As part of our ongoing research at National Journal Leadership Council into how organizations are using Congressional Analytics tools, I sat down with Alex Wirth, Cofounder of Quorum Analytics. Quorum is an online platform that enables advocates to track legislation and dialogue in Washington and all 50 states, target potential champions, and streamline communications with legislators and staff. In our conversation, Alex talked about Quorum’s start and evolution, the most common uses of the platform, and where it is headed next. - Aaron Young
How did you get the idea for Quorum?
I spent the summer after my freshmen year on the Hill trying to create a council of young Americans to advise the President. I spent a lot of time knocking on doors, meeting with staff. It was hard to figure out who was most active on the issues we cared about and who worked most frequently with the Members supporting us. It was a really haphazard process, and we ended up with one long Word document with all our contacts and conversations.
I was airing my frustrations with my roommate at that time, and now co-founder, Jonathan Marks. As a computational biochemistry major, he realized the same code that was used to map out protein networks can be used to map out relationships between Members of Congress. This was the big “a-ha” moment for us – that we could figure out quantitatively who was in these legislators’ influence circles. The summer after our junior year, we came back to DC with a rough network of the relationships on the Hill along with some stats to back it up. That’s when we got the ball rolling.
What problem does Quorum solve?
The first thing is simply accessing the massive amount of information that is out there. There are 535 Members of Congress and 7,400 state legislators, and every day, they are drafting new legislation, putting out press releases, statements, tweets, and Facebook posts. All of these little events present opportunities for an advocate to act. In the past, you would have to check multiple websites a day, monitor things regularly and cross your fingers you caught something. We’ve brought all these things together in one database. Quorum harnesses that information.
The second challenge is, now that you have all this information together, how do you bring it together to make sense of it? It is really painful to come up with actionable information when you are flipping through all these bills on various pages. We solve that by condensing all the data and helping you pull the key pieces of insight from it.
What are the most common ways your clients are using Quorum?
The first is the tracking. Most companies, associations, advocacy groups, and non-profits want to know when their top issues or their brand are being mentioned. The first thing we do with every new client is set up an alert that helps him or her answer basic questions like “who is talking about us?” or “what happened today with my issue?”
The second part of it is around the actual targeting – I need to expand this coalition, I need to get more support for legislation. I want the data to tell me who is most active on this issue, who has spoken about it in the past so that I know where to focus my attention. Our tool helps identify openings that might otherwise be hard to see.
The third is all about outreach. We’re able to directly connect people to Capitol Hill via email. People use Quorum as an email tool – to send invitations to the Hill, to stay in touch with staff, to send PDFs before an advocacy day.
The last thing is the CRM capability. Many people are now expected to track their meetings, and Quorum makes it easier to do this, whether that is to more effectively communicate to corporate executives that the lobbying team is meeting with the right people, or to improve internal coordination. Doing this by hand or in Excel is really painful.
Where do you get the most resistance from prospective clients?
When we first got to DC, we were all about the data and targeting. Not surprisingly, many established offices told us they already knew everything that our tool might tell them, especially who their champions might be. That’s partly true, certainly. But there is so much going on today that our tool can capture and communicate, information that even the most active lobbyist will probably miss. With a tool like Quorum, you’re less likely to be caught off guard.
We also get resistance around meeting tracking. There are two camps: those who think this is the best thing that ever happened to them, or “no way am I ever tracking my meetings.” Fortunately Quorum has enough to cater to both camps. The key is emphasizing the other things Quorum can do and finding the features most relevant to their work.
How does Quorum change the day-to-day experience of a lobbyist?
We believe government affairs professionals should spend their time doing what they’re best at—talking and strategizing—and minimize the amount of time needed for research. That’s what Quorum allows people to do. So much time in Washington is spent doing very basic research tasks—pulling information together, looking up committee assignments. We automate the most painstaking research tasks so that advocates can spend more time advancing their issues or innovating.
What is next for Quorum?
We just launched a mobile app, which is a huge leap forward for us. So much of the world is on mobile, especially in advocacy where people are constantly traveling from meeting to meeting, on the go. Lobbyists can now pull all the different data in our system—legislator specific data, census data, the movements of bills—from their phones.
The other big area we are expanding into is grassroots advocacy. A Fortune 100 client came to us last year because they were dissatisfied with their options and wanted to build a grassroots system that integrated into our analytics platform. We’ve now built an action center that connects to our federal and state analytics tools and helps clients share information with supporters and encourage them to take action.
Our goal at the end of the day is to be the platform that all DC professionals log into when they get to work in the morning. We will continue to design new solutions around the problems they share.
If you’re interested in learning more about how organizations are experimenting with Congressional analytics tools like Quorum, we encourage you to RSVP to our Best Practice Roundtable on June 9th, 2016.