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Engaging citizens in Government


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Engaging citizens in Government

  1. 1. GSA Office of Citizen Services and Communications Intergovernmental Solutions Newsletter Engaging Citizens in GovernmentFall 2009 Increasing Citizen Engagement Increasing Citizen in Government . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1 By the People, For the People . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4 Engagement in Government Citizen Engagement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5 National Dialogues Build Communities . . . . . . .7 By Darlene Meskell Director, Intergovernmental Solutions Believable Change: GSA Office of Citizen Services and Communications A Reality Check on Online Participation? . . . . .9 Reinventing “We the People” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .11 Data is Not Democracy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13 Could Citizens Run the White House Online? .16 bout 2500 years before the Internet Age, Athenians developed a E-Petitions Preserves an Old British Tradition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18 My better Estonia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .20 Participatory Lawmaking in Brazil . . . . . . . . . . .22 A system of self-government they called democracy, which relied on active citizen participation for direction and decision-making. A few millennia later, the founding fathers of the United States built a Brazil and Argentina: From Participatory country around the proposition that government must be responsive to Budgeting to e-Participatory Budgeting . . . . . .23 the needs of its citizens. They knew that, for democracy to flourish, Pew: Well-off and Well-educated citizens must take an active part in public life, sharing their ideas and Are More Likely to Engage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .25 opening their minds to the opinions of others, and taking ownership in Public Engagement on the well-being of the country. Fairfax County’s Budget . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .26 Citizen Engagement in Oakland County . . . . . .27 The arrival of the Internet created new opportunities for citizen Washington Goes to Mr. Smith: engagement through its powerful ability to organize. Online town The Changing Role of Citizens meetings, social media, chat rooms, bulletin boards, deliberative in Policy Development . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .28 processes for e-rulemaking, and feedback mechanisms that sort input Ohio Redistricting Competition . . . . . . . . . . . . .30 from public meetings are examples of inexpensive mechanisms for Planning for Citizen Engagement . . . . . . . . . . . .32 soliciting citizen input. All of these tools have a positive impact on public Potholes and PDAs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .34 policy development because when people get involved everyone learns New Media Makers from each other, relationships are built, trust is established and the final Pioneer Novel Forms of News . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .35 outcome improved. Putting Your Audience to Work: EPA’s Radon Video Contest . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .37 Connecting to the Internet has become easier than ever. The members of A Millennial Model of Civic Engagement . . . . .38 today’s digital generation have grown up with phones in their pockets Emerging Themes for Effective and expect a government that attends to their needs 24/7. New Online Citizen Engagement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .40 applications appear daily and allow users to create, share and link The Importance of Open Web Standards in the Move to Open and Transparent content. These new applications intersect with the Internet but also Government . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .42 reach beyond it. As civic participation online grows, so does the public’s understanding See the Spring 2009 Intergovernmental Solutions Newsletter of what is behind government policies and processes and so does the on Transparency and Open Government online at: government’s understanding of the diverse public views and knowledge about complex problems. Online engagement also helps build communities around the issues that people find important, letting the community members interact with each other, and eliminates barriers associated with physical distance and travel costs and other The Intergovernmental Solutions Newsletter is produced twice a year by the Center for Intergovernmental Solutions, GSA Office of Citizens Services and Communications; Lisa Nelson, Editor. Send comments and suggestions to:
  2. 2. Wordle created at facing citizens who want to have their voices Trudeau to counsel that governance is still the province ofheard. governments, which cannot delegate their responsibilities to the crowd.GSA’s Intergovernmental Solutions has compiled thesecontributions from governments, advocacy groups and In Believable Change: A Reality Check on Onlineacademia to show how the use of the Internet to facilitate Participation, Jed Miller, Internet Director at the Revenueopen government is already making a difference across the Watch Institute, reminds us we still have a long way to gocountry and around the world. Following is a run-down of before the tools are ready and institutions and individualsthe stories they tell. can turn the optimism into actual operational change. Drawing a parallel between the evolution of IT and theWhen people have the opportunity to contribute ideas and Internet, California Chief Technology Officer P.K. Agarwal,opinions to government decision-making processes they in Reinventing “We the People,” envisions how civicare empowered to mobilize and become involved with real engagement will be improved through the evolution ofinitiatives on a national level and in their communities. mobile appliances and wireless technologies. WhileEchoing Abraham Lincoln in By the People, for the technology and other tools are essential to participatoryPeople, Katie Stanton, the new U.S. director of Citizen government, Carolyn Lukensmeyer of AmericaSpeaksParticipation, discusses the online engagement practices cautions that Data is Not Democracy and that civicthe Obama Administration has used to change the participation still calls for in-person interpersonallandscape from one where citizens are viewed as engagement.“customers” to one in which they have a personal stake. Imagine how the White House might work if it were run byThe United Kingdom has made great strides shifting the thousands of people over the Internet. Could Citizensparadigm from government communication to citizens to Run the White House Online? describes what happensone of collaboration with the public. In Citizen on a website that simulates setting AdministrationEngagement, Andrew Stott, the U.K.’s new director of priorities by crowdsourcing. In a somewhat more tradition-Digital Government, describes their journey to use the bound practice, the U.K. has digitized its long-standingInternet to give citizens a voice. The potential of the custom whereby the prime minister accepts citizen-Internet for public engagement is just beginning to be generated petitions for changes to government policies ortapped and we are already seeing its impact on the practices. E-Petitions Preserves an Old Britishdemocratic process. During fiscal year 2009 the National Tradition. Posting these petitions along with the primeAcademy of Public Administration conducted four online minister’s response has enlivened the interaction betweenpublic dialogues on topics ranging from the very focused citizens and their government.dialogue on the website to the much broaderquadrennial homeland security review. NAPA’s experience Other countries are also inviting online this area informs a discussion of how National Estonia, a Baltic nation that was once a part of the SovietDialogues Build Communities but leads its Lena Union, has created a Web-based e-participation portal that2
  3. 3. promotes active citizen engagement in the national Civic Journalism is helping ordinary people engage morelegislative process. My better Estonia shows the progress deeply within their communities, as New Media Makersthat has been made using this forum for citizens to discuss Pioneer Novel Forms of News. Jan Schaffer, director oflegislative proposals. The Brazilian House of the Institute for Innovative Journalism, looks at how thisRepresentatives recently launched the e-Democracia phenomenon—fed by the rapid economic decline ofproject to engage citizens in the legislative process. traditional news organizations—Is providing communitiesE-participatory Lawmaking in Brazil looks at the with reliable, accurate and independent information.approach Brazil is taking to open the debate on law- Contests, too, bring out the innovators. When themaking. Elsewhere in that country, participatory budgeting Environmental Protection Agency needed a fresh new wayallows citizens to influence budget allocations made by to get the word out about the dangers of naturally occurringtheir government and has a big impact on the lives of radon gas, it designed a video-production contest to recruitcitizens. Brazil and Argentina: From Participatory creative citizens to help spread this critical public healthBudgeting to e-Participatory Budgeting examines message. Putting Your Audience to Work: EPA’swhether this experiment can live up to expectations. Back Radon Video Contest gives the the United States, the Pew internet and American Life Many members of the generations born after the InternetProject reports that the Well-off and Well-educated Are are working hard to bring about meaningful change in theirMore Likely to Engage with the government online—and communities. Two of them created A Millennial Model ofoff. Citizen Engagement. Kim Kobza of NeighborhoodAttempts to bring citizens into policy-making are common America identifies Emerging Themes for Effectiveon the local level, but federal and state agencies also are Online Citizen Engagement that include having a clearsoliciting public participation in policy development. When sense of purpose, sensitivity to human motivators, aFairfax County, Virginia, faced a revenue shortfall of network perspective, and a willingness to relax traditional$650,000 million for fiscal year 2010, the county turned to its rules.citizens for help. Through face-to-face meetings, an So we won’t forget the ongoing worldwide collaboration toextensive media campaign and outreach program, and use create universal standards that makes open governmentof social media, Public Engagement in Fairfax feasible, The Importance of Open Web Standards forCounty’s FY 2010 Budget helped create a budget that Open and Transparent Government emphasizes thewas acceptable to the community. In Citizen Engagement importance of available and accessible interfaces andand E-Government, Oakland County, Michigan’s Phil tools, so that what is saved, discoverable, archived andBertolini provides real-world examples of how e- managed will be available in the future on demand.government and Web 2.0 functionality enable, support ,anddeepen citizen engagement at the local level. Countries around the world are creating opportunities for citizens to participate in government. The Web is fosteringIn Washington Goes to Mr. Smith: The Changing better communications and allows people to participate inRole of Citizens in Policy Development, Matt improving the operations of their government. ByLeighninger of the Deliberative Democracy Forum reports harnessing the collaborative nature of the Web, democraticlessons learned from several federal agency programs on governments are engaging the public like never before. Inhow governments can work productively with citizens the memorable words of folksinger Pete Seeger, whoonline. In one of the most impressive examples of the single-handedly inspired the citizens’ campaign thatimpact of Web-enabled democracy, the State of Ohio successfully cleaned up the Hudson River in New Yorkinvited citizens to participate in an Ohio Redistricting State: “Participation—that’s what’s gonna save the humanCompetition to design a legislative redistricting plan. race.”When three winning entries proved to be more fair andequitable than the State Legislature’s version, anamendment to the State Constitution was drawn up to Darlene Meskell is the Director of the GSA Center forpermanently change the way districts are apportioned in Intergovernmental Solutions in the GSA Office of Citizen Services and Communications.the future.Planning for Citizen Engagement offers advice for ruralcommunities on how to engage more citizens in thedecision making process. In Worchester, Massachusetts,citizens roam the streets each weekend carrying handheldcomputers and digital cameras looking for potholes,abandoned vehicles and other public nuisances and reportthem to the appropriate government agency. Potholes andPDAs highlights creative ways local governments arecollaborating with citizens to improve service delivery forthe benefit of the entire community. 3
  4. 4. By the People, respective chief information officer at federal agencies. Soon after the launch, the IT Dashboard helped shed light on the performance of projects within the federal government. ForFor the People example, the Department of Veterans Affairs found 45 tech projects that were either behind schedule or over budget so they put a temporary freeze on them.The combined value forBy Katie Stanton the 45 projects was approximately $200 million.The worstDirector of Citizen ParticipationThe White House offender was estimated to be 110 percent over budget and 17 months behind schedule.The department is currently auditing these projects to determine which ones need new management, which ones need additional resources and ne of President Obama’s first acts was signing a which ones should be completely discontinued.O Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government. The memorandum outlined three principles in theworkings of government: transparency, participation and Another interesting program was the Open Government Brainstorm, a partnership between the National Academy of Public Administration and the White House Office ofcollaboration. With the help of innovative and emerging Science andTechnology Policy.This platform allowed thetechnologies, we have seen these principles come alive in public to submit their ideas relating to open government,many forms across the Government, including the Open for including innovative approaches to policy, projects, andQuestions program,, the IT Dashboard and the government agencies. In over a week, the BrainstormOpen Government Brainstorm. generated 4,000 users and over 1,120 unique ideas thatThe Open for Questions program launched in March and prompted 2,176 comments and 46,469 votes.offered Americans a direct line to the President.The program But it isn’t just these big projects which are making aencouraged the public to submit questions via text or video difference.There are plenty of great, smaller projectsand to vote on the best questions to ask the president. Within happening everywhere in government. Many agencies’ blogsa few days, more than 90,000 people representing all 50 states now have thriving commenter communities such as thesubmitted over 100,000 questions and cast over 3.6 million Transportation Service Authority ( average number of votes per participant was 38. The Environmental Protection Agency is getting its readersThe questions covered a wide range of issues including to answer questions to help further its missioneducation, home ownership, health care reform and green ( and energy. President Obama responded to several of We are also seeing a number of agencies run contests tothe top questions at a town hall held at the White House, offer incentives for citizens to become more involved in theirwhich was streamed live on as well as the government. For example, had a photo contest onofficial White House channels on Facebook and YouTube. In July 4th (, several members of the Administration, including usagov/rules/) and the Department of Health and HumanKareem Dale, Special Assistant to the President for Services is currently running a video contest to promoteDisability Policy, and Jared Bernstein, the Vice President’s better health habits around H1N1Chief Economist and Economic Policy Advisor, provided ( answers through video. All of these actions help shape a landscape of open, provides access to federal data as well as giving transparent and participatory government. Further, they helpthe public the ability to use data creatively outside the walls raise some important questions: How do we use theof government. launched in May and had 47 aggregate input to create efficiencies and stronger policydatasets including ozone trends, mineral resources, and decisions? How do we sift through thousand of comments topatent applications. By August, there were over 110,000 understand what citizens are tellingdatasets and some terrific examples of citizens reusing these us? How do we create engagementfeeds. For example, one uses data from the Federal Aviation platforms that have a low barrier toAdministration, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric entry, so that everyone canAdministration and Bureau ofTransportation Statistics via participate? How do we to find the most on-time flight between two every American can participate, andairports. will want to participate in theIn July, the IT Dashboard, part of, process?launched.The IT Dashboard provides an easy way for thepublic to track federal IT initiatives and hold the government Katie Jacobs Stanton was appointedaccountable for progress and results.The dashboard allows Director of Citizen Participation in thecitizens to see which IT projects are working and which ones White House Office of New Media inare on schedule and to provide direct feedback to the February.4
