Sandbox Environment

Open Proposal

Title of Your Proposal/Discussion


Welcome to the SmartParticipation sandbox. Here you can learn more about the structure and functionalities of the platform, get some advice from the designers (CeRI), and actually practice setting up a discussion yourself. To see the administrative interface and practice set-ups, log in with these credentials: Username admin Password admin. (Credentials for moderator and commenter roles are also available.) Documentation on how to use the platform can be found in the SmartParticipation Manual.

Use this Summary space to give site visitors a concise, plain-language summary of what's going on and why they should participate. Remember that many visitors who arrive at the Home page will need some orientation into the purpose of the discussion and the process of which it's a part. You can use the "Learn" sliders at the top of this page to provide more details. Insert an an eye-catching graphic that can be easily associated with the topic of the discussion, then use that same graphic in Facebook and other social media to spread the word about the discussion and invite participation.

The SmartParticipation platform is designed to allow more than one phase of public commenting (for example, on important questions pre-drafting, and then on the resulting draft). You'll probably want to change the summary text as you move through different phases. For updates during a phase, use the Announcement function.

Discussion Other Functionality - 1

Select other topics


1|Comment Support Tips - 1

The Comment Support Tips panel appears at the top of the screen at the point when the participant hits "Submit" for his/her comment. The goal is encouraging a moment of reflection about whether the comment can be improved. The participant is given the choice of either editing the comment or submitting as is. The database stores the initial version of the comment, so you can assess the effect of the Tips.

The default setting presents the Tips when the participant submits his/her first comment. After that, the user can open the Tips by clicking the Comment Tips button above the comment box. (This button is not shown until after the automated presentation has been triggered once.) You can change the setting to present the Tips before submission of every comment. See the SmartParticipation Manual. Be aware, however, that users may be annoyed by the constant interruption and simply stop commenting.

In general, the Tips should be concise and to the point, to increase the odds that participants actually read them. Include an attention-grabbing lead-in sentence; a small graphic can also be added to increase visual appeal. Think about the likely level of commenting skills of your anticipated participants and try to focus on what would most improve discussion at that level of participation literacy.


The version of the Tips used in this Sandbox comes from a discussion whose participants were strongly opinionated but also, on the whole, fairly adept in participation skills. Another version, aimed at participants with more variable skills, led off with "Make your comments as effective as possible." The tips were:

Draw on your own knowledge and experience.

Recognize that most issues have at least two sides.

Be respectful to people with different views.

Focus on possible solutions, not just problems.

2|Glossary & Documents - 0

The Glossary. You can use the Glossary function to define terms, explain acronyms, and generally provide a layer of information for participants who are not so familiar with legal, technical, procedural or other concepts. A word in the Glossary will show as underlined in the text; the definition appears by mousing over the word.

A glossary can be created at the site level or at the proposal/discussion level. This allows using the platform for multiple discussions simultaneously, even when the discussions give different meanings to the same term.

For example, EPA can mean Environmental Protection Agency in a climate change discussion, and Economic Partnership Agreement in a free trade discussion. For the list of content covered by the site vs. discussion-level glossary, see the SmartParticipation Manual.

If you want a term to be glossarized on both site-level and discussion-level content, you must include the term in both glossaries. Also, plural forms of a term must be added separately from the singular form--i.e., the glossary does not automatically recognize plural forms. On the other hand, both capitalized and lower-case versions of a term are covered by a single entry.

Try adding a term to the Glossary by selecting "Structure" in the black top navigation bar, then select "Taxonomy".

The Documents Page‚Äč. To provide a layer of information for participants who want to go deeper, use the Documents page to provide primary materials such as the official draft proposal; supporting materials, such as reports or studies; and background materials explaining regulatory context, history, etc. The Documents link shows up at the top right of every topic post.

CeRI routinely used the Documents page to include an HTML version of the proposed rule or other official text; this allowed links in topic posts to take interested participants directly to the relevant portion of a typically lengthy text. See examples in RegulationRoom and NYCSmartParticipation.

As those examples also show, you can retitle the text of the link to the Documents page (e.g., Agency Documents, Important Documents, etc.) For more on how to build the Documents page, see the SmartParticipation Manual.


3|Recent Comments; Recommended Comments & Endorse - 0

Recent Comments. A feed of recent comments, newest on top, will automatically appear in the lower part of the Home page. The comment is truncated, and a link is provided to the full comment in context. Moderator comments do not appear in the feed.

Recommended Comments. A second feed, which appears beside the Recent Comments stream, are comments that the Moderator(s) mark as "Recommended." Mousing over the Recommended heart icon explains "Recommended by the moderator for demonstrating effective commenting skills." This is another strategy for improving participation literacy. If the discussion sponsor is concerned that Recommending comments will be perceived by participants as endorsing the substance of certain comments, the functionality can be turned off. See the SmartParticipation Manual.

