Archive for the ‘AthenaBridge’ Category

Welcome to Our Blog

October 20, 2013

Our software has undergone many changes since we started in 2008.  We are very excited to have released a beta version of our latest software in January 2013 at

Image of previous clients: ASU, NASA, State Department, etc

About the AthenaBridge software platform:
  • The platform has four tools that can be used independently or in any combination:
    • The brainstorming tool is for answering open-ended questions.
    • The deliberation tool is for facilitating an in-depth discussion of specific statements/hypotheses.
    • The summary tool enables the top participants to highlight the key points from brainstorming and deliberation.
    • The voting tool helps identify the areas of consensus.
  • The platform works well for small groups collaborating on a specific topic, and it works for thousands of participants in an open, public conversation.
  • Conversations can be public or private.
  • No technical expertise is required to start; an organizer only needs to create an account and choose the questions/statements that he/she will open up to the participants.  Advanced capabilities (for how to handle large numbers of participants) are easy to understand after watching a short video or seeing it explained in a webinar.
  • Data is easy to export in the form of a PDF.
Your organization could use the software for these purposes:
  • Host a monthly series of in-depth public debates among members about current events or new regulations.
  • Make better strategic plans by collecting input for strategic planning purposes from founding members.
  • Identify areas of consensus on emerging topics where no consensus has yet been established.
  • Open up a participation channel prior to large webinars/teleconferences to make them significantly more interactive.

Contact us at to get started!


Get it wrong the “fist time”

July 17, 2011

One year ago, Aza Raskin, the Creative Lead for FireFox posted a fantastic presentation on prototyping.  His main points were the following:

0: You are going to get it wrong the first time. 1: Try to finish the first artifact in a day. 2: Iterate fast. Dogfootd much. 3: You will change the problem you are trying to solve. 4: Plan to throw it away.

Aza's prototyping tips from 1 year ago.

It’s encouraging to see that he is following his own advice– eight months ago, his seven points read like this in his blog post:

  1. Your first try will be wrong. Budget and design for it.
  2. Aim to finish a usable artifact in a day. This helps you focus and scope.
  3. You are making a touchable sketch. Do not fill in all the lines.
  4. You are iterating your solution as well as your understanding of the problem.
  5. Treat your code as throw-away, but be ready to refactor.
  6. Borrow liberally.
  7. Tell a story with your prototype. It isn’t just a set of features.

This week I saw Aza give an updated version of this same presentation, and he’s continuing to iterate:

1: You are going to get it wrong the first time. 2: Try to finish the first artifact in a day. 3: Iterate fast. Dogfood much. 4: It's a sketch, dont' fill in all the lines. 5: You will change the problem you are trying to solve. 6: Plan to throw it away. 7: Steal it.

Aza's prototyping tips from one week ago.

A few people probably pointed out that he has two #5’s and that he wrote “fist time” instead of “first time”, so there are bound to be future iterations of this same presentation.

However, perhaps he shouldn’t correct it– “fist time” is an appropriate mistake because it’s advisable to make early prototypes in a rough and brutish way 🙂  That leads to the first #5 above where the creator will change the problem they are trying to solve only after testing his/her assumptions through the first prototype.  Full circle.

How this Applies to Us

As a team of four, we have our roots in rapid prototyping and short design-build iterations.  But it’s always helpful to get suggestions on how to do it better, especially from experts like Aza.  Often one person on our team pushes us to “eat our own dogfood” when the rest of us need a reminder.  Using our own deliberation software to deliberate on how to build the software helps us stay focused on the user experience.

The problem we first set out to “solve” a few years ago was to create national, citizen-centric debates where people could participate in the Presidential debates in a much deeper way.  Since then we’ve changed the problem we are trying to solve (as predicted in #5 above) to creating a platform where citizens can educate each other on current events by exploring the differences in their opinions.  As the news industry evolves there are tremendous opportunities for making this a reality using citizen-centric software.

NASA and Local OpenGov Innovation Summits

March 18, 2011

Recently, we’ve been involved with two great initiatives to increase transparency, public participation, can collaboration in government:

Later this month we are facilitating the remote participation process for the NASA Open Source Summit at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA.  If you’re interested in open source software or changing government policy to accommodate open source software, please do sign up.