  5. 5. Citizen Engagement The UK Government’s Digital Engagement journey began around three years ago with the independent Power of Information Report by Ed Mayo and Tom Steinberg. Among its many insights was that citizen engagement wasBy Andrew StottDirector of Digital Engagement already happening on the Internet among citizensThe Cabinet Office themselves - in discussion groups, blogs, social mediaUnited Kingdom sites and membership groups such as Netmums, a networking site for parents. The key issue was that the Government was not engaging with that engagement, and that its principal model of operation was still a broadcast nowledge is power. The fundamental driver behindK citizen engagement is that only those with access to knowledge are truly empowered. The greatdemocratisation comes not from allowing people to one. Although the Power of Information Report set out some clear principles, and some overriding policy changes whichaccess data but from letting them use it in a way they see were needed (and which were made), the key to makingfit. progress in the next phase was to encourage innovation within and outside government - to find out what workedThe use of all forms of digital media – not just the Internet and what did not, quickly and at moderate cost, and with– allows for tremendous influence on public policy and real use and value to citizens - and then build on It is not “communication” in the conventionalsense. We must start with informing, and doing so in wayswhich fit the needs of modern citizens who expect to findthe information when and where they need it, rather thanwhen an agency wants to broadcast it. However theinforming must allow engagement, with the ability torespond and to be seen to respond. The process needs tobecome two-way, and lead to a dialogue not only with theagency but also between its citizens and otherstakeholders; hearing a plurality of views is important inany evidence-based decision-making, and if a balance canemerge that commands broad support then the eventualdecision will be more sound and more sustainable. The use of all forms of digital media – not just the Internet – allows for One of the first services, launched in 2006, was the e- Petitions part of the No. 10 website. tremendous influence on is the official website of the UK prime minister’s office and refers to its address at No. public policy and services. 10 Downing Street, London. This was seen as shockingly novel at the time, and it was pushed through by a combination of bold leadership and an innovativeIn essence, therefore, engagement is about turning communications and development team. Yet it quicklycommunication into collaboration - collaboration in which established itself as a part of the architecture of politicalcitizens can make their voices heard, policy-makers can debate, and has now had nearly 10 million signatures ondetect areas that really concern the public, service 25,000 petitions with a wide range of subjects. Indeed theadministrators can streamline delivery, and the leaders of impact and relevance of e-Petitions has reached beyondgovernment can use these new channels to work across the “digital” community into the mainstream of politicalorganisational and geographic boundaries. And by analysis and debate, particularly after 1.7 million citizensexpanding beyond the traditional Internet – into “Web 2.0” signed an e-Petition about congestion charging. Yet it cancountry – we reach a generation for whom websites are only be one of a range of tools for a government to listen toconsidered too conventional; the same generation with citizens’ views: as Peter Riddell, one of Britains leadingwhom it is most important to engage in longer-term change political journalists, wrote: “Petitions ... indicate the- on sustainability and climate change, on fighting obesity intensity of feeling on an issue and often the extent ofand promoting health and on developing skills. organisation by protesters, but not the balance of views. ... 5
  6. 6. Direct participation should supplement, not replace, representative democracy.” So we have been moving digital engagement forward from a simple vote to giving the citizen a voice. An important subsequent step has been to start publishing consultation papers and reports in a commentable form, where citizens can comment on individual proposals at a paragraph-by- paragraph level, and can see what others are commenting and comment on that. That changes the dynamics of consultation - not longer just the flood of letters and emails at the end of the consultation period, but a dialogue throughout. Many departments have used the Commentariat theme for Wordpress to implement this; this was developed for the Science White Paper by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, and we have released the theme back to the community as Open Source. We are also looking at how government documents can be released in XML or through an API so that others can embed them in their web services. In parallel with this, we are also developing our capability to use “new media” to inform and enthuse citizens about the work that government is doing on their behalf. Blogs from individual civil servants about doing their jobs - for instance project officers working overseas for the Department for International Development bring home to our own citizens what our aid programme is really delivering to communities across the developing world, and the ability to comment and interact gives the change for people here to find out more and become engaged in that work. At the same time we always need to be conscious that a significant proportion of the population are not yet online and "digitally included." In Digital Britain the UK Government has announced major initiatives to ensure that the infrastructure enables broadband to the whole country and that people have the skills and the motivation to access the Internet. But we do need to ensure that engagement itself is inclusive, and that means using a blend of channels to reach those who need to be engaged. Going forward there are three key challenges. First, to ensure that the learning and knowledge of what works spreads quickly and effectively from agency to agency. Second, to ensure that engagement is embedded as a normal part of the policy and the service design processes, as we have set out in Working Together: Public Services on Your Side. Third, to ensure that we look at new technologies as they emerge as new opportunities and new tools to apply the principles of good communications and engagement. Andrew Stott was named the UK Governments first Director of A sampling of open petitions at Digital Engagement in May. He was previously the UK, one of a range of tools to Governments Deputy CIO. listen to citizens’ views6
