We the People

Ideas for the new White House chief digital officer

Photo: Pete Souza/White House

Photo: Pete Souza/White House

On Tuesday, the White House named former Twitter product lead Jason Goldman as the nation’s first chief digital officer.

From Goldman announcing his new role:

“The platforms that have been the most successful are the ones that have created the best and most meaningful opportunities for participation. My job will be to use those online tools to create meaningful opportunities for American citizens to participate in our government.”

In his announcement Goldman asks citizens (using the hashtag #socialcivics) to share their answers to the question, “How can we — our government and you and your communities — better connect online to make America better?”

Here are my ideas:

  • Turn whitehouse.gov into a media outlet for our times. The White House is essentially a media machine, telling the story of the president and, more broadly, the executive branch. It produces great content — blogs, videos, photos — but whitehouse.gov as we currently know it is a product built for 2009 and so much in media and web product design has changed since then. We are starting to learn, and even know more about, what a government website should be. Currently, whitehouse.gov looks like what we imagine when we think “government.” Whitehouse.gov should follow the same approach as Medium, Vox, even Buzzfeed, to make government feel more informative, approachable, engaged and alive.
  • In a perfect world, we’d do the above for usa.gov, because this could truly begin to unite and inspire citizens (and those aspiring to be) around the concept of a unified “America.” There is no better product branding for getting citizens engaged online than usa.gov. Also, it’s a little shocking the greatest URL in the world currently doesn’t even make it into the .gov top 20 list.
  • Go casual. Government, especially Washington, D.C., is seen as too buttoned-up, and this plays into its approachability and interest. Most people tune out authority during a conversation, because they assume they’re either not being listened to or are going to get lectured. This is how people see government. I’m not suggesting President Obama wear hockey shirts for the weekly address, but more that the faces and vibe of whitehouse.gov media outlet should reflect the image of the American public (beyond the Beltway).
  • Take “petitions” out of “We the People.” Currently, WTP is branded as a tool for citizens to share their grievances, rather than a mechanism to have a conversation. The WTP product should be re-imagined to serve as a platform for citizens, including the president, to engage with the executive branch and Congress. President Obama should open it up as a tool for all branches of government to have a conversation with the American people.
  • Have a call to action for everything. After every post, photo or video, direct citizens to engagement. Currently, we’re just being press released without context to learning more or getting involved.
  • Think about the general experience and make it easier for citizens to find what they need. What we know from the new federal analytics dashboard is that citizens want to complete a task related to a form. If it’s difficult to find to accomplish these tasks, your efforts around the above will lose merit.
  • Addendum: Read the U.S. Public Participation Playbook (thanks Dan Morgan!)

Making whitehouse.gov a more approachable media outlet and directly coupling it with a fresh platform for engagement, the U.S. chief digital officer has the opportunity to change the way we see government and inspire us to start paying attention.

Congratulations to Jason on an amazing opportunity and perhaps the best gig in government.

A new way to write to the White House

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

The White House has officially released the write version of the “We the People” application programming interface that now allows developers to feed data back into the petition platform via third-party applications.

“Starting today, people can sign We the People petitions even when they’re not on WhiteHouse.gov,” writes White House Director of New Media Technologies Leigh Heyman on the White House blog. “Now, users can also use third-party platforms, including other petitions services, or even their own websites or blogs. All of those signatures, once validated, will count towards a petition’s objective of meeting the 100,000-signature threshold needed for an official White House response.”

According to Heyman, more than 16 million users have created and/or signed more than 360,000 petitions.

Apply for access to the Petitions API.

White House opens huge opportunity for designers, developers to increase We the People engagement

Photo: Pete Souza/White House

Photo: Pete Souza/White House

The White House will soon open a limited beta test to developers on a new We the People Write API that allows third-party applications to submit information to official petitions.

“One of the things we’ve heard from the beginning is a strong desire from our users to be able to submit signatures and petitions from other sites — and still receive an official response. Up to this point, we haven’t had a way to accept signatures submitted from other sites, but that is about to change,” writes White House Associate Director of Online Engagement for the Office of Digital Strategy Ezra Mechaber.

According to the White House, more than 10 million users have signed nearly 300,000 petitions.

We the People was built in Drupal and the source code is available on GitHub.

The Read API was opened earlier this year (sample projects here).

While We the People is fairly intuitive and easy to use, there’s huge potential for great designers and developers to essentially build a truly innovative and engaging platform.

Apply to the We the People Write API Beta.

We the People petitioners want access to healthcare.gov source code

We the People

A new We the People petition opened Sunday calling for the federal government to make the healthcare.gov source code publicly available “so we may help fix any found issues.”

From the petition:

It is believed that the enrollment issues with healthcare.gov are likely due to poor coding practices in components that are unavailable to the world’s development community to evaluate. Code funded by taxpaying citizens should be made available to the general public as government funded development is generally public domain software. Please release the code so we may help fix any found issues.

The petition has more than 1,000 signatures, still a ways away from the 100,000 needed by November 19 to receive an official White House response.

More discussion on open sourcing healthcare.gov can be found here, here and here.

In the meantime, the Department of Health & Human Services released a statement on Sunday saying it will bring in the “best and brightest from both inside and outside government to scrub in with the team and help improve HealthCare.gov.”

President Obama addressed healthcare.gov technical issues at a Monday speech at the White House: