This month, Expert Labs will celebrate two years of working on its mission to encourage public engagement in policy making. When we began two years ago, it was difficult to explain what exactly that meant, but after an extraordinary series of milestones in recent weeks, we wanted to celebrate a profound achievement that represents a victory for all who care about the general public's participation in the policies that affect their lives.
It'd have been hard to miss the headlines two weeks ago when the White House announced a program to make it easier for Americans who have student loans to meet their monthly payments on those loans; Named "Pay As You Earn", the program promises to offer 1.6 million Americans a bit of a financial respite on their loan service, and to put a few more dollars in their pockets every month.
But what was much less heralded in the story was exactly how this policy change came to be: An ordinary New Yorker had proposed some form of student loan amnesty on the White House's "We the People" petition platform. The timeline was straightforward, albeit incredibly accelerated:
- September 1: The White House announces its upcoming "We the People" petition platform, explaining that petitions which collect a sufficient number of signers will earn an official response from White House policy makers focused on that area of policy
- September 22: We the People launches to the public
- September 23: The next day "Robert A" of Staten Island, New York submits a petition calling for the forgiveness of student loan debt * October : The White House, seeing increasing numbers of responses to We the People petitions, raises the number of signatures required for a policy maker response from 5,000 signatures to 25,000 signatures
- October 26: Having blown past both the original and the higher signature requirements, Robert A's student loan proposal becomes the first petition to receive an official response, with Special Assistant to the President for Education Policy Roberto Rodriguez endorsing the concept, refined to be focused on capping monthly payments to loan service
- October 26: As part of that initial policy response, the White House releases a series of statistics quantifying the level of response to the We the People platform, and boasting of more than three-quarters of a million participants in just over a month
At Expert Labs, we're effusively excited over this response. Now, to be sure, there's still work to be done. It will take effort and investment to continue to broaden the reach of the We the People platform. But more importantly, there are dozens of other federal agencies which lack the resources, reach, and public profile that the White House has been able to leverage for We the People.
For those agencies, we're committed to building the tools and best practices that will allow them to have successes that match what the White House has been able to do, even given the resource constraints that they may face. We also want to amplify the fact that the White House New Media team is innately familiar with what we've also been articulating as best practices; They're asking answerable questions, providing real clarity about what it takes to earn a response and what those responses will be, and then promoting the results of these efforts back to the communities that participate in them.
But there's much more work to do. We'll be launching several of our most ambitious Expert Labs efforts in the coming weeks, leading up to our second anniversary, and we're eager to see both the agencies which strive to emulate the White House's success as well as the members of the public who could participate in those conversations join in the efforts.