PPF Blog

AskThem.io launches today – questions-and-answers with public figures

AskThem in action - sample question to Sen. Ted  Cruz

AskThem in action – sample question to Sen. Ted Cruz

Launch day for AskThem.io is here – a groundbreaking platform for questions-and-answers with public figures. Free & open-source, non-profit and non-partisan, with open data for the public benefit.

Some launch highlights: 

  • Chris Hayes of MSNBC, journalist Glenn Greenwald of FirstLook Media, the band OKGo, and others joining as verified Twitter users who will participate on AskThem by responding to popular public questions. We’ll be rolling out more continually, more links below.
  • Questions from organizations such as the non-profit Fight For the Future and the Roosevelt Institute on such topics as domestic NSA mass surveillance and more, ahead of tomorrow’s The Day We Fight Back coalition action.
  • Announcing four new members of our (now ten-person) non-profit Advisory Council: Prof. Dave Karpf, Assistant Professor in the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University; Amanda Michel, Open Editor of Guardian US news;  Susannah Vila, of Engine Room Advocacy; and Anthea Watson Strong, of Google Civic Information.

More background on what we’re launching today – we believe AskThem to offer the most elected official coverage of any open-source website:

  • Including all 100 state governors, over 1400 state legislators (covering all of them nationwide)…
AskThem social sharing badge - for network effects around good questions

AskThem social sharing badge – for network effects around good questions

  • … AND mayors & all city council members in the top 60 U.S. cities, locatable & target-able with questions through the “Ask your own Question” button on the homepage. With tens of thousands more county government officials, over 1200 more mayors (just about all of them nationally), and tens of thousands more local elected officials to be added-in soon on AskThem (we have data for all of them, but aren’t yet able to support pages for them all at launch… we’ll be rolling them out as fast as we can).
  • As of today’s launch, check out our city government overview pages for Chicago, Philadelphia,  San Jose, and much of New York. Again, if you’re in one of the top 60 U.S. cities, you can locate your mayor, your municipal elected official, and your at-large city council members through the “Ask your own Question” button on the AskThem homepage. Contact us to help us bring AskThem to your city or local government much more quickly, we’re a non-profit project seeking more resources for our free & open-source work.
NYC Council member Brad Lander, verified AskThem responder & early adopter. Co-chair of Progressive & Participatory Budgeting Caucuses

NYC Council member Brad Lander, verified AskThem responder & early adopter. Co-chair of Progressive & Participatory Budgeting Caucuses, NYC.

Chris Hayes, of MSNBC's "All In w/ Chris", a verified AskThem responder for greater online public dialogue.

Chris Hayes, of MSNBC’s “All In w/ Chris”, a verified AskThem responder for greater online public dialogue.

  • We’re excited that Chris Hayes, host of MSNBC’s “All In with Chris“, has agreed to lead the way in online public dialogue by becoming a verified responder on AskThem. Go ahead, ask Chris anything. He’ll be doing rolling Q&As on the site, as elected officials will, answering a couple of top-voted questions per month. Crowdsource that Q&A continually.
  • OKGo, a popular rock and roll band known for its fan-connecting viral videos (@OKGo on Twitter), has also signed-up to answer questions from the public on AskThem – similarly leading the way in responsive & accessible audience engagement. Put through your questions on their AskThem page now and the first couple that reach the signature threshold will be answered by the guys later this month (thanks OK Go!). As have NYC musicians Tanlines (True Panther Sounds), Sammy Bananas (Fool’s Gold Records), and many more verified Twitter accounts to come – and not just in entertainment, but in media & political commentary too.
  • AskThem’s incredible ten-person Advisory Council helps our non-profit project support a community ethos of good questions. We’ll be rolling out more sample questions from each of them over the course of the next few weeks as they help guide our open-data, open-source platform’s growth & sustainability.

    Question from Fight For the Future to a U.S. elected official on NSA mass domestic surveillance reforms, ahead of TheDayWeFightBack coalition action on Feb. 11th.

    Question from Fight For the Future to a U.S. elected official on NSA mass domestic surveillance reforms, ahead of TheDayWeFightBack coalition action on Feb. 11th.

  • Our primary data source for elected officials & government jurisdictions is the outstanding Google Civic Information API, with which we’re pleased to be contracted to run a series of open-data experiments on what empirically works to increase civic engagement. More info to come shortly after launch on how we plan to liberate our site analytics to the public commons, to enable thicker-than-simply-petition-signing engagement from our site visitors. Thank you, Anthea & team at Google Civic Innovation, for the opportunity to partner on these public-benefit experiments. Pushing things forward.
  • Stay in touch as more verified responders sign up to answer questions on AskThem, and more questions get to threshold and are shared – l

    ike AskThem on Facebook and follow @AskThemPPF on Twitter. Email us with your questions and feedback on this launch version of the site by visiting our User Support forums or by writing Maryam Gunja, our community manager, at maryam at askthem.io. About AskThem & FAQ‘s for more info. Let us know what you think!

