Free of charge for everyone. It's also open-source, non-profit, and non-partisan, with open data for civic engagement.
Ask a question or start a petition public figures. Sign on to other questions you support. Share questions over email & social media to get them to the pre-set signature threshold. AskThem will deliver questions that reach threshold to their recipients over email & social media and encourage a public response. These questions will also head to the "need answers" section on AskThem for your state. Some elected officials and public figures have agreed to respond to one or two popular questions per month. Anyone who signed a question will receive an email when an official response is posted. Then, you can comment on the response and raise new issues, creating a continual connection with public figures.
An updated list of participating elected officials and verified Twitter users can be found here on PPF Blog. Ask your elected officials at every level of government to participate. It's free and works like a social media service like Twitter. Elected officials and verified Twitter users simply agree to answer one or two questions per month that reach the signature threshold. They may choose to answer as many as they like, whether or not they reach the signature threshold - there's no limit and no cost involved. Of course, not every question that reaches the signature threshold will necessarily receive a public response on AskThem from its target. But all questions from confirmed registered users on AskThem are displayed publicly, viewable on the site and shareable on social media to gather more support.
By our terms of service, any question can be displayed, barring certain conditions. Any visitor to AskThem can flag a question for review by staff. We seek to support a community ethos of "good questions through Advisory Council. Previous Q&A efforts & engagement platforms, in the U.S. and internationally, have provided us with many lessons & examples.
Our Advisor, Micah Sifry, writes in his "Good Question Project": A good question is one that presents its recipient with a problem that must be resolved. It may raise uncomfortable facts, or highlight a contradiction, surface something that we haven’t thought of before, or merely demand that its subject explain him or herself on a topic they have avoided or would prefer to not address... Good questions insist on accountability, and good questioners insist on real answers, not obfuscations. When we as individuals and as a society fail to ask good questions of those with power or those who act in our name, democracy falters.""
For the first time in a free & open-source website, AskThem has brought together official government data for over 10,000 elected officials, with access to over 130,000 more, as follows:
Coming soon in 2014, we will make it possible to see even more elected officials simply by entering a street address - we believe, the most coverage of any open-source website:
AskThem is non-profit for the public benefit! Charitable donations to AskThem can help us expand our open questions-and-answers platform faster to all of the above cities and states. Help us grow!
First, we'll continually adjust signature thresholds - for a class of elected officials (e.g. mayors) or for an individual target - based on user feedback and site analytics. This is a very dynamic process and we'll be blogging openly about our findings & user activity. For example, if a given level of elected official is regularly receiving more than five questions per month that reach the signature threshold, we will examine raising it. We're interested in public input & elected official feedback on this question, and on actual live site analytics.
Second, any individual elected official who is a verified responder in AskThem can request of our team to customize his or her signature threshold (within reason). So for an elected official who agrees to respond publicly to one or two questions per month that reach the threshold (in some cases, with at least half of the signatures-to-threshold coming from constituents), she may choose to raise her individual threshold on AskThem, or test different goals. Such customization will be indicated transparently and publicized, as it's likely a productive arrangement for both constituents and elected officials.
Third, our medium-term goal is to set a ballpark of signature thresholds at 0.1% of a jurisdiction's population, as determined by the U.S. Census and open data. This will not necessarily be the final threshold, or binding, but it offers a baseline, and will enable us to experiment with more-precise calculations. For example, if the 2012 population of Chicago is 2.175 million people, the signature threshold for the mayor of Chicago may start at 0.1% of that, viz. 2,175 signatures, and be adjusted from there according to site analytics. If the average size of a U.S. Congressional district is 710,767 people, then at least 710 signatures may be the required threshold for a U.S. representative. We have not yet fully implemented such granular calculations, but the opportunity is tremendous for open linked data & future iterations.
Currently, then, the default signature thresholds for different jurisdictions of public figures on AskThem are as follows, to be continually adjusted:
Any Twitter account with a verified blue check. Non-verified Twitter accounts cannot be asked questions through AskThem at this time, but soon, we plan to allow non-verified Twitter users to opt-in.
We'll send you email updates when we deliver your question, or when it receives an response from its target on AskThem and its target is a verified responder on AskThem. We'll send you other interesting updates periodically too.
Send us a request on our support forum with the URL of the AskThem user profile to delete - you can get that through logging in to your account and clicking on your name - we'll briefly confirm your deletion request through the email address associated with that account, and then will delete it right away. Will take just a few minutes.
Yes, we encourage non-U.S. users anywhere in the world to register a free account. For now, for this launch version of AskThem, non-U.S. users should simply enter "00000" for their zip code, and we'll contact them in the future when we offer more international support. Some site features in the "ask a question" flow to U.S. elected officials will not work with this placeholder zip code, but international users can still visit AskThem's national map page and ask a question directly from an elected official's AskThem profile page. (Click the button to "ask this person a question.") Also, international users should have no trouble in asking a question to any verified Twitter account from the homepage "Ask your own Question" button, and should encounter no glitches in in signing or sharing questions they support on AskThem. We seek charitable funding to support a better international site experience for users abroad - namely, supporting international addresses when asking a question to U.S. elected officials.
