Civic engagement in rulemaking: an e-Government solution

One of the central concerns surrounding government today is the difficulty of effectively including ordinary citizens in policymaking—more specifically, the barriers that restrict constituents from influencing the rulemaking process. Although rulemaking has a formally participatory structure, the numerous complex, technical documents typical in the process make effective, democratic participation difficult. As such, federal rulemaking is a natural target for tech-minded reform. In recognition of the potential for positive change in this area, experts with the Cornell Law School’s eRulemaking Initiative have blazed a path for facilitating civic engagement through an innovative e-Government solution: Regulation Room.

Developed by a cross-disciplinary research team at Cornell University, Regulation Room is a web platform that provides a digital environment for universal participation in the rulemaking process. The process consists of three phases:

1)      Pre-discussion: Identification of proposed policies that could benefit from improving public input. This is done through an outreach effort of alerting and engaging new participants and raising awareness of the importance of involving stakeholders. Also included in this process is reformatting the information in policy materials and rulemaking documents to simplify them and allow for “broader comprehensibility” among stakeholders.

2)      Public commenting: Online discussion among those in the large group of constituents involved in the process. To make engagement more effective, moderators from Cornell Law school, trained in conflict resolution, oversee and guide the discussion.

3)      Post-discussion: Comments are summarized, a draft summary is posted for participants to review, and a final summary is submitted to the agency. The effectiveness of the outreach plan is analyzed, and moderation protocols and platform design/functionality are reassessed.

Building from the success of their initial partnership with the Department of Transportation (DOT), the CeRI research team has partnered with various government agencies to engage and inform a broad spectrum of citizens. Through use of social media to alert and engage more participants, converting complicated and technical government materials into a straightforward format and educating participants to ensure their contributions are valuable, this platform is a great example of the promise technology holds for government. With the ultimate goal of giving the public more of a “voice” in policymaking, Regulation Room represents all that is possible with technology-enabled approaches to ensuring more transparent and accessible government.

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