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Policymakers: The Research

Creating an Electronic Guide

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"The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty." - James Madison 

Need to review the role of policymakers before you begin?  Check out Policy Making: Political Interactions, for a brief outline of the process by which policymakers influence and enact public policy.  

The person...

Start your research by gathering basic biographical information.  This is background research using general reference tools and should not account for the bulk of your bibliographic resources.  Try:

s9.com, an online biographical dictionary, is another open-edited source that provides basic facts and a timeline of significant activities/achievements.  As with any open-edited resource, use this information as a starting point, but be prepared to discover errors as your research expands.

Sponsored by the producers of The Biography Channel documentaries, biography.com features brief biographies of well known people, including policymakers.  

Search for additional information on the internet.   

 

Enter your policymaker's name, along with the keyword "biography" then hit enter to search now.

This type of broad search may result in heavily biased sources, depending on the author's perspective. It is important that you evaluate these sources. Consider author affiliations and demonstrated research practices.

 

Biographical research on Wikipedia?

The largest encyclopedia in the world, Wikipedia will likely feature biographical information on ony public policymaker. Because controversial issues are centered around these individuals, use caution. Learn more about how to use an open-edited source effectively in our guide, What about Wikipedia?

Search Wikipedia:  

Finally, biographies are, by nature, incomplete until after a person's death. Many policymakers have however, written memoirs that reveal much about their early influences and political careers. Try searching the Destiny Online Catalog

Find:
 
Search Titles Search Authors Search Subjects Search Keywords Search Series

For more advanced search options, go to 
 Destiny Online Catalog  

The policymaker...

Most policymakers maintain their credibility through online spaces that promote their public persona and position. Depending on the current offices held and the re-election cycle, your policymaker may maintain a government web page, a public relations/media site, or a campaign site. 

Use Google to search for your candidate.  Adding the word "official" to your site will sift the policymaker's own pages to the top of your results list.

 

Sample policymaker websites below:

Tammy Baldwin 
    Senate Page  | Campaign 
Hillary Clinton
    2016 Campaign 
Ted Cruz
    2016 CampaignSenate Page \
Russ Feingold
   Campaign Website | Progressives United
Ron Johnson
   Senate Page | Campaign Page
John Kasich​
   Gubernatorial Page | Campaign Page
John Kerry
    State Department Page
Mitch McConnell
    Senate Page | Campaign 
Barack Obama
    Whitehouse Site | PR Website 
Nancy Pelosi
    House Page | PR Website 
Mark Pocan
​   House Page | 2014 Campaign Page
Paul Ryan
    House Page | Campaign Site
Bernie Sanders
  2016 Campaign |  Senator 
Donald Trump
    2016 Trump | Trump Organization
Scott Walker
    Office of the Governor of Wisconsin 

Social Media

Today's policymakers (and the staff that support them) rely on social media to promote their stance on policy to supporters. Because most people support the general ideas promoted by the pages they like/follow, the comments left offer the policymaker a means for testing the reaction of their base.  Does your policymaker have a Twitter account or Facebook page? These social media feeds can also be a good source for researchers in determining what issues are their policymaker is currently focusing on.

Search for your policy maker by name (in quotes if the individual is lesser known) along with the keyword "twitter."

Note that you may encounter more than one account, depending on your policy maker's role.  As audience may vary for each account, it can be useful to compare feeds.

Search for your policy maker by name (in quotes if the individual is lesser known) along with the keyword "facebook."

You'll likely encounter facebook pages that support and condemn the policies proposed by your decision maker. Be sure to differentiate between pages maintained by the individual (and his or her staff), pages that are maintained by affiliated organizations or friends, and pages that are maintained by retractors.

The policy...

The success of any policymaker in enacting new policy relies on more than the policymaker's personal stance. Public reaction and pushback from opposing policymakers and interest groups influences both strategies and outcomes.  Use news sources (newspapers and other news media) to discover the effect your policymaker is having.

Checking the News

Use the box below to search for over 2000 full-text magazines and more than 800 full text newspapers for current news and analysis of the issues your policymaker focuses on.

Research databases

Want to search more focused databases.  Click here to access all EBSCOhost databases provided by Badgerlink.  Select databases related to your policy issue (i.e. GreenFILE would provide additional resources related to environmental issues).  

Researching policy debate

The SIRS Researcher database focuses on providing resources related to controversial (pro/con) issues.  Search for your policymaker's name, along with keywords identifying a policy issue to locate resources that reveal your policymaker's stance from a variety of perspectives.

logo Click here to access
 

On the Issues


Who is OnTheIssues?  This non-partisan organization does some of the work for you. Volunteers comb the internet and other media sources for news, press releases, speeches and other information related to the candidates in the spotlight now.
 

Tips

Found a promising resource with not-so-great navigation tools? Try using this google search trick.

In the Google search box, type site:followed immediately by the main domain address for the site you'd like to search. Hit space and add your search term(s).  For example:

site:jsonline.com walker menards will yield all of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinnel's news coverage (including op/ed) of your topic.

site:http://www.wisc.edu/ walker will yield any information, posted by the school, the professors, or even students, that is hosted on the UW domain servers.

The perspective...

Examing policymakers, understanding the stances they take and putting a public check on their power requires perspective.  And perspective requires information.  The push for transparency in our government is an outgrowth of living in an information age where people have become accustom to not only consuming information, but also to adding their own voice.  There are many sources available to the American public today that empower citizens to check political spin against policy actions.  Consider using one of the sources below to more carefully consider the information you've gathered as you prepare your own analysis of your policymaker.

American Rhetoric Online Speech Ban

Listen to, watch, and read the words of speeches made by historic policymakers. Organized alphabetically by speaker's first given name.

Ballotpedia
An almanac published on a wiki platform (open-edited).  Overseen by a staff of writers/researchers, the site requires that all edits be "neutral, accourate, and verifiable."   Be sure to evalutate!

Congress.gov|
The offical government site for federal legislative information.  Search by selecting a category from the drop down menu and entering your own keywords.

CongressionalReportcards.org
Identify the position taken by past and present congressional members on laws by examining votes and advocacy group affiliations.

GovTrack.us
Applying the principles of open data, this organization works to bring transparency to the U.S. Congress. Use this site to track bills in Congress, check on a representative's voting record, learn about committee activity and more.

IssueLab
Sponsored by the Foundation Center, this database offers access to the documents published by public advocacy groups of various political affiliations.  Try searching for the policymaker's name, in quotes.

OpenGov Foundation
Powered by a team of experienced government workers, this foundation uses technology to "break down the barriers of closed, inaccessible, unaccountable government."  Check out "The Madison Project," allowing citizens to read and annotate proposed  legislation for policymaker consideration.  (Interesting:  The America Decoded Project)

OpenCongress
Enter a lawmaker's name, issue topic, or bill number to search and follow  legislation, view legislative profiles, and learn about the issues you care about.  

OpenSecrets.org
A comprehensive resource for federal campaign contributions, lobbying data and political analysis.  Sponsored by a non-profit organization that does not accept donations from businesses, labor unions, or other trade associations.  

VoteSmart
Maintained by volunteers across all political affiliations, this site offers tools and information designed to empower voters with the information they need to understand who and what they are voting for.

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