Today, the Participatory Politics Foundation launched AskThem.io, a new online tool focused upon structured questions and answers with elected officials.
As David Moore, founder of PPF, put it, “AskThem is like a version of the White House’s “We The People” petition platform, but for over 142,000 elected officials nationwide.”
The platform is an evolution from earlier attempts to ask questions of candidates for public office, like “10 Questions” from Personal Democracy Media, or the myriad online town halls that governors and the White House have been holding for years.
AskThem enables anyone to pose a question to any elected official or Verified Twitter account. Notably, the cleanly designed Web app uses geolocation to enable users to learn who represents them, in of itself a valuable service.
As with e-petitions, AskThem users can then sign questions they support, voting them up and sharing the questions with their social networks. When a given question hits a preset threshold, the platform delivers the questions to to the public figure and “encourages a public response.”
That last bit is key: there’s no requirement for someone to respond, for the response itself to be substantive, nor for the public figure to act. There’s only the network effect of public pressure to make any of that happen.
After a year of development, Moore was excited to see the platform go live today, noting a number of precedents set in the process.
“I believe we’re the first open-source web app to support geolocation of elected officials, down to the municipal level, from street address,” he said, via email. “And I believe we’re the first to offer access to over 142,000 elected officials through our combined data sources. And I believe we’re the first to incorporate open government data for informed questions of elected officials at every level of government.”
Moore referred to AskThem’s use of the Google Civic Information API, which provides the data for the platform.
AskThem goes online just in time for tomorrow’s day of action against mass surveillance, where over 5,000 websites will try to activate their users to contact their elected representatives in Washington. Whether it gets much use or not will depend on awareness of the new tool.
That could come through use by high-profile early adopters like Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes), of MSNBC’s “All In with Chris Hayes,” or OK Go, the popular band.
At launch, 66 elected officials nationwide have signed on to participate, though more may join if it catches on. In the meantime, you can use AskThem’s handy map to find local elected officials and see a listing of all of the questions to date across the USA — or pose your own.