Also, under the banner of, we also began preparations for 100+ local summits where members of the open government community could help their local public officials navigate the waters of public participation and transparency.  We found local organizers in 40 cities in a dozen countries, but that didn’t reach critical mass of 100 cities.  We are adjusting the plan and will launch the next iteration of the plan with some additional partners in a few weeks.

It’s wonderful to see the energy across the open gov community.  Here is a map of the locations where organizers did sign up (click to see details and zoom in):

The NASA OpenGov Community Summit

October 20, 2010

Members of our team were excited to work directly with NASA and the Open Forum Foundation on last week’s OpenGov Community Summit.  Along with our colleagues, this was the eighth workshop that we organized  in partnership with federal agencies about the White House’s Open Government Initiative.

NASA’s press release is here.  They had a highly efficient and dedicated team that pulled all the logistics together, and they deserve a great deal of credit for being one of the leading agencies on open government.

Thanks to all those participants who joined us in-person and remotely for the best workshop in the series so far.  We learned a great deal about and look forward to future events!

The American Townhall on National Politics

June 23, 2010

We’re running the American Townhall on National Politics at AmericanTownhalls.Org from June 23-27, 2010.  This is an experiment to blend several formats for participation: blog + Twitter + YouTube + AthenaBridge + BlogTalkRadio + + Olark chat + Email.

There’s probably too much going on, but hopefully we’ll learn enough from this model to see what works and what doesn’t.  Check it out and please feel free to join in!

Three Great OpenGov/Participation Events in DC

March 30, 2010

As federal agencies near the April 7th deadline to release their implementation plans, there’s no shortage of energy surrounding the Open Government Directive.

There are three great events in DC that you won’t want to miss if you’re within driving distance: ParticipationCamp on April 17th and 18, and the half-day April Open Government Directive Workshop on April 28th.  Both events are using the Open Space method.  You’ll also see information below about a discount to the Politics Online Conference April 19-20th.

ParticipationCamp and Politics Online Conference Discount

The purpose of ParticipationCamp is to advance the conversation about open government so that it begins to evolve past data transparency and dive deeper into the various forms of in-person and online participation.  It’s critical for our field to be a part of the conversation about open government; there is time to shape the foundation while the concrete is still drying.

No one makes money from ParticipationCamp– the registration fee of $20 merely covers expenses.  It’s amazing that unconferences such as these self-organize in the first place.  Wayne Burke of the Open Forum Foundation has taken the lead this year in putting it together.  ParticipationCamp was renamed from eDemocracyCamp which NCDD member Tim Bonnemann started in 2007.

If you sign up by April 6th, you’ll be able to purchase a ticket for the Politics Online Conference at the significantly discounted rate of $150 (details are emailed to you after you register by the 6th).  I’ve attended the Politics Online Conference for the last three years and I’m always impressed at pace of innovation in politics.  This conference is tech-heavy, so if you’re not into tech and want to be, this is a great way to jump in.

April Open Government Directive Workshop

I am one of the co-organizers of the monthly Open Government Directive Workshop Series.  The November workshop and January workshop with the Department of Transportation were facilitated by NCDD member Kaliya Hamlin and the February workshop with the General Services Administration was facilitated by NCDD member Alexander Moll.

For April through November, we are transitioning to half-day workshops to make it easier for higher ranking officials to attend without missing too much work.  This senior-level buy-in is critical to achieving the cultural shift that is required to change business processes.

We are using a hybrid online/offline model to make the best use of everyone’s time.  The main event is the open space dialogues on April 28th.  We’ll use discussion forums prior to the in-person workshop to get a head start on the conversation.  We’ll use the wiki at the OpenGov Playbook to publish and refine the notes after the workshop.

We'll use an online/offline hybrid model of participation.

Of course it’s critical to start with a blank agenda wall for open space, so discussions that were already started online do not necessarily have to be chosen as sessions during the workshop.  To encourage federal employees to take the lead vis a vis contractors, we’re giving them the responsibility of choosing all sessions and creating the agenda.  Topping out at about 135 participants, the workshop will have an equal number of participants from the public and private sectors.

