In September 2011, the Obama-Biden Administration launched ‘We the People’. This online service allows citizens to bring issues and ideas to the attention of the White House and its website-visitors – in other words, one giant idea box.
As a company which takes idea management seriously, Nosco are always excited to see this discipline taken into the grander scale. Furthermore, it’s interesting to see how the administration of the campaign have handled the different types of ideas to generate interest, engage hard-to-reach voters and get fresh ideas for policy and communication.
Here’s how it works
2) Within 30 days, they must mobilize 150 signatures on their petition through social networks and personal channels. If they manage this, the petition becomes searchable on the White House website.
3) Now, people can find the petition and vote for it.
4) If the petition reaches a certain number of signatures, the presidential administration will give an official response, a confirmation of the issue being processed on the highest governmental level.
So have people taken to this initiative? At the time of writing, the threshold for an official response sits at 100,000 signatures. It went up from 25,000 in January 2013, which in turn was a rise from the 5,000 signatures initially required to get an official response.
This growth in required signatures is a testament to the widespread popularity of We the People. As more and more people joined, it would simply be too easy to get your idea beyond the threshold.
As of March 2013, 7.2 million people have put over 11.6 million signatures on more than 178.000 petitions.
The promise of an official White House response to all petitions that reach the threshold is a sign of serious commitment from the initiators, one of Nosco’s main recommendations for anyone wanting to host idea boxes.
One thing is participation another thing is results. What does the administration actually get out of all these petitions?
As one might expect, some of the petitions garnering the most attention are the outright funny or controversial ones. ‘Start the construction of a Death Star by 2016‘, ‘Legalize Pot‘ and ‘Secede the United States‘ are among the types of ideas most reported on by the media.
However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. While these petitions may have grabbed the lion’s share of media attention in 2012, they might also have been the force behind the growth in traffic on the White House website. Take a look at this news clip abut the ‘Death Star’ idea below and see how search traffic growth correlates to participation growth. This indicates that the more people visit the website, the greater the participation in the campaign.
Google Trends analysis of the term ‘Death Star‘.
Participation Growth on We the People from whitehouse.gov
Also, the administration uses the popularity of these ideas to engage different, hard-to-reach audiences in public debate.
Take the Death Star example: More than 30,000 people voted for the petition. In all likelihood, a majority of these signatures came from Star Wars fans, right? The administration seems to think so, and they engaged them in a true Star Wars ‘language’, with a dash of humor too. Take a look at this video below, and notice how they seize the opportunity to inform the petitioners about the space program and the fact that you can see the International Space Station from Earth. As Forbes columnist Kate Kiefer Lee puts it: “Who knew you can spot the space station from anywhere? I didn’t, but thanks to the petition response, I just signed up for email alerts from NASA.” That’s engaging.
The same tactics are applied to process and debate one of the most controversial subjects in the US at the moment: Gun control. In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the debate about gun control remains fierce. At the same time, petitions engaged both sides of the gun control issue and drew attention and signatures to the We the People site.
The Pro Gun segment is hard to reach because we live in an age where the media landscape is increasingly fragmented and people opt for channels that confirm their own views. In such a landscape, many of these voters are more likely to follow media such as Fox News, not a media outlet where the current administration is favored or given much airtime. Yet, responding to petitioners about gun control represents an opportunity to engage directly via email (you give up your email as you sign up for We the People) and video.
President Obama’s video response on the subject has been seen by 10 times as many people as the presidents’ normal video channels on Youtube.
Is this a model for the future?
At Nosco, we see the power of effective idea management every day. Examples such as We the People show that you can make use of idea boxes on any scale, even nationwide in one of the biggest countries in the world.
The promise engages
The promise you create is what the participants see as result of their activity in sharing or voting for ideas. It’s what drives them and that is why the promise is so important. We the People promised an official response once a certain threshold was reached. This helped create not only participation but real engagement.
Funny and outrageous ideas may get the most attention
Use that as an advantage. Those kinds of ideas can become great PR material as your work gets more people involved in your idea box.
Ready, set… Engage!
Often, the level of your promise will correspond to the degree of your reach. Whether working with a nation, a company or a department, the open nature of idea boxes means that you can engage hard-to-reach segments in positive development and constructive dialogue.