"I figured out all the problems, except for one: getting the White House to pay attention. (or maybe it just took 3yrs)," tweeted Gilliam.
He highlighted two issues, one for advocates and one for White House technologists: "How will the White House use all the email addresses it collects with new petition tool? Advocacy groups will have to decide whether to send their people to whitehouse.gov at the expense of their own list building," he tweeted. "White House will need some serious anti-spam jujitsu to knock back the tools that scrape congressional forms."
Former Sunlight Foundation member Jake Brewer dug into some of the structural issues that exist with this approach. The "only reason "We the People" would [be] useful vs other tools is if [the] WhiteHouse can convince all they are listening and meaningfully responding," he tweeted. "It strikes me though that "giving people a voice" is not at all the problem in gov[ernment]. Many ways to talk AT gov[ernment]. Few ways to do so usefully.''
"We simply don't need more ways to send petitions or gather ideas. We need better ways to listen and operationalize good ideas. What will be an agency's incentive to take any action based on a petition? Will White House pressure? Petitions to Congress (theoretically) work because Reps want to be responsive and re-elected. Exec not the same, so how to handle? Guess I'm having a hard time seeing "We the People" as anything more than Gov 2.0 theater, and I'd like to be wrong. We simply don't need more ways to send petitions or gather ideas. We need better ways to listen and operationalize good ideas."
The question on the minds of many citizens, advocates and media, in other words, is whether these e-petitions matter, going beyond a public relations exercise that ends with a "thank you letter" from White House staff. It's a matter of that goes straight to the heart of whether e-petition actions ever lead to results.
"OpenGov has the equivalent of a "last mile" problem: a culture+digital-infrastructure gap at the workgroup level," tweeted Dan Latorre, leader of Digital Placemaking and creator of FixCity.org.
For instance, if enough people sign e-petitions on withdrawing from Afghanistan, supporting gay marriage, legalizing marijuana or opposing ICE takedowns of websites without judicial review, will the White House change its policy?
Hundreds of thousands of people protesting in the streets in 2003, after all, didn't stop the United States from going to war in Iraq. Would millions of signatures of e-petitions gave any bearing on future decisions? When e-petitions go live later this month, the world will see.
Alexander B. Howard is the Government 2.0 Correspondent for O’Reilly Media and a technology writer focused on open government, innovation, and online civics.