Now that the transition period is drawing to a close, it’s time for a first look back at the various e-participation efforts that took place on Change.gov since the site launched on November 6, 2008.

A total of four six projects ran (the last one will close tomorrow):

  1. Join the Discussion: Healthcare (November 26 through December 2, 2008)
  2. Join the Discussion: Economy (approx. December 3-10)
  3. Open for Questions (December 10-12, 2008)
  4. Join the Discussion: Service (approx. December 12-18)
  5. Open for Questions, Round 2 (December 29, 2008 through January 9, 2009)
  6. Citizen’s Briefing Book (January 12-18, 2009)

A few quick observations:

  • Hundreds of thousands of participants
  • Hundreds of thousands of questions, ideas and comments
  • Millions of votes
  • Three different software tools were used: IntenseDebate, Google Moderator and Salesforce CRM Ideas
  • All tools seem to show significant bias towards those items (questions, ideas, forum posts) that manage to gain a lead early on in the process.
  • The items exposed as most popular (e.g. top ideas, top questions) tend to receive a disproportionate amount of the participants’ overall attention (in terms of votes, comments and — likely — views).

It’s interesting to note that each of these e-participation projects on Change.gov came with minor improvements over the previous one. For example, the second installment of “Open for Questions” (Google Moderator) added categories as an additional view into the data, the Briefing Book added “most recent items” as an additional view into the data (though that still wasn’t enough to outweigh the bias towards the early leaders — see comments on this screenshot on Flickr for more details).

Having looked at a number of large-scale online input gathering efforts recently (Change.gov, Rebuild the Party, ObamaCTO and others), I believe what’s missing in order for any of them to scale in meaningful ways are processes that allow the participants to spend some of their energy on collaboratively improving (e.g. to review, revise, clarify, categorize etc.) and synthesizing (e.g. to de-dupe, group, merge, summarize etc.) the massive amounts of content that they create.

I will share more of my notes starting next week.