Dissertation Information for Deborah Weissmann
MPACT Status: Fully Complete
Title: Drinking From a Fire Hose: A Study of Information Interactions in the Personal Offices of Members of Congress
Abstract: Although much as been written about information technologies and politics, less is known about how information is handled in congressional personal offices. What happens when a constituent sends an email to their Congressman? How does a Senator get information about the pros and cons of a proposed bill? A study was conducted to understand the information interactions in congressional personal offices. Using a semi-structured interview protocol consisting of questions about information management and usage in the congressional offices, fifteen respondents from congressional personal offices explained the ways in which they, as individuals and as part of a congressional personal office team, interact with information. Notable findings included the value respondents placed upon information in general and on particular information resources or technologies. Information interactions with constituents were highly valued as was obtaining information from multiple points of view. Unsolicited non-constituent information presented in email, letters or phone calls, was of low value to the respondents. Information technologies including blackberries and Internet search platforms were of mixed value to the respondents. Notable findings also included the simplistic heuristics used for archiving and retrieving information. Advancements in information technologies might be able to promote more efficient information archiving and retrieving, and programmers are currently developing software to address the needs of Congress in this area. Other notable findings included the ways in which the congressional personal offices taking part in this study were similar to each other, e.g. in their information interactions with resources outside of the congressional personal offices; and the ways in which the offices were dissimilar to each other, e.g. in the information interactions among the staff within a single office. Of value to scholars in the academic disciplines of Information Studies and Political Science were the findings that congressional staffers do not regularly utilize academic resources and although they are not degreed or certified information specialists, they reported that they frequently rely upon the information gathering and evaluating skills of the Congressional Research Service.
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