– David & Maryam, PPF

(Cross-posted from the Sunlight Foundation & OpenCongress blogs for our launch day on Feb. 10, 2014, slightly enhanced version below. – David, PPF)

What would you like to ask your members of Congress? What would you like to know from your U.S. senators? What questions would you like to hear your U.S. representative answer, in a public town hall?

Today, we’re announcing a new way to ask questions – and get answers – from elected officials, for proactive government transparency and continual public accountability.

AskThem.io is the next major project from the non-profit Participatory Politics Foundation, creators of OpenCongress.org. It’s a free & open-source questions-and-answers platform with every U.S. elected official, and any verified Twitter account.

AskThem is like a version of the White House’s “We The People” petition platform, but for over 142,000 elected officials nationwide. Non-profit and non-partisan, with open data for informed communities.

Here’s how AskThem works:

  • Anyone can ask a question to any elected official or verified Twitter account.
  • People sign-on to questions they support, voting them up and circulating them like online petitions.
  • When a question reaches a pre-set threshold, AskThem delivers it to the recipient and encourages a public response.

Over 66 elected officials nationwide have already signed-on as verified responders on AskThem, to reply to popular questions from their constituents. Public comment forums on questions with responses keep the conversation going, with social sharing for greater accountability. It’s a free new tool for geographically-distributed groups to surface their issues, demonstrate their support, and organize to “whip-count” their representatives. AskThem can work from the federal down to state down to city levels, enabling local impact and running public input back up the chain of government.

Here are some of the unique public-benefit features of AskThem for continual, structured dialogue with the people who represent you:

  • AskThem has access to official government data for the most U.S. elected officials of any open-source website: federal, state, county, and municipal levels of government.
  • For the first time in an open-source website, visitors can simply enter their street address to see everyone who represents them, down to the city council level. Incredibly, this has never existed before – now it does, thanks to our data partners, the outstanding Google Civic Information API and the Democracy Map community #opendata project, as well as our own custom-gathered data. For example, see our page for Philadelphia city government, with more cities rolling out continually.
  • For the first time in an open-source civic engagement website, AskThem integrates open government data, to inform good questions with context. For example, AskThem brings in city council agendas and key vote information, to make it easier to ask timely & productive questions of any elected official. In this way, AskThem can be used for crowdsourced ongoing Q&A.

With today’s launch, we’re also announcing that Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes), of MSNBC’s “All In with Chris Hayes“, has agreed to lead the way in responding to popular questions each month on AskThem. Go ahead, ask Chris anything. He’ll be joined by other verified Twitter accounts, including the band OK Go (@OKGo) and more political-media figures to be rolled-out. You can start petitions on AskThem to any company, government agency, or celebrity with a verified Twitter account.

AskThem was developed with charitable support from the Knight Foundation‘s Tech 4 Engagement initiative. Use AskThem to contact all of your elected officials, free & non-profit, on The Day We Fight Back coalition action against mass domestic surveillance, this Tuesday Feb. 11th. Elected officials at any level are encouraged to sign up for a free account to be a leader in responsive government.

When our non-profit PPF launched OpenCongress in 2007, we were confident that there was a significant public need for social comments on what’s happening in Congress. The important, baffling business of Congress could be made far accessible – and engaging – with an open public web resource and free participation tools.

The first step was aggregating the best available data on the closed-off federal legislative process, including the essential money-in-politics info that lies behind which bills get advanced. Second, public comment forums on bills and votes made it easier to follow recent developments and crowdsource analysis (such as on unemployment extensions). Our OC Blog offered daily non-partisan coverage, highlighted a steady stream of useful blog posts & reporting, and solicited tips from Beltway insiders. Later features, such as personal “My OpenCongress” votes on bills and the free & open-source Contact-Congress tools we developed for emailing Congressional offices, published public input on legislation to the open web.

But after seven years, receiving over 27 million web visits and 69 million pageviews, we hadn’t yet succeeded in developing on OpenCongress an effective platform for two-way communication with Congress. Continual, reciprocal online public dialogue on priorities, policy, what’s possible. We occasionally had back-channel communication with Hill staffers and Library of Congress tech staff, but we didn’t have the resources to optimize OpenCongress for public pressure on open constituent communications. (PPF operated OpenCongress from public launch in 2007 to 2013, with the Sunlight Foundation as primary supporter, and agreed to have the site acquired by Sunlight last year.)

Now, with AskThem, we have a crowdsourced platform for continual, structured dialogue with every U.S. elected official. The White House’s “We The People” petition platform has been proven to increase public trust and engagement, with over 8 million people signing questions for a public response. This level of data coverage wasn’t possible back in 2007, but it is now, thanks to Google’s powerful new open API and the still-growing #opengov community. Help us launch with momentum – ask a question to an elected official now, and share it on Facebook – and we’ll help push for a public response, for a new level of public accountability.

AskThem is a free, open-source, open-data project for the public benefit. We’re actively seeking charitable funding support – please contact us anytime for a copy of our non-profit funding prospectus, or make a tax-exempt donation to our 501(c)3 non-profit organization, the Participatory Politics Foundation, to support our work on civic engagement.

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One Response to AskThem.io launches today – questions-and-answers with public figures

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