Ideas for Change in America: heading into the homestretch

Executive summary

  • things are still in flux in the Ideas for Change in America as we head into the last week of the first round
  • civil liberties (six ideas), drug reform (five ideas), and education (five ideas) dominate the top 30
  • my idea, Get FISA Right, repeal the PATRIOT Act, and restore our civil liberties, hanging tough at #5 overall, #2 in Criminal Justice
  • there are a lot of duplicate ideas, for example multiple variants of legalization.  How will deal with this going forward?

The current top 10 is in the first comment for those who don’t care about the analysis.


Things are still in flux with only a week to go in the first round of the Ideas for Change in America competition.  Several new ideas have made it into the top 10, for example Charles Rutledge’s Legalize Milk: submitted on December 19, and already #6 overall — and first place in the health care category.*  So it’s still up for grabs as we head down the stretch.

The top three ideas in each of 30ish categories as of December 31 advance to a second round of voting, January 5-15.  The top 10 will be presented to Obama on Inauguration Day, and after that, and MySpace will partner with a non-profit to build a national grassroots campaign to push each selected idea.  Or something like that; details are sketchy and nobody’s quite sure what it will amount to, but with the great and steadily-growing list of partner organizations involved, the possibilities are exciting.

The top ten (and the civil liberties view)

As well as Legalize Milk and #6, there are new entries at #2 (Stephen Zandt’s  Appoint Secretary of Peace in Department of Peace and Non-Violence) and #4 (Cecilia Leibovitz’s Save Handmade Toys From the CPSIA) bracketing blogger Jen Nadeau’s Pass Marriage Equality Rights for LGBT couples nationwide which has moved from #6 to #3.   (See the full top 10 in the first comment.)

My idea, Get FISA Right, repeal the PATRIOT Act, and restore our civil liberties, hanging tough at #5, is one of the handful that have remained near the top since a couple of weeks ago.  It’s #2 in Criminal Justice, trailing Jose Torres’ Legalise the Medicinal and Recreational Use of Marijuana (which has moved from #3 to the #1 spot overall) and ahead of “end the drug war”, “legalize marijuana”, “legalize marijuana”, and “legalize marijuana.”   Hmm.  This parallels the results in’s recent Open for Questions pilot, where legalization was #1 and there were 7 legalization/drug-war questions in the top 50.  Behind the obvious jokes about stoners having a lot of time to spend a lot of time, there’s some effective organizing going on here.

So it’s nervous moments for me: I could certainly imagine a late rush pushing legalization to #1, #2, and #3 in the category, and that’d be too bad.  Don’t bogart the leaderboard, guys.  Fortunately there are several other civil liberties ideas in the top 25 as well, including Pierre Loiselle’s Repeal the Patriot Act and Donovon Caesar’s End the Patriot Act, so one way or another we’ve got a real shot at being in the final top 10.  Please consider voting for them if you haven’t already!

A few promotional tips

Once you get beyond six civil liberties ideas (split between several different categories) five drug reform, five education,the rest of the top 30 is suprisingly diverse: three each on health care and government reform, two on the economy and animial rights, and one each on imigraiton, peace, gay rights, and energy.  It’s a good mix of scope, too, with most ideas focused on specific laws (CPSIA, which impacts small manufacturers generally; or #7 Pass the DREAM Act Now) along with some on bigger-picture policy items.  The biggest name on the list is Larry Lessig of Creative Commons and Change Congress fame, whose Citizens’ funding of elections proposal is up to 880 votes despite heavily-negative reactions in the comments.

There are some very tight races in various categories, for example in Gay Rights where Sara P’s Pass a Trans-Inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is only about 20 votes behind Michael Fustilo’s repeal DOMA, Defense of Marriage Act for the #3 spot.  In some categories like Genocide and Race, it wouldn’t take a lot of votes to make it into the top 3 — even for a category like Social Entrepeneurship, less than 200 votes are needed.

So effective promotion in the last few weeks is going to be very important.  As Legalize Milk shows, a well-promoted good idea can get over a thousand votes in just a few days.  A group that’s got a decent-sized email list or enough friends on Facebook or MySpace can get the word out fairly quickly.

For people who are making a last-minute run at it, one very important promotion technique is to include widgets in high-profile blog posts.  I included the widget for my idea in Turning the page on FISA on’s Criminal Justice blog and the pace of our votes steadily increased over the next few days, which led to us moving in front of Pass the DREAM Act Now and opening up a substantial gap from  Repeal the Patriot Act.**   Friday’s My name is Prerna and I am undocumented is likely to have the same effect for the DREAM Act, pulling them back ahead of us.  At this stage, since our ideas are in different categories, we’re not actually competing; so it’s a great chance to see how well different techniques work — and for last-minute entries to learn from earlier efforts.

Looking forward …

Looking ahead to the second round, it’ll be interesting to see what and their partners come up with as the ground rules.  For example there are likely to be some difficult decisions about whether to consolidate various similar ideas.  One possible approach is to make it in the interest of the people involved to combine ideas and compete jointly in the second round.  Intuitively, we’re better if everybody’s voting for my idea, Pierre’s, and Donovan’s in the first round are all voting for the same idea in the second round — as long as the merged idea represents all of our perspectives.  Still, the details will be tricky to work out, especially with a background of mistrust after’s deletion of several early leaders. I’m not sure what the right answer is here … hopefully there will be some discussions of this on the blog before a decision is announced.

In the meantime, it’s hard to know what to expect in the last week of the first round.  Get FISA RIght’s got a new video out (President Obama, please get FISA right ) but it’s really hard to imagine this having an impact on the first round votes.  One potential wild card: if any grassroots groups who are able to spark discussions at holiday gatherings, they’ll have an advantage that could carry over in the second round.  Of course this is a lot easier for some topics than others; the economy, health care, peace, and puppies are almost certain to come up in most families.  It’s really hard to know how much of an impact this will have but it’s worth keeping an eye on.

And no doubt there will be some surprises as well.  The suspense is killing me!


* There’s an interesting compare-and-contrast here in UI design with’s Open for Questions. Open for Questions’s main page prominently displayed the leaders, which led to a “rich get richer” phenomenon as people were more likely to see (and vote for) the most popular ideas. Ideas for Change by contrast prominently displays selected “featured ideas”, and less-prominently displays “Ideas on the rise” — it’s surprisingly hard for people to find the link to the top ideas buried below the fold. This means that as a new idea gets some momentum or attention, it can get a better chance to break into the top

** we had been virtually neck-and-neck for at least a week before my guest-post.