  7. 7. National Dialogues Build CommunitiesBy Lena E. Trudeau, Vice PresidentFrank Reeder, FellowNational Academy of Public Administration“Our commitment to openness means more than simply The temptation when developing a collaborative dialogueinforming the American people about how decisions are is to focus on building the perfect technology platform. Butmade. It means recognizing that government does not have the functionality of the platform is irrelevant if no oneall the answers, and that public officials need to draw on participates in the conversation. And let’s never forget—what citizens know. And thats why, as of today, Im although an increasingly powerful tool, technology alone isdirecting members of my administration to find new ways not the answer to civic engagement.of tapping the knowledge and experience of ordinaryAmericans -- scientists and civic leaders, educators and Building a Communityentrepreneurs -- because the way to solve the problems ofour time, as one nation, is by involving the American By their very nature, web-based consultations that arepeople in shaping the policies that affect their lives.” open to the public promote the creation of what Harvard Professor Andrew McAfee has called “emergent President Barack Obama, January 21, 2009 expertise” – communities of people who may not be official “experts” on a topic, but who are knowledgeable, engaged,A Call to Action and willing to devote time and energy to the issue. RatherCivic engagement is a long-standing principle and practice than “one and done” events, online dialogues can be usedof good government—it’s in our democracy’s DNA. Right to build productive and durable relationships betweennow, however, there is a unique convergence—between the government and a community of interested citizens. The temptation when developing a collaborative dialogue is to focus on building the perfect technology platform. But the functionality of the platform is irrelevant if no one participates in the conversation. Through its work on the Collaboration Project and fourneed to do things in government in a fundamentally increasingly successful online dialogues, the Nationaldifferent way (which isn’t all that new) and our ability to Academy has identified four important steps in theuse Web 2.0 and the collaboration it enables to achieve this process that will help you build a durable, problem-solving(that’s the new part). community online.President Obama has directed his appointees and the 1. Define the Problem: Choose a real problem that isagencies they lead to collaborate with their colleagues and within your purview to address. Asking questions thatthe public to develop new solutions to our country’s are too broad or generic is a sure-fire way to increaseproblems. The White House itself has embraced new ways your bounce rate – people who take one look and thento engage stakeholders and citizens in such conversations, leave. And seeking solutions to problems that yourusing one of the most effective methods of engagement – a agency can’t address is a sure-fire path to frustration. Ifstructured online discussion using a flexible web-based2.0 platform. The National Academy of Public you are worried that people won’t understand the issue,Administration has been pleased to assist with several remember that you can provide background informationsuch “national dialogues” – for the White House Recovery on the site itself. In fact, you should plan on it. JustAccountability and Transparency Board (website), the make sure the background information, like your issue, isOffice of Management and Budget (website), and, most accessible, relevant and engaging.recently, for the Department of Homeland Security at: 2. Determine Who Cares…or Should Care: Don’t kid yourself…”the public” is probably not your target 7
  8. 8. Thousands of people contributed ideas, commented on others, and voted for the best. What now? There are two maxims that will tempt you. The first is “majority wins”; the second is “the wisdom of the crowd.” After all, people did “vote,” didn’t they? And everyone was welcome on the site, right? First, remember that you have not put issues to the vote of the entire U.S. population, nor have you conducted a representative poll. The people not included were (1) people who either had no physical access to the technology or who did not have the skill and fluency to participate competently and comfortably; and (2) people who did not belong to the networks that you used to mobilize participation or didn’t understand the relevance of your work to their own concerns. Don’t assume that the audience. As much as everyone in Washington wants to people who participated can speak on behalf of those who believe that everyone should care about the intricacies did not. of public policy and government programs, they don’t. But you can be sure that some people care, and it’s your Second, remember that governance is the job of job to figure out what distinguishes them from everyone government, and as government leaders you can’t delegate else. your responsibilities to the crowd. You still need to sift and analyze, and ultimately make decisions about what will3. Create a Value Exchange: You’re going to ask people work in the operating environment as you know it, how to to give you their time, their ideas, and their considered prioritize the many ideas and options that emerged, and, of judgment of the ideas of others. What will they get in course, whether the resources are available and the exchange? Clearly, we’re not talking about financial expense is worth the investment. There is much good that remuneration, but it’s not enough to simply give people a comes from collaboration, but in the words of an earlier place to sound off. If you want to create a durable president, “the buck stops here.” community, you not only have to tell them how their input will be used, but also tell them how it has been A New Era of Civic Engagement used. Feedback is critical, as are continuing As Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano opportunities to engage on the same or related recently observed, “We are a nation of more than 300 substance. In fact, the National Academy has found million. More than that, were a nation of families, that a multi-tiered process is often most effective; communities, organizations, of cities, suburbs, tribes, and giving participants separate and distinct opportunities all of their local governments and organizations. And to (1) submit ideas, (2) discuss and collaboratively refine within these groupings lies an extraordinary pool of talent, the ideas, and, finally, (3) rate and prioritize them. ingenuity and strength.”4. Develop and Execute an Outreach Strategy: The President has called on government to tap the You’ve figured out the problem to be addressed and you extraordinary pool of talent that is our nation. There lies understand who cares. Now you need to figure out how the true promise of civic engagement: a public that is to reach them. What associations, community groups or substantively engaged in the important issues of our day, social organizations are members of your target and a government that is in touch with the ideas and audience likely to participate in? Ask those groups to priorities of the public it serves. The challenge is not reach out to their members. Where are they likely to get choosing the “right” technology solution. The challenge is information online? Some well-placed blog entries, – as it always has been – building durable, engaged Twitter feeds, Facebook groups, or website links will communities that will work hand-in-hand with government boost participation, as well. But never underestimate the to find new solutions to the problems of our time. power of the personal ask – in person, by email or on the phone. And, staying in touch with early visitors through Lena Trudeau is a Vice President of the National Academy of Public regular email updates will encourage repeat visits and Administration, and oversaw the four online public dialogues conducted for the federal government in fiscal year 2009. Frank better outcomes. Reeder is a Fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration and President of the Reeder Group.Reality CheckYou’ve built a great community. You found greatorganizations and started a campaign that went viral.8