Endorse. The ability for participant to rate or rank comments is not supported by the platform. In general, the design aims to de-emphasize participation via mere voting; moreover, in the kinds of processes for which SmartParticipation was developed, what participants say is far more useful to decisionmakers than how many participants share a particular viewpoint. Still, the expectation of being able to "like" or otherwise show support for a comment is strong, and no one benefits from participants' merely reiterating what others have said. So, the platform allows participants to "endorse" a comment, with the explanation "endorse a comment that does a good job of making a good point."

In addition to using the non-standard terminology "endorse," other design elements play down the connection with voting:

  • only registered users can endorse (see the rationale for the registration requirement here).
  • As a default setting, the total number of endorsements will not show up on the public interface until the discussion is closed; at that point, site visitors can also see who endorsed, and when. Not showing an ongoing tally prevents the observed "rich get richer" phenomenon of much-liked comments getting more support than comparable comments that haven't been rated. To change the default setting, see the SmartParticipation Manual.
  • even while the discussion is open, the author of a comment with endorsements can see the number of endorsements by going to his profile. The visible approval of other participants has been observed to motivate further participation.


4|Multiple Phases - 0

SmartParticipation is designed to support a discussion over several phases. Each phase can accept comments separately. This allows the platform to be used in a wide range of settings. Examples include:

  • 1) discussion of important questions, narrowing of alternatives, etc (open to comment); 2) draft regulation/legislation (open to comment); 3) final version (open to comment, or not)
  • 1) discussion of initial proposal (open to comment); 2) discussion of revised proposal (open to comment); 3) final version (open to comment, or not)
  • 1) discussion of proposed action (open to comment); 2) draft summary of comments (open to comment on suggested revision); 3) final summary as submitted to decisionmaker (not open to comment)

See the SmartParticipation Manual for how to open and close phases, and how to name them.

The advantage of the phases functionality is that all discussion and other content of past phases remains available to site users as they move further through the process. The phases appear in a block above the Documents link in the upper right corner of topic posts (see example) and and on a timeline bar across the top of the topic carousel on the Home page (see example). By clicking on an earlier phase, site users can access all its content.


5|Announcements & Automated emails - 0

Announcements. A simple Announcement functionality lets you keep users up to date on events like the impending closing of the discussion. This is a notification on the site only, and is signaled by a number in a yellow box on the top navigation. The number displayed is keyed to the particular user, indicating new items since he/she last checked the Announcements. See the SmartParticiaption Manual for how to add announcements.

Emails. SmartParticipation will automatically generate emails to individual users at the following significant points:

  • to confirm registration
  • after the first comment, to allow a message of welcome and encouragement to further participation
  • whenever the user's comment is replied to, endorsed, or recommended by the moderators.

See the SmartParticipation Manual for how to edit the content of these emails.


6|Registration & interest survey - 0

Registration: If a participant wishes to post or endorse comments, they must register. Registration is not required to read the discussion. Once registered, participants must login to post or endorse comments. The default setup for the registration page requires a participant to chose a username and password, provide a working email address, and agree to terms and conditions. As discussed in Dealing with Inappropriate Content, we believe it is important to require registration as a condition of participation.

An interest survey provides important information on who you are reaching and hearing from, and allows you to report on who participated. Interest survey questions can be tailored to each discussion to identify audiences that are of particular interest and can provide important demographic information, such as zip-code or age. For an example, see a full report on who participated in a discussion on Consumer Debt Collection Practices on on RegulationRoom. We advise that you to keep the survey brief, so individuals will not abandon the registration process because it is to onerous. For step-by-step instructions on creating an interest survey, see the SmartParticipation Manual.


7|User profile - 0

Each participant has a user profile page that provides statistics on their participation and links to their comments. For an example, see the profile page for our sample commenter.

User Profiles can help build relationships and online communities by providing individualized and easy access to information about a participant. For example, a participant who endorses a comment can then visit the profile page of that commenter and view other comments they have made, replied to, or endorsed. Additionally, a User Profile can provide motivation for an individual participant to continue interacting with the site by showing them their participation statistics and providing easy access to their comments, replies, and endorsements. The visible approval of other participants has been observed to motivate further participation.


8|Reports and Exporting Data - 0

SmartParticipation allows for the viewing and exporting of data. For step-by-step directions, see the SmartParticipation Manual.

User data and other select reports, such as top pages, top visitors, and recent hits, are available for the entire Site. You can export user data in CSV format, that can be easily imported into Excel. The exported user names includes a number of fields from the database: User ID, user name, email, number of comments, number of endorsements, etc.

At the discussion level, survey and comment data are available for viewing and exporting, also in CSV format. Default data export settings include: access log, comment data, comment tips log, edorsement data, and event log.


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