Improving We The People

The White House recently launched We The People, a new e-petition tool that we believe can be an incredibly powerful way for the American people to express their ideas to the government. This feedback site is a place for those of us who care about creating a participatory and deliberative society to offer ideas and recommendations for the White House to ensure that We The People (a) incorporates a meaningful, transparent, healthy policy process for integrating public input, and (b) includes the functionality, usability, and design that can best enable the considered preferences of the American people to be heard.

Everyone is invited to post suggestions here on this feedback site for how to improve the White House’s petition process.

In response to a request from the WeThePeople team at the White House, we will summarize the results of this forum for them. We are in the process of generating a final document that will be signed off on by the convening organizations (and hopefully others) and shared with the White House.

We will request feedback from the White House on the usefulness of our recommendations as well as their implementation, and will share that information with you.

Convening Organizations: AmericaSpeaks, National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD), International Association for Public Participation—USA (IAP2 USA), Deliberative Democracy Consortium (DDC), Open Forum Foundation.

How can the White House's e-petition website and process be improved?

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  1. Empower citizens to deliberate on each petition

    Currently, when a petition reaches 150 signatures it becomes public on the White House website. Citizens should be able to deliberate on the merits of each petition for several reasons:

    1) Watching citizens deliberate will make it easier for White House officials to respond. Through the deliberations, citizens will express what they believe and more importantly why they believe it; this will deepen the officials' understanding of citizen opinions and enable a more relevant response.

    2) We Americans need more opportunities for quality deliberation. Of course, it's hard to create the conditions for civil deliberation, but it can be done.

    31 votes
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    • Enable visitors to sign in with 3rd party logins (Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.)

      Lower the hurdle to participation by letting people register using their Facebook/Twitter/Google/whatever accounts.

      Right now people are forced to fork over their email addresses and then confirm their email address to create a White House account so they can then sign a petition. The email confirmation requirement triples the time needed to sign a petition for a first-time visitor.

      This is becoming standard practice on the web. It is still possible to ask visitors for their zipcode and other information that is now being gathered.

      28 votes
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      • Create a simple, transparent process for combining very similar petitions, adding signature totals, and consolidating the responses required

        There are already a number of overlapping petitions that could easily be consolidated into a single petition (particularly relating to marijuana). Combining petitions would make it more likely that the petition would reach the 5,000 signature threshold. It would also be easier for the White House to offer a single response rather than two separate responses in cases where multiple petitions with the same message reach the threshold.

        The process for combining petitions, however, must be clear and transparent. It must avoid the loss of the intent of either of the original petitions.

        21 votes
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        • Identify a higher threshold number of signatures (500k? 1m?) that would guarantee a video response from the President himself

          Show that the President is taking this process seriously by pledging that he will occasionally offer a public response to a small handful of the most popular petitions on the site. This would incentivize more people to participate and encourage advocacy groups to create petitions and drive their members to sign them.

          19 votes
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            1 comment  ·  Admin →
          • Publicly archive all petitions that receive more than the 150 signatures limit; publicly state the policy for archiving such petitions

            The democratic value of creating, promoting, and signing a petition is not merely reaching the 25,000 signature threshold and getting the White House to provide an official reaction. Much of the value is educating the public that a critical mass of Americans believe an issue is important enough to sign a petition. This value is lost if the White House removes petitions from its public website after 30 days. The White House should not only publicly archive petitions after the 30 day deadline but clearly state in its terms of participation what its petition records retention and accessibility policy is.

            17 votes
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            • Share metrics

              Provide a detailed overview of all site activity (registered users, votes cast, petitions started, petitions past threshold etc.) and responses (number of responses, breakdown/categorization of responses).

              13 votes
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              • Offer comment/describe/discuss options to engage with sumbitted ideas.

                Currently site visitors can sign or promote a petition. Offer an opportunity for people to add links, examples, pros and cons to the petition.

                Most recent "what's being discussed" should be featured in a side bar on that petition page. Clicking on that sidebar would bring the user to a child page where people can add information (pros and cons) or discuss the merits of the idea with one another.

                10 votes
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                  1 comment  ·  Admin →
                • 10 votes
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                  • Create a petition on We The People to improve We The People

                    To get a sense of which reforms to We The People are highly desired by users of We The People and should be included in a final set of recommendations, create a petition on We The People to improve We The People. An example, which is available at http://wh.­gov/2VA, reads as follows:

                    We petition the Obama Administra­tion to increase to 180 days the days allowed to get enough signatures (currently 25,000) for an official White House response.