Of course, it’s ideal to devote far more than a half-day to open space, but we can compensate for this weak point in the design with increased frequency and continuing to hold these workshops on a monthly basis.  If you have any suggestions for improving the process, please let us know in the comments section.

Here is a link to register for the April workshop.  We hope to see you there!

Tips for Building a Collaborative Environment

February 26, 2010

AthenaBridge co-organizes the OGD Workshop Series.

After completing the February Open Government Directive Workshop, we realized that it’s much easier to think about collaboration and build collaborative practices into an agency open government plan if you’re doing so in a collaborative environment.

In the spirit of “open-sourcing” our method, here are some of the collaborative elements of the February OGD Workshop that you may want to include in your collaborative projects at your agency or organization:

  • Small Teams: Collaboration is effective when group size is manageable for the team leader.  We suggest 12 as the maximum.  With more members than that, a team leader should have assistant team leaders.
  • Friendly Competition: Sometimes we put forth our best effort when we’re competing with another group.  To harness this element, we had three in-person teams and one online team competing with each other to present the best ideas at the end of the day.
  • Invite Great Participants: Although our workshop was open to everyone, we wanted to make sure that we’d attract a collaborative group rather than one that’s interested in networking only. The price of admission for this workshop was writing a few sentences about what skills or ideas a participant would like to bring to a group. This filtered out the folks that weren’t there to collaborate.
  • Responsibility AND Authority: We gave the four team leaders the responsibility for the success of their team AND we gave them the authority to succeed.  This meant loosening control so that they can determine the direction and choose the particular methods that their teams would use to collaborate.  Responsibility without authority would put the team leaders in a tough position.
  • Public-Private: We recognize that the public and private sectors both offer valuable (and complementary) expertise on open government, so we ensured we’d have nearly a 50-50 split.
  • Online and Offline: We had one online team working in parallel with the in-person groups.  This allowed more people to join in the collaborative process from outside the Beltway.
  • Inter-Agency: We made sure to draw from an inter-agency crowd to maintain a diversity of perspectives.
  • Cross-Team: During lunch we allowed the three in-person teams to mingle and cross-pollinate ideas from one team to another.
  • Top-Down and Bottom-Up: As the workshop organizers, we aimed to push “power to the edges”.  We provided the resources and just enough structure so the team leaders could focus on their teams.
  • Tight Feedback Loops: Tight feedback loops kept our teams on track.  Every hour we encouraged the team leaders to ask for the participants’ feedback on their team’s process; this conversation about the work process is different from a conversation about the work product.  At different times, we were able to interject feedback from outside observers on the team’s process.
  • Asynchronous and Synchronous: Online collaboration before and after your in-person meetings is critical for making the most of limited face time.
  • Common Operational Picture: We used the wiki on the OpenGov Playbook so that many editors could work on the same document at the same time.  This wiki also serves as a central directory of links to effective open government practices across the Web.  Many of your colleagues may have never used a wiki—invite them test one out—it’s a lot simpler than they would expect.
  • Build on Previous Events: We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel so we put the emphasis on “synthesis, synthesis, synthesis.”  There has been so much great writing and ideation about open government over the past year that what’s required now is combining and prioritizing the ideas that are already available via agency’s public engagement processes, draft agency open government plans, GovLoop, blogs, and the OpenGov Playbook.
  • Experiment and Iterate: This workshop was our third in a series, so we’ve been refining our process over time.  We aren’t afraid to fail; we have been willing to learn in public, build momentum, and improve the process by building one event upon another.
  • Provide Food: Food is key to maintaining energy throughout the day. Because the workshop was an entirely volunteer-run event without a budget, we had all the participants chip in $10 for their own lunch. The price was low enough that no one was excluded from attending, and by not providing a free lunch, we had participants who really wanted to be there.
  • Team-Building: We had a happy hour after our event to help folks unwind after an intense day.  This is also critical for building a sustainable community of participants for future workshops.

What did we miss?  What collaborative elements do you add to your events? We welcome any suggestions or additions in the comments section.

2 Teammates > 3 Individuals

February 25, 2010


The scope and complexity of today’s problems are outpacing our ability to solve them.  Time and resources are chronically scarce; we have no choice but to collaborate.