  9. 9. Believable Change:A Reality Check on Online ParticipationBy Jed MillerRevenue Watch Institute o be effective, Internet professionals navigate Administration. For an online policy dialogue, thats a bigT between two dangerous currents: dismissal and utopianism. The challenges of dismissal are prettyobvious—the boss who forgets to invite you to the success, but as a harbinger of a new era of digital citizenship its a modest beginning at best. The Obama campaign showed how digital tools can fusemeeting, or the subtler demotion of online work to a pure the personal touch of local organizing with the powerfulmarketing function. message of a national candidate and create a large,The risks of utopianism are harder to see, but the danger is mobilized, virtual community, but online strategist Brianjust as great: If we overstate how online tools can change Reich is still looking for signs that Barack Obama thethe world, we ask our clients and colleagues to sail on president can make the political personal as deftly asfaith into uncharted waters and we risk losing allies in thedaily work that makes change a reality over time.The Obama Administration arrived on a surge of optimism Getting 13 million peopleabout online partnerships between citizens andgovernment. As excitement transitions into a season of to agree to pull the lever onexperimentation, Internet professionals, governmentprofessionals and regular people face important questions one day for one guy is veryabout the readiness of tools, institutions and individuals toturn optimism into operational change. different than getting 13Beth Noveck, White House Deputy CTO for Open million people to agree onGovernment, is leading the effort to rethink publicparticipation. She says the administration wants “to make what healthcare reformgovernment more relevant to people’s lives” by providingmore information, and to create “opportunities for people should share their expertise and participate in solvingproblems.” Obama the candidate made the personal political. “Obama did that extraordinarily well during the campaign becauseNoveck believes that transparency and participation tools it was decentralized,” says Reich, who is also a formerare most powerful when combined. “Data helps to focus staffer to Vice President Al Gore, “but the White House ispeople’s attention,” she says, “to develop actionable the ultimate top-down communications vehicle.”proposals based in empirical measures.” Noveck and theOffice of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) have The traditional polarity of governance is not the onlyalready coordinated web discussions on declassification challenge to grassroots engagement by the White House.policy, FCC rules, use of web cookies, Pentagon Web 2.0 The pace and the detail of federal policy-making are ill-guidelines and recommendations on the Open Government suited to creating the momentum of a winning politicalInitiative. campaign. “Getting 13 million people to agree to pull the lever on one day for one guy is very different than gettingDespite the innovation—and fanfare—behind the White 13 million people to agree on what healthcare reformHouse pilots in transparency and public input, leaders in should be,” says Andrew Rasiej, founder of Personalonline collaboration temper their enthusiasm with Democracy Forum and an advisor on transparency to thequestions. Obama transition team.On, co-founder Micah Sifry complained One way to refine a clutter of online opinions into themesabout the open government discussion that “the very topic is to use tools that “let the community do the filtering,”we are being asked for input on isn’t one that most people says David Stern, founder of MixedInk, one of the flagshipthink about every day.” In its busiest phase, that discussion systems OSTP is using to add structure and prioritizationdrew about 1,000 suggestions and nearly 21,000 readers, to its online policy forums. But Stern says the value of theaccording to the National Academy of Public 9
  10. 10. process depends in part on the number of participants. “In Moglen is also an unrelenting realist about the potential oforder to have a wise crowd, you need a crowd,” he says, corporate structures to block progress. Traditional“and the bigger the crowd, the wiser it is.” government software contractors, he says, “have never had to make a good program because they never made aThe buzzword “crowdsourcing” conjures an image of a program for anybody who had a choice of any kind aboutvast group whose diverse views are refined by technology anything.”into a shared purpose. Thus far, however, OSTP hasconvened brain trusts, not crowds—modest-sized niche Speaking from inside the bureaucracy, Noveck is morediscussions among experts or interested non-experts. moderate about the institutional challenges. She saysNoveck acknowledges and seems to welcome this. The resistance from federal employees, if it comes, comes notambitions for Open Government may be sweeping, but in dismissal but in “a lack of familiarity with the new toolsNoveck says, “This is not about inviting everybody and and techniques for obtaining input,” and “a concernanybody to participate in a conversation about whether it’s doable to get meaningful, structured input”transparency policy,” or any single issue. “The goal is not that is not “unmanageable” or “garbage.”to have millions of people. The goal is to create many, Our culture of instant punditry can make it hard to see themany opportunities for people to participate around the difference between innovation and transformation. Realinterests that engage them.” change happens not at the speed of a website launch or anEchoing Noveck, Reich says, “We need to stop looking at election night, but at the organic, often maddening, pace oftechnology as a facilitator for giant things, and instead institutions and behaviors.look at it as a facilitator for hundreds of millions of little Moglen compares the emergence of new tools andthings.” Even as government demonstrates a new personalizable data streams to the invention and masscommitment to civic engagement, and technology evolves production of the automobile. “It’s okay to require ato provide new tools, some leaders insist that permanent generation to learn how to drive,” he says.change, if it comes, must come offline and beyond theBeltway: in life as it’s lived locally. Furthermore, the change we’ve been waiting for may not be monolithic but, to quote organizers like Reich andFor author and speaker Rich Harwood, hope is the central Harwood, decentralized. Rasiej doesn’t claim to knowtheme in revitalizing community life and “public which tools will take participation to the next level, but heinnovation,” but he grows severe when asked how the says the usable information on sites like willWhite House can most effectively promote participation. allow a hundred projects to emerge.“I don’t think we want a president dictating whatengagement questions we’re going to be wrestling with. If Noveck, herself a career evangelist of “little-d” democracy,you think that’s sufficient, we’re in big trouble.” Harwood is is the first to rein in breathless claims about a new age. “Ilooking for the White House not only to reach out with don’t think we’re there yet,” she says from the hub of thenational-level questions, but also to “catalyze the new experiment. “It’s too soon.”distributed capacity” of communities, organizations and We should remember that it took 20 or 30 years for theindividuals so they can grow “from consumers to citizens Internet itself to evolve from a small government projectto active participants.” into a ubiquitous platform that has permanentlyAccording to Columbia University law professor Eben transformed public life.Moglen, when relevant public information can reachinterested people with sufficient structure, “government Jed Miller is Internet director at the Revenue Watch Institute and alearns it has users.” A longtime champion in the free contributing blogger for Personal Democracy Forum. He wassoftware movement, Moglen says that if government previously director of Internet programs at the American Civilprovides usable data “without platformizing it or Liberties Union.productizing it,” then people will engage “not in somePlatonic way, but at the fish market, in the schools, in theplaces where they want to take action.”10
  11. 11. The virtual front porch leads to face-to-face dialogue within small groups.Reinventing “We the People”By P.K. AgarwalChief Technology OfficerCalifornia Department of Technology ServicesState of California“You have to remember one thing about the will of the into tools to change the business of governance in somepeople: it wasn’t that long ago that we were swept away by groundbreaking ways.the Macarena.” Some very interesting historical parallels can be drawn to Jon Stewart the current evolution of IT and the Internet. Historically, “The Daily Show” every medium’s commercial success has been followed by its successful adoption by a public figure. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Adolf Hitler and John F. Kennedy built upon the 008 will prove to be a watershed year in the evolution2 of the relationship between government and information technology. In 2008, the Obama campaignrewrote the book on campaigning, with its innovative use commercial successes of radio, movies, and television, respectively, to the get their messages to the masses. Radio’s commercial success in the 1920s and 30sof IT and the Internet. Henceforth, the business of prompted FDR to grasp its potential value to government,elections has changed forever. If a candidate does not and he seized on this potential with his “fireside chats”understand IT, he or she will not get elected – period. The during the Great Depression. Movies matured as aObama administration hasn’t stopped there, however. The medium during the 40s and 50s, and it was Hitler wholessons learned during the campaign are being morphed capitalized on the medium’s power for propaganda 11
  12. 12. purposes. Television came of age during the 60s and 70s, by the first lady’s effort to get people to talk about nationaland it was Kennedy, followed by Ronald Reagan, who service. More recently, it has been used for neighborhood-understood how to harness its power. Similarly, the Obama level discussion and debate on health care issues. Thecampaign understood the power of IT and the Internet, and whole idea behind this approach is to encourage people toused them successfully for fundraising and engaging the look to themselves and their neighbors to solve thepopulace during the 2008 presidential campaign. The problems of the community and the nation.lessons learned during the campaign are now being Both of the models discussed above are inside-out ortransferred into the business of government to foster civic government-sponsored in design. Electronic petitions areengagement and transparency. outside-in and are also getting a lot of attention. A numberTo date, the Obama administration has used IT to enable of electronic petition Web sites (e.g. engagement and foster transparency in three ways. allow one to start a petition or sign a petition. It is tooThe first, I would dub “the virtual town square,” or the early for these petitions to have a legal standing, but thecrowdsourcing model, which engages a large number of mere fact that a large number of people would sign apeople in public deliberation. This is also being labeled the petition conveys a message. As an example, a petition was“idea jam.” This software-driven process allows people to started requesting the Obama administration to create theprovide ideas, review and comment on the ideas of others, position of a secretary of the arts. Within the first sixand vote ideas up or down — thus creating a group ranking weeks of the start of this petition, more than 200,000 peopleof ideas. The second model is what I call the “virtual front had signed it. These electronic petitions hold the promiseporch,” which engages individual neighborhoods in public of replacing the current process for getting propositionsdiscussion. The outcome of this software-driven process is on the ballot once electronic identities become legallya face-to-face meeting among people in a small binding.geographical area, typically a ZIP code. The software tools In the infancy of all mass media, including radio, movies,allow users to search for a meeting (or a party) in their and television, a utopian vision of societal transformationneighborhood or express their interest in hosting one would result from the medium’s potential to spreadaround a specific issue. The third model is that of information and knowledge. However, that vision haselectronic petitions — websites that enable users to generally never materialized. Is the Internet headed for thecreate, circulate, and sign a petition on issues of interest same fate? I think not, because the Internet is unique into them. that it provides for direct people-to-people communicationThe Obama campaign used the virtual town square without the need for center. All other media prior to theapproach during the election ( to gather Internet were either one-to-many (broadcast) or one-to-ideas and during the transition (; Citizens one (personal communication such as telegraph orBriefing Book) to get a pulse on the issues in the minds of telephone).the people. Subsequently, the virtual town square was To summarize, the virtual town square approach is well-used for a national dialogue on IT solutions, which yielded suited for gathering ideas and building consensus around542 productive ideas related to the American Recovery and popular ideas. The virtual front porch allows for localReinvestment Act. In March 2009, the White House became empowerment and leads to face-to-face dialogue withinopen for questions, soliciting questions for the president in small groups. Electronic petitions are a powerful emerging11 categories, including healthcare, the auto industry, tool for the voices of the people to be heard. The rapidgreen jobs, and budgets. This effort produced more than evolution of mobile appliances and wireless technologies100,000 questions, which garnered close to 2 million votes. will further enhance this agenda of civic engagement andSubsequently, the president answered the top ranking government transparency.questions in a Web conference. Ironically, the highestranking question pertained to the legalization of The next few years should provide for considerablemarijuana, proving that well-organized campaigns work no innovation in the use of IT in government and the remakingmatter what the medium. In May 2009, an open government of the institutions of democracy. It is exciting to be living indialogue was launched. This effort collected ideas on how this age of make government more transparent, participatory, andcollaborative. In this effort, the idea-gathering stage was P.K. Agarwal is the Chief Technology Officer for the State offollowed by a discussion phase, and then a policy California. For additional information contactformulation stage. front porch model was used during the campaign fororganizing unmediated house parties ( followed12
  13. 13. Data is Not DemocracyBy Dr. Carolyn J. LukensmeyerPresident/FounderAmericaSpeaks echnology and data are critical to the expansion ofT open government, but where participation is concerned, will anything truly replace the power ofmeeting face to face?The U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy is drivingPresident Obama’s Open Government Initiative full-speedahead. Thousands of Americans have added their ideasand opinions to this groundbreaking online effort, whichwill help form the overall recommendations for input andopenness in the federal government.While the Open Government Initiative rightly placessignificant emphasis on transparency and shows thepossibilities of online action, the potential power of thiseffort to specifically increase citizen participation, bothonline and in person, should not be overlooked orunderestimated. Democratizing data answers the need foraccess but does not answer the need for the citizen’s voicein governance. Our collective voice made Americandemocracy unique when it was created, and now is thetime to evolve our structures at all levels, revolutionizingthe way we conduct the public’s business. The 21st Century Town Meeting links technology with face-to-faceTowards Universal Broadband Access discussion so that thousands of people can express a shared message to decision-makers.Despite America’s lamentable ranking as No. 15 worldwidein the adoption of broadband Internet technologies,broadband adoption continues to expand. A June 2009 Pew networking demolished any doubts of the intersection ofstudy showed a full 63 percent of Americans with current technology, government and politics. MyBarackObama.comaccess to high-speed Internet; up from 55 percent in 2008. mobilized millions of volunteers and supporters, andPresident Obama is devoted to continuing these trends helped to raise more than half a billion dollars online.and closing the international gap. The American Recovery These currents and thousands like them are rewriting bothand Reinvestment Act sets aside a whopping $7.2 billion to history and conventional wisdom. Politics, democracy, andpromote broadband adoption in low-income communities. governance will henceforth include online participation. Americans are eager to get involved.Democracy Moves OnlineExpanding broadband access means increasing social Data Democracy and Its Discontentsinteraction. Increasing amounts of online activity are As the data and processes of politics and governmentfinding their way into high-quality, high-touch online become more available to Americans hungry forcommunications. Social networking sites such as involvement, the Open Government Initiative is taking aFacebook, MySpace, and Twitter each boast subscriber brave step beyond transactional government towardbases in excess of 100 million. Local governments and authentic empowerment. As with any new era, there areagencies provide an increasing volume of data and significant dangers and new discoveries to be made.transactional services online, ranging from paying parkingtickets, to raw data at, to the deep and broad Initially, Open Government Initiative comments wererange of services offered through GSA’s portal at populated with suggestions from citizens and interest The Obama groups keen to play a valuable role in the discussion. Oncecampaign’s groundbreaking use of Internet-based social the openness of the forum became known, however, things 13