                    The explanatio­n accompanyi­ng the petition reads as follows:

                    Currently, We The People only allows 30 days for gathering enough signatures to reach…

                    8 votes
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                    • Improve Navigation for Filtering Petitions

                      When i filter petitions in one topic the petitions with the most votes are at the bottom of the 4th page. I vote for one. and I am thrown back to the page with all petitions. I have to sort again and go to the last pager to vote for the other item which happens to be another petition with over 12,000 signature. Can't the filter work and then put the top vote getters at the top rather than the bottom?

                      8 votes
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                        1 comment  ·  Admin →
                      • Include more granular voting mechanisms

                        This could either include voting 1-5 on how much you agree with a petition or it could span from agree to disagree. This would help create a more consensus-like result which would take into account how strongly people felt, not just numbers.

                        8 votes
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                        • Expand "within petition" & "across petitions" deliberation & knowledge facilities to build issue communities and understanding

                          The White House petitions capability has the opportunity to open up new conversations between Federal officials and all of the rest of us, conversations that bring new issues and new perspectives on those issues to the attention of the government and that educate people on how an issue is viewed not just by government but also by their fellow Americans.

                          As JH Snider put it:
                          "The democratic purpose of the We The People website ...should be to help put new issues on the public agenda that aren't already there by making it easier for politically underrepresented groups to mobilize themselves."

                          8 votes
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                          • User signup is too complex!

                            Verification via email is mandatory, but when you click the verification link, it should take you to the user page, or even better, ask you set a password.

                            I would expect that the average, non-tech savvy user gets lost in this process.

                            This happened when creating an account from the home screen, not from a specific petition or internal page. I can't speak to that process.

                            8 votes
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                              1 comment  ·  Admin →
                            • Show participants how to write better petitions

                              Some petitions are poorly worded and not as good as they could be. Maybe there could be tools or instructions on the We the People website to provide participants with assistance of what makes a good/effective epetition.

                              5 votes
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                              • Prominently disclose BOTH of the key vote thresholds

                                Prominently disclose on WhiteHouse.com BOTH of the key vote thresholds: 1) the votes needed to display the petition on WhiteHouse.com, and 2) the votes needed to receive an official reply from the White House. Currently, only 2) is prominently displayed; 1) is only displayed after you're in the process of creating a petition.

                                --J.H. Snider, iSolon.org

                                5 votes
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                                • Create a log with a timestamp and disclosure of all significant terms regarding We The People between citizens and the White House

                                  It's annoying when one day you think there is no threshold for having your petition appear on WhiteHouse.com and the next day you discover a threshold of 150 signatures has been created for that purpose. A clear "contract" between citizens and the White House should be posted on the We The People petition website, and when the terms of that contract are changed, there should be an adjacent log with a list of those changes.

                                  --J.H. Snider, iSolon.org

                                  5 votes
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                                  • 4 votes
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                                    • Provide better disclaimers for new petitions that may violate the Terms of Use or are duplicates of other petitions

                                      A significant portion of petitions that received enough signatures violated the terms of use and were not eligible for a response. This includes peititons that cover legal matters that the Executive Office of the President is legally prevented from commenting on. There are also many petitions that seem to be redundant with other petitions including ones that have already been answered.

                                      The submission processes should do as much as it can to inform authors of new petitions of these issues to ensure that they don't feel misled by the opportunity presented by this platform.

                                      A good example of a platform…

                                      4 votes
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                                      • Less downtime and more disclosure about the amount and expected end of downtime

                                        The portion of the website that allows people to create websites and sign in has been down way too much. The message people get when the website is down is:

                                        Our Apologies
                                        This Section of our site is currently undergoing maintenance
                                        We appreciate your patience while we make some improvements

                                        Three policy recommendations:
                                        1) There should be less downtime.
                                        2) There should be more disclosure about the amount, times, duration of downtime.
                                        3) There should be more disclosure about when downtime is expected to end and why the downtime is needed.

                                        --J.H. Snider, iSolon.org

                                        4 votes
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                                        • Display trackbacks on each petition

                                          While adding the ability to discuss petitions on the site, as already suggested, is a good idea, the reality is that - especially on the topics that attract a lot of signatures - most of the discussion is going to happen elsewhere on the web. There needs to be a way to tie this discussion to the petition. On a blog, you can display trackbacks - links to other pages that linked to that blog post. On each petition, there should be a list of blogs, newspaper articles and anything else that has linked to that petition. This will allow…

                                          4 votes
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