of policymakers.

To be more specific, the two continents have different systems for interpreting the activity of lobbies. In the US there is Pluralism in which every group of interests has the possibility to become part of the decision-making process and the decision-makers are “obliged” to consider its position. While in Europe, originally there was neo-corporatism in which it is the State that decides who is admitted to participate in the decision-making process. Nowadays, in Europe, there is a mix of the two systems.

However, lobbying activity is the only way in which organized citizens, companies and NGOs could assert their interests, unless someone wants to start the Revolution.

Nevertheless, one of the problems of this activity is that often, if you are not an expert, it is difficult to find pieces of information that you need to sway a legislator such as: what is threatening the interests that you represent? Which is the latest bill for this argument? Who are the policy-makers involved in this or that project of law? When does the next step happen? Which is the history of this specific law?

I am a lobbyist and I know that if you want to know the history of any law or the efficiency of any member of the Parliament you must do specific research shifting from a website to another and in between making some calls.

Until a few years ago, lobbying was the sector where digitalization and automatization seemed never to have been implemented significantly. Nevertheless, there are best practices. For instance, Adl Consulting, the Italian firm in which I work, have invented KMIND, a digital platform to manage Public Affairs activity for big companies and organizations. This platform is based on specific values: the transparency of the lobbying process and the measurability of lobbying activity. In particular, the software connects and analyzes data and information coming from both inside and outside the company through a business intelligence system that allows the storage and the usage of data for strategic goals. For the Italian conception of lobbying it is a really big revolution that only enlightened entrepreneurs seem to understand.

In the US Tim Hwang, Ceo and founder of FiscalNote made something different advantaged from the US policy-making process. This promising tech company decided to put an enormous quantity of government data in a digital platform and managing it with innovative algorithms. In fact, the latest number of MIT Technology Review has dedicated an entire article on it. In Data Lord of Lobbying we read that this company synthesizes “myriad sources of data: hundreds of government websites, the text of reports published by the Congressional Budget Office and the Congressional Research Service, the rulings of regulatory agencies, lawmakers’ voting records, contact information for more than 78,000 elected officials and their staffs worldwide, public policy documents from 22 countries, and every regulation from every US regulatory agency going back 110 years”. It is something amazing if we think what lobbying has been until today.

One of the 1,300 FiscalNote’s client talked about the skills of the platform: “one click and the platform shows the text of bills, along with their sponsors and cosponsors. Another click and it summarizes everything there is to know about the state legislators who could prop up or nix the rules: their voting histories, the frequency with which bills they sponsor become law, their effectiveness by topic health, education, housing, their ideological views on different issues. After crunching the data, FiscalNote can predict how each one will vote”.

This latest thing, namely the possibility to predict the vote of each member of the Parliament is a breakthrough for lobbyists job. Unfortunately, the possibility to do that it depends on the political system: for instance, it is something easy in the US but not in Italy.

However, what it is important to point out is the declared aim by Hwang, namely “FiscalNote likes to say it represents a new force for democracy, putting the power of government data and analysis in the hands of the little guys: teachers’ unions, environmental groups, and nonprofits of many stripes”. And again: “Our goal is to try and create a technology platform that aggregates every law and every regulation that governs all of humanity in every country on the planet”.

So the question is: could a tool such us FiscalNote improve democracy and citizens participation? Could FiscalNote allow simple citizens organization to better represent their interests?

Some critic stated that FiscalNote will help strong get stronger and does not help citizens. One of the reason is that have a cost of several thousand dollars and not everyone could afford it.

Personally, I believe that the increase of Open Data and the fierce growth of software’s power will step up the citizens’ participation in the decision-making process and maybe will improve democracy. Maybe

 

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