  14. 14. contribute to the collective wisdom of a large group. These meetings have been used to successfully allow communities to discuss such diverse issues as the prioritizing of efforts after Hurricane Katrina; allowing the public to make decisions on the disposition of New Yorks ground zero; and setting a course for the future of health care in California. Rules of Engagement The success of AmericaSpeaks’ work can be ascribed to a set of core principles that underlie all of its citizen- engagement activities and set them apart from other approaches: 1. Diverse representation ensures that the fullbecame a bit unruly. For example, a vicious and community is represented in the process.indefatigable crew of radicals clogged the site calling forfull disclosure of the president’s birth certificate and 2. Informed participation provides participants withdoubting his right to serve in the office. highly accessible materials that neutrally frame theIn subsequent phases of the initiative, these voices were issues and provide a baseline of information to beginmitigated. The requirements for discussion became much discussions.steeper, and simple technical features such as the ability 3. Facilitated deliberation makes certain all voices areto link only to subject areas and not specific comments heard and that each participant plays an active role increated a demotivator for what is known in online parlance the the “noisy idiot problem.” 4. Shared priorities are the endgame, so the process isStill, this is one instance of the problems that arise in designed to foster a high level of agreement amongonline deliberation, and which may stand in the way as the participants’ common seeks to become more democratic and asdemocracy seeks to move progressively more online. 5. Links to action are the backbone of civic participation, requiring active involvement from decision-makers andLessons From the Field key leaders throughout a project.America has a rich tradition of bringing people together in 6. Large scale meetings (500 to 5,000 participants)town meetings to grapple with critical public decisions. enable the outcomes to have greater visibility andOnline engagement would seem a natural progression for credibility with policy-makers, the media, keythis tradition, but there are many pitfalls. Beyond the stakeholders, and the public as a whole.example above, other questions arise: Will decision-makers include public voices in their deliberations? How 7. Sustaining citizen engagement in the policymakingcan an open process account for demographic diversity? process – through opportunities to take action – develops civic leadership and enhances implementationLessons from one organization may show a pathway to of public priorities.addressing these and other issues. The 21st Century TownMeeting convened by the nonprofit AmericaSpeaks is a These principles are harnessed by AmericaSpeaks’ 21stpublic forum that links technology with small-group, face- Century Town Meeting process and are ready to beto-face dialogue to allow many people to deliberate deployed in a broader, face-to-face or online mix.simultaneously about complex public policy issues andexpress a shared message to decision-makers. Dr. Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer is Founder and President of AmericaSpeaks, a U.S.-based nonprofit that develops andThrough a combination of keypad polling, groupware implements innovative deliberative tools.computers, large-screen projection, teleconferencing andother technologies, these town meetings enable people tosimultaneously partake in intimate discussions and14
  15. 15. Working Together to Build a Stronger DemocracyDuring the summer of 2009, AmericaSpeaks, Demos, from the federal government. Joining too were keyEveryday Democracy and Harvards Ash Institute convened representatives from the Administration, including themore than 80 advocates to develop a set of recommendations Office of Public Engagement, the Office of Social Innovationfor advancing the democracy reform movement. Participants and Civic Participation, the Office of Science and Technologyincluded advocates and scholars from the fields of public Policy, Office of Management and Budget and thedeliberation, electoral reform, transparency, community Department of Justice.problem solving, media reform, public service, andcommunity organizing, as well as champions of participation Here is a brief synopsis of the groups final report including recommendations, goals and next steps. GOALS NEXT STEPS1. Involve the American public in meaningful deliberations about important policy questionsBuild capacity in government and in society to involve the Demonstrate the value and efficacy of public deliberation byAmerican public in regular and meaningful deliberations about organizing opportunities for broad cross-sections of Americans toimportant policy questions deliberate and express views on issues of national importance2. Support and promote an electoral reform agendaSupport and promote comprehensive electoral reform Eliminate unnecessary barriers to voter participation3. Improve Federal Public Participation and CollaborationMake permanent improvements in federal public participation, Reaffirm and institutionalize participatory and collaborativecollaboration, and transparency activities through an executive governance in the federal governmentorder and legislation4. Explore Lessons from the Open Government DialogueAdvise government agencies on best practices for soliciting Leverage the knowledge and resources of the participation andpublic input and participation information access5. Recognize and Support Engagement Carried Out by Traditionally Disenfranchised CommunitiesEnsure that the engagement practices of traditionally Learn from and support innovative forms of engagementdisenfranchised groups are highlighted and supported6. Create a Report on the Health of our DemocracyCreate a Health of our Democracy Report Measure the level of civic and democratic health by tracking hard and soft indicators over time7. Build Skills and Capacity for Public EngagementIncrease the capacity of the public and of public officials to Build skills, knowledge, and expectations necessary for the publicparticipate meaningfully in governance to exercise democratic practices8. Increase the Availability of Federal Funding for Democratic ParticipationIdentify and make available sources of federal funding Ensure adequate resources for public engagement in federal programs.9. Convene an International Democracy ConferenceConvene an international democracy conference for policymakers Learn about innovative and alternative ways that people areand advocates working to strengthen democracy throughout the world10. Create an Ongoing Mechanism for Sustaining LeadershipCreate an ongoing infrastructure to ensure all constituencies of Create a “point” organization for the Administration to use as athe democracy movement can collaborate and communicate with sounding board and mechanism to open up an ongoing and deeperthe Administration and leaders in other branches and levels of conversationgovernment 15
