PPF Blog

“AskThem” signup page – get notified, see previews & ask early questions

Our not-for-profit project for civic engagement with elected officials has been busy over the past five months. Lots of updates —


First, we’ve decided to update the name of the free & open-source web app we’re developing to AskThem. For questions-and-answers and petitions with public figures.

(We’ll keep the OpenGovernment.org domain for local government transparency, open-gov-data, and other projects for civic engagement.)

Second, today we’re unveiling our new AskThem landing page – get notified as we build to launch and see site previews this Fall :: 


… please feel free to spread the word and forward this note widely. Check out the latest site design there, put in your email for updates, and read more about how AskThem works. It’s a version of “We The People” for every elected official: federal, state and city levels of government. Also, question and petition any verified Twitter account. It’s a not-for-profit tool for a stronger democracy, with open data for informed and engaged communities. We’re working with data for well over 100,000 elected officials nationwide – from local city council members all the way up to U.S. senators and more. It’s a big project and we’re excited to get it out into the wild.

In this effort, we’re honored to have a stellar #opengov Advisory Council helping us with AskThem outreach, product feedback, and on fostering a community ethos of good-questions & continual engagement with people in government ::


  • Micah Sifry – TechPresident & Personal Democracy Media – and the Good Question Project
  • Zephyr Teachout – Associate Law Professor, Fordham Law School; Board Member, PPF
  • Nick Grossman – Advocate-in-Residence, Union Square Ventures
  • Tiffiniy Cheng – President and Co-Founder, PPF; Co-Director, Fight For the Future, one of our sibling non-profits
  • Nicco Mele – Entrepreneur & Faculty, Harvard University Kennedy School of Government
  • Tom Steinberg – Director, mySociety (UK).

… and we’ll continue to invite civic engagement leaders and target user communities to join the Advisory Council in months to come. Still evolving, then… we’ll continually look to add more perspectives. Stay tuned to this Google Group for examples, highlighted by the Advisory Council and AskThem staff, of individuals and organizations using questions and petitions on AskThem to encourage public accountability. Will be interesting to track questions & trending issues at the local level, and at state governor level, and at U.S. rep level, and to notable civic figures on Twitter (such as political media & gov’t spokespeople). Personally, it means a lot to me that these six great writers & open-tech-leaders & public-benefit-advocates have agreed to join our Advisory Council – thank you to all of them, heartily – we’ll keep working to build an exciting & powerful Q&A platform for local impact.

Third, an important update for elected officials – enter your email on our splash page (above) and we’ll send you more information about signing up to answer questions on AskThem. It’s a free and non-partisan service to respond to your constituents in an open public forum. Our Partnerships Director, Josh Segall, will be in touch – you can reach him over email, josh at askthem.io. We’re actively seeking elected officials at any level of government to sign up with AskThem as #opengov early adopters and commit to answering questions to them that reach the signature threshold – get in touch to see our slide deck and find out more, we think it will prove valuable.

Fourth, an introduction to our AskThem Technical Lead, Walter McGinnis. Based in New Zealand, Walter was the original developer of the Kete collaborative software and brings great experience in open-source web development & open data APIs & user experience. As always, our code is open on GitHub, feel free to follow along as we build to public launch – we’ve been doing a lot of open-source Rails programming (around question creation & circulation) & open-data wrangling at different levels of gov’t, contributions welcome ::


… you can reach Walter over email at walter at askthem.io, and in IRC, Freenode.net, #opengovernment for now. He & I will follow-up with more technical notes here in weeks to come, it’s been interesting. Our other team members on AskThem development include ::

  • Derek Eder & Eric van Zanten, DataMade – which makes awesome open-data civic web apps (out of Chicago) – have been contributing code on a number of fronts, including importing city council agenda data and more
  • Steven Trevathan, front-end developer & user experience crafter – Creative Director, DockYard (out of Boston) – with help from designer Logan & developer Amanda, great team
  • Phil Ashlock, Democracy Map – an in-development open-gov-data community project and API for local lookup of elected official data. So vital for the open-gov ecosystem. Phil’s based down in D.C. these days, as you may know. We’ve been collaborating on enhancing his open-data coverage and API scaling.

… with great assistance previously from James McKinney, E.D. of Open North out of Montreal, who’s been focused back on their own projects – but with who we collaborated this past Spring on the in-development Popolo open data standard for government, which we’re proud to have supported and are using on AskThem ::


Fifth and last for now, a huge thank you to the Knight Foundation, which supported development of AskThem over the past year with a charitable grant from its Tech 4 Engagement initiative. The Knight team has been a great resource in terms of networking and also of product advice, thanks to the good folks there – we’re excited to continue our work with the Knight National Program and introduce AskThem to users in Knight Foundation communities this Fall.

Now, as we build to previews & public launch, our small non-profit organization is actively seeking additional charitable funding support – simply email me, david at ppolitics.org, for a copy of our non-profit funding prospectus. Help us launch AskThem this Fall and bring open questions & petitions to your area! As I wrote back in March, for our NewsChallenge application ::

Question-and-answer has worked for years in other countries to make elected officials more connected  to their constituents and publicly accountable. With the WeThePeople petition platform by the White House, it’s been newly proven to work at the federal level – this year, [AskThem, formerly the OpenGovernment project] is poised to bring question-and-answer forums to the state, city and local levels.

… get in touch anytime, we’re easy to reach and eager to talk about where we’re headed for open Q&A – and please encourage your communities to sign up now at AskThem to be notified as we roll out previews and recruit elected officials.

Thanks for reading & following our work – let me know what you think of this sneak-peek of our new design.




AIM / Skype :: davidmooreppf

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