It’s a fundamental tenet of our philosophy that two teammates working in synch will beat three individuals working separately every time.  Members of a team can complement each other’s skills, and every difference in opinion is a chance for everyone to learn something and strengthen the team.

We built our software to identify and resolve such differences in a productive fashion.

As entrepreneurs, we are hopeful about how our nation is recovering from this recession, but there is so much work ahead of us all.  There are many promising forms of collaboration which have not yet fully blossomed: widespread collaboration among agencies, among NGO’s, between the public and private sectors, online and offline.

We look forward to exploring these forms of collaboration with some great organizations in 2010 and beyond.  If you’re involved in some interesting projects, drop us a note and let us know how we can help!

Also, you may be interested in these other articles about the AthenaBridge Philosophy.

Do You Need Comments or Conversation?

February 7, 2010

There’s a big difference between comments and conversation online.  Sometimes comments are more useful and sometimes conversation is more useful– each method has its place, and choosing the right one depends on the purpose of your outreach effort.

Comments are great for brainstorming and getting a lot of ideas quickly; conversation is more appropriate for in-depth problem solving and for helping participants ask each other questions and learn from each other.

(click to enlarge)

With AthenaBridge, we’re focusing on the conversation side of the spectrum, because our national dialogue leaves much to be desired.  Interest groups have no option except to simplify an issue to fit it into sound bites and the subject lines of emails.  This helps get attention for individual issues, but it does a disservice for the health of our democracy in the long-term.

We’re excited to see the possibilities that the Open Government Directive and “Gov 2.0” create.  Government agencies and elected officials can effect lasting change when they open spaces for citizens to connect, converse, and learn from each other. Through conversation, we can learn from each other.

Does the above diagram represent how you see comments and conversation?  How would you improve it?  Also, you may be interested in these other articles about the AthenaBridge Philosophy.

Creating a New Conversation

September 24, 2009

1. Sign up as an administrator so you can create your own conversations. You can do this by emailing Prices are listed on our homepage.
2. Once you are signed in, click on the drop-down arrow near your name in the header and select “New Conversation”.
3. Fill out the information for any of the tools that you want to include in your conversation: brainstorming, deliberation, summarization, or voting.
<!–pencilYou can start your own conversation by logging in and clicking “Create” at the top of any page.

  • Enter the topic. For complex topics, it is useful to make the topic a sentence that participants can agree with or disagree with.  All the points that
  • The background field provides the context for your conversation.
  • Keywords are optional; they help other users search for your conversation.
  • Finally, you’ll see instructions which say “Paste the text of your document in the box on the right.”  You can paste in an entire document and then quickly separate it into individual points by inserting “[[” at the beginning of each point.  This makes them separate blue dots in Column A of your conversation map.  If your topic is a statement with which you want the participants to agree or disagree, all these individual points should be on the side that supports the topic sentence.
  • Hint: It’s helpful to have summaries for each of your points.  If you do not specify a summary, the software will automatically generate a summary from the first 79 characters of each point.  If your summary is short, follow it with a bunch of spaces to take up the remainder of the 79 spaces; this prevents the beginning of the next sentence from filling up the end of your summary.



[[The summary of the first point goes here. (Put a bunch of spaces here– see the hint above.)

The first point goes here.  The first point goes here. The first point goes here. The first point goes here. The first point goes here. The first point goes here. The first point goes here. The first point goes here. The first point goes here. The first point goes here. The first point goes here.

[[The summary of the second point goes here. (Put a bunch of spaces here— see the hint above.)

The second point goes here.  The second point goes here. The second point goes here. The second point goes here. The second point goes here. The second point goes here. The second point goes here. The second point goes here. The second point goes here.

[[The summary of the third point goes here. (Put a bunch of spaces here— see the hint above.)

The third point goes here.  The third point goes here. The third point goes here. The third point goes here. The third point goes here. The third point goes here.


Advanced Features

You may use the following advanced commands any time you are adding a point on OnlineTownhalls.

  • To add bold text: [b]Bold text goes in the middle of these characters.[/b]
  • To insert a YouTube video: 
  • To insert a link: [link=]The text you want to display goes here.[/link]
  • To insert a quote: [quote]The quote goes in between these characters. [/quote]

If you have any concerns or suggestions, please feel free to contact us!–>