Digital MPs

Responding to campaign emails

Online campaigning and petition sites have become one of the most used methods of putting pressure on politicians. On occasion, MPs’ offices struggle to respond to emails, so we explored how best to respond.

Campaign and petition sites such as Change.org and 38 Degrees are an increasingly popular way for citizens to get their opinions to their MP. For example, Change.org now has 20 million users and is adding 2 million more every month. On high-profile issues, an MP can receive over 5,000 emails in a single day. Although MPs are not obliged to reply to all emails, it can reflect poorly on them if they do not.

We found that some constituents were using campaign emails to inform MPs of issues that required casework, which meant staff had to check each email individually.

These are some of the different ways MPs can respond:

  • Automatic response with a link to the MP’s website. This is the simplest way to respond but is a less personal policy, and requires the MP to state a position on their website.
  • Reply with a form response. MPs can buy customer relationship management (CRM) software from the Parliamentary Research Unit for an annual fee and use it to send a form reply. This is particularly useful if the email is not from a constituent. By tagging mails appropriately, teams can quickly send bulk emails in response to campaigns.
  • Personalised response to all Many MPs believe that every piece of correspondence should get a personalised response. This builds trust with constituents but can be time consuming.

Campaign emails should be filtered or tagged so that caseworkers can work through the emails systematically in a single folder. To stop a backlog of emails, caseworkers should set aside time each day to go through them.

We met representatives from 38 Degrees who recommended that MPs staff acknowledge the email so that the sender knows someone will read it and take action. While campaigners do not expect a personalised reply, they do want to know that they are being listened to.

They were keen to hear and trial ideas for making it easier for MPs to engage with 38 Degrees members. Contact: amy.l@38degrees.org.uk.