  16. 16. Could Citizens Run the White House Online?By Jim hortly before the 2008 election, I started a website, Finding Good ContributionsS, to imagine how the White House could work if it was run democratically by thousandsof citizens over the Internet. I was excited about the is known for its product reviews. People are asked at the end of each review whether it was helpful or not; the most helpful reviews are shown on the mainpotential for citizen engagement that an product page. Whitecould bring, but I House 2 uses the sameknew there were all technique for talkingkinds of restrictions points, which are shorton what they could reasons for or againstdo, both legally and an individual priority.culturally. I figured The problem is thatif I could show whichever talkingthousands of points have beencitizens actively and around the longest endenthusiastically up getting the mostengaged in a non- votes. When someonepartisan political writes a new talkingforum online, it point, its not enoughcould push the to just ask if it isofficial efforts in helpful, we need to askthat direction, and if it is more helpfulthe techniques than each of thecould be used for existing ones.many governmentsites. Tennis has a solution to this problem. TheyThe main power of have to rankthe modern White thousands of people,House is to set the and give newcomersagenda, so at some chance to, to the top. So theyeveryone sets their use a ladder. If you beatown list of priorities, and the someone higher than you oncomputer compiles the ladder, you move up, andeveryones into one list vice versa.and ranks them as if itwere the Billboard music So make finding the bestcharts or the Nielsen TV talking point a game by putting tworatings. This is different than just voting, as it forces side by side in a duel, and asking which one is better.people to really think about what matters to them most.Every time they put something on their list, it means Encouraging Good Contributionssomething else is pushed down. How do you encourage people to write helpful talkingThere have been many challenges in making points? White House 2 has its own economic model work. Here are a few, and how I am uses a currency called political capital. It is shamelesslyaddressing them. stolen from massively multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft, and modeled after how political capital works in real life. Famously, former President Bush earned16
  17. 17. political capital by winning the 2004 election, and spent it A funny thing happened. I issued several warnings, and allunsuccessfully trying to privatize Social Security. the problem people left in a huff. I never needed to go to step 2.You earn “pc” by writing talking points people find helpful,bringing in new members, when people follow you, thingslike that. You can spend it buying ads for the homepage to Balancing Competing Interestspromote your priorities. The founding fathers created three branches ofNow theres a positive feedback loop: I have an idea, I can government as a way to provide checks and balances, topost it, I can write talking points explaining why it is a good ensure no one branch had too much power. Like Executive,idea, I earn political capital if people find those helpful, and Judiciary, and Legislative, we can use “branches” to groupthen I can spend it promoting my idea on the home page. constituencies with different goals.Like priorities, everyone understands money, so it is a very This is easiest to understand in the context of asimple tool that can be used in countless ways to corporation. Shareholders want the stock price to go up,encourage good contributions. Imagine if instead trying to employees want salaries to go up, and customers wantget money out of politics, we flooded it with a new kind of prices to go down. There might be a hundred thousandmoney, one that is earned by people being better citizens customers, but only a couple hundred employees. It is notand by helping their community. fair for customers to completely dominate the agenda, but by grouping people into branches, we can track whether an idea is more important to customers, shareholders, orCrazy Ideas employees and make better decisions.President Obama is doing much of what he said he would,so those priorities are coming off the list, and what is left How Do We Get More People Involved?are a lot of things that will never happen. That is not useful. Make it simple and fun. At, all you haveHere we can learn something from the stock market. It is to do at first is make your list of priorities. Everyonepossible to predict a date by letting people bet their understands a to-do list. People who want to do more, canpolitical capital on when it will happen. Then we can re- write talking points, start discussions, earn politicalsort the list. Imagine a "wisdom of the crowds" calendar capital, and buy ads.for the White House agenda. The most important thing by far is simply to show people their efforts have an impact. I have been dismayed at someNoisy Idiots of the priorities at For example, #382 isA perennial challenge in any political forum is how to deal “Admit Government Can Fix Nothing; Can Only Makewith disruptive influences. At, there is Worse.” There is a big opportunity for people inone primary rule: no personal attacks. You can attack an government to connect with citizens, and show thatidea, but not the person suggesting it. If someone violated government can fix their problems.this rule, I used to send them a note asking them to stop. In the United Kingdom, a government-sanctioned e-This did not work. In the heat of an argument, some would petitions site for the Prime Minister put together bystill lash out personally, quickly making the whole MySociety, a non-profit, got 10 percent of the UKdiscussion useless. So I created a four-step process. population involved. A similar site, approved by PresidentAnyone could flag a comment as violating the rules, and if Obama could attract 20 million people in a year.I agreed, the offending person received a warningexplaining the rules and the four-step process. If ithappened again, they would lose a small amount of Jim Gilliam is the founder of and ofpolitical capital. On the third violation, they would lose a the technology platform behind it. For additional information contact of political capital and were not allowed to participatefor a week. Finally, the fourth step was expulsion. 17
  18. 18. E-Petitions Preserves an Old British TraditionThere is a well-established tradition of British citizens presenting petitions at the door of Number 10 Downing Street, thehome and office of the Prime Minister. Since November 2006, they have been able to deliver those petitions online, at, and more than 10.5 million signatures have been delivered on nearly 63,000 e-petitions.According to the website, “the e-petition system has been designed to be transparent and trustworthy. For legal and anti-spam reasons this site cannot host every petition submitted, but the rule is to accept everything that meets the terms andconditions of use,” and “no petition will be rejected unless it violates these terms…[E]ven when petitions cannot behosted, No10 will still publish as much of rejected petitions as is consistent with legal and anti-spam requirements,including the reason why it could not be hosted.”Frequently Asked Questions posted on the E-Petitions site describe the workings of this system, which is said to be thelargest-ever non-partisan democracy site by number of users. Here are some excerpts.Petition signing questions Petition signing questionsWhat is an e-petition? How do I sign a petition?An e-petition is a form of petition posted on a website. To sign a petition, you will need to give your name, addressIndividuals or groups can create a petition on the site and and email on the form provided. Once you have signed thevisitors can add their details to the petition to “sign” it. petition, you will receive an email asking you to confirmThe format makes it easy to collect signatures, and it also that you wish to add your name to the petition by clicking amakes it easier for us to respond directly using email. link. Once you have done this, your name will be added to the petition.Whats the difference between an e-petition anda paper petition? What will you do with my name and address details if I sign a petition?There is no theoretical difference, only the way in whichthe signatures are collected and delivered. A petition can Nothing, unless you expressly ask to sign up for othergather names and addresses in either or both forms, services available on the Downing Street website (e.g.,though once someone has signed a petition in one format, email updates). We will use your email address to confirmthey cannot sign it in another. your signature and, unless you ask us not to, we will also send you a maximum of two responses to the issues raised in the petition. In the future we may introduce a facility to18