Yes, please do - we may already have access to official government data for that elected official, but may not yet display it on AskThem. Or we may be able to obtain that person's official info through our data sources. Drop us a note at our User Support forum with the name and official title of the elected official you'd like to question or have sign-up as a verified responder, along with any official URLs and contact information (e.g., a .gov email address) for them you can find. We believe that AskThem offers the most elected official coverage of any free & open-source website, with open data for the public benefit, but we seek additional non-profit funding to be able to support open Q&A with more elected officials nationwide at every level of government.
We do our best to display correct & contemporary elected official info on AskThem with our open data partners. Please write us at our User Support forum with the street address you entered (or the URL of the webpage on AskThem in question), the name of the elected official who did display, and the name of the official who should display, and we'll examine & fix - with access to over 142,000 elected officials nationwide in our system, we'll address it as quickly as we can.
As mentioned above, we have access to some official government data for elected officials that doesn't display yet on AskThem, and a small handful of elected officials or public figures have signed-up to as verified responders on AskThem before we can display a profile page for them publicly. Please visit the PPF Blog for our latest list of verified AskThem responders, and we'll have that displayed here on AskThem as well into the future.
Yes, there's no cost to you. AskThem is completely free, not-for-profit, and non-partisan. We are an open-source project and our data is available for the public benefit.
AskThem is a project of the non-profit Participatory Politics Foundation, creators of OpenCongress.org, a leading government transparency website with 27 million Web visits since 2007. AskThem was supported in part by a charitable grant from the Knight Foundation's Tech For Engagement initiative.
The Knight Foundation is a private, non-profit foundation that funds programs that use technology to foster engagement. The foundation is not affiliated with any political party-but instead supports individuals as agents for engagement-with a focus on youth leadership, social entrepreneurs and local institutions. The foundation’s funding was primarily received from newspaper publications as well as from personal gifts by John and James Knight, and many private donors.
The foundation gives away over $80 million a year, much of which goes to projects which increase open government, open records and accountability.
For more info on Knight-Funded projects click here:
By becoming a verified responder, you’ll be able to answer the most popular questions voted on by users. You also agree that AskThem can include your planned participation in public statements and press releases about our upcoming launch & user community. Your profile page on AskThem will receive a "verified" check mark and you'll be able to regularly contact by email all of your constituents who ask you questions.
You only answer questions that pass your vote threshold (for the average state rep. that threshold will start at .005% - 0.1% of your district population and will be adjusted to ensure you get no more than 3 questions per month -- also, at least half of the voters must be your constituents).
There are two major differences between the way you field queries from your constituents currently:
Harassing Questions: If you believe a question is inappropriate, illegal, harassing or unnecessarily personal, let us know by sending us an email through our User Support forum and we will investigate. The user may be banned from the site and the question may be removed. More info on flagging questions and our review process at our User Support page
Let's say your threshold is 100 votes for a question. For delivery of a question to be considered for a response, at least fifty of those votes must come from constituents, as best we are able to determine. You may get 500 votes from people out of state, but the question doesn't pass the AskThem threshold for delivery until half of the threshold number comes from constituents. Also, we will continually adjust and optimize threshold so recipients do not get more than about three questions per month. We'll be continually experimenting with new open-source methods for connecting constituents with their elected officials.
It's best to do so, but not necessarily required. PPF staff must be able to verify that you are an elected official and that you or your staff controls the email account tied to the verified responder profile on AskThem (by responding to emails and clicking the confirmation link, among others). In the future, we will develop simple features to change the email address address used by a verified responder.
You can be notified of every question that gets asked and you can answer as many or as few of the questions below the threshold as you like. For instance, you may get a question from outside your district and decide not to answer it until constituents have signed on to it. You might also promise to answer a question, but encourage your constituents to share the question on social media and push their friends to vote it up.
Once we set your threshold (it starts at .005% - .01% of the population of your district, but may get adjusted in part to ensure you get no more than three questions that reach the threshold per month), half of the votes for a question toward that threshold must come from constituents.
Initially we'll ask users to give their name and street address. If you suspect that someone is gaming the system to try to get you to respond, we'll investigate and try to confirm that the person lives where they claim they do.
You can email your supporters and ask them to post questions you’d like to answer. We strongly encourage this practice as it allows elected officials to communicate the positive work on which they focus. You might also request that constituents who regularly contact you use the site. And you might request that issue-based organizations post questions you’d like to answer. You might even advertise your participation to local media and blogs.
AskThem is available to all US residents, including non U.S. citizens and unregistered voters, and all elected officials.
Feel free to give us a call or send us an email with any comments or questions.