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In 2011, AmericaSpeaks launched an effort to support U.S. officials who seek to involve citizens in shaping policy. They partnered with leading Canadian citizen participation firm Ascentum to offer a set of services and tools that they believed public officials needed to create meaningful opportunities for citizen participation. The website was at ASonline.org but is no longer live. AmericaSpeaks closed its doors in January 2014, and ASonline closed up shop at least a year earlier.

AmericaSpeaks says their conversations with government agencies revealed a lot of energy around citizen participation. The President’s Open Government Initiative, which included participation as one of three key planks, has obviously been an important driver. But there’s also significant confusion and frustration from agencies around how to implement participation projects.

Carolyn Lukensmeyer, AmericaSpeaks’ Founder and President, said “Getting useful input from the public is really difficult. There have been more failures than successes. By working with Ascentum, we’re able to offer an implementation team and a set of services that will allow us to help officials’ run engagement projects that genuinely offer citizens a greater voice in government.”

AmericaSpeaks’ core strength was in working with policymakers to convene large-scale face-to-face deliberations that incorporate trained facilitators and real-time voting technology. Recently, they have incorporated significant online and mobile components, ranging from blogs to crowdsourcing policy ideas to input by text message.

They found a like-minded partner in Ascentum, one that shares their belief in the need to bring citizens’ voices into the policymaking process and brings significant technological capacity. Joe Peters, Ascentum’s Founder, says “This relationship combines AmericaSpeaks’ understanding of the policy context and processes in the US with our strength in developing and customizing web platforms to offer a compelling experience for participants.” Ascentum is uniquely experienced with managing citizen participation projects in the online arena because of its relationship with the Canadian government, which has historically focused far greater attention and resources on public engagement.

Together, AS and Ascentum are offering a suite of services – including engagement strategy and planning, technology selection and implementation, moderation, and marketing and communications – which they believe are critical for meaningful participation. ASonline.org lists a number of online and mobile tools, ranging from blogs to crowdsourcing policy ideas to input by text message, that AmericaSpeaks and Ascentum will use to involve the public in policy development.

Resource Link: www.asonline.org (this website is no longer active)

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