#CrowdLaw — On the Verge of Disruptive Change….Designing to Scale Impact

Coauthored by Maria Hermosilla

This post is third in series of four “reports from the field” on #crowdlaw

On September 24th, The GovLab held its third online global conference on Crowd Law. The goal of these peer-to-peer learning events are to deepen the collective understanding of what works, connect practitioners across the world and accelerate the implementation of more effective and legitimate participatory lawmaking practices. GovLab presented several research questions for input on how practitioners design projects to scale impact: What kinds of opposition and support have practitioners faced? What types of project designs and tools have enable projects to overcome barriers? What are the enabling conditions that define a successful Crowdlaw engagement?

Crowdlaw, or open, collaborative crowdsourced lawmaking, is a tech-enabled approach for drafting legislation or constitutions, that offers an alternative to the traditional method of policymaking, which typically occurs behind closed doors and with little input from the people it affects.

The aspiration of CrowdLaw practitioners and advocates is the creation of laws that are the following:

  • more effective because they bring in more diverse ideas
  • more legitimate because they are done with broader participation
  • more accountable because the lawmaking process becomes subject to greater scrutiny

This session included lightning talks about #crowdlaw projects underway in Austria, Brazil, Chile, Finland, United States, Morocco, Libya and Spain, which we wrote about here. The GovLab then moderated a group discussion with over 45 global practitioners that covered three themes: Outreach strategies, Designing to overcome barriers; and Measuring impact.  The full video is available here.

The emerging field of Crowdlaw is comprised of practitioners that include lawyers, platform developers, government employees, research scientists, and citizen advocates among others. This ambitious cadre of innovators are experimenting with civic tech platforms and agile development to grow a movement for participatory democracy. #CrowdLaw projects and pilots happening worldwide are great examples of the current state of the field and include GovRight’s Legislation Lab, which is being used in 9 countries, Neos’ Policy Forge, Plataforma Brasil,  e-Democracia Project, and Plaza Podemos.

Launching tools to crowdsource legislation is not without challenges. Barriers for successful adoption, and the degree to which they influence outcomes, vary by region, culture and context, but overwhelmingly many of our practitioners shared a common set of challenges when trying to scale impact. We share a few areas discussed below:

Information Overload: Maintaining Legitimacy while Processing Vast Amounts of Feedback

Crowdlaw projects, by the nature of their design, accumulate vast amounts of information. Feedback and free response is solicited through chats, surveys, user groups, wiki-labs and other participation engagement channels which can be difficult to organize in a consistent way.  These contributions are vital to maintaining the legitimacy of the process to support subsequent decision-making. As noted by Daniela Hirsch, a lawyer from Chile who presented La Constitución de Todos (Everyone’s Constitution), which is a volunteer run project without funds,  these time-consuming processes are difficult to manage and leave little time to consider other important functions of online participation, like how to maintain and/or increase engagement.

Unchartered Territories: Scaling For Impact Beyond A Core User Group

The panelists shared a number of successes, but for many of them the next stage of growth calls for leveraging the tools to reach a wider audience or achieve greater participation beyond an initial internal group of users or early adopters.

Podemos, a political party created in May 2014, by leftist activists protesting against a democratic system that they feel no longer represents them, earned six of the 54 seats that Spain has in the European parliament. Podemos employed new technologies to interact with citizens and sustain their support. The challenge is to apply these participation mechanisms that they have been using for the political, internal organization into a government scenario. With the opportunity to govern, party leaders seek to build on their tech approach model and apply it to the legislative and policy making process.

Neos, using it’s customized platform, offers thematic groups of “volunteer policy advisors” a collaborative drafting platform so they can discuss and review and draft together. This tool has grown in adoption, but the challenge is how to nurture it to move beyond an open network model to one that can be integrated with actual legislative policymaking.

Building the Best Platform: Choosing the Right Tools for Engagement

Among the challenges mentioned, participants noted the challenge of integrating diverse technologies in a user-friendly way. There are a plethora of collaboration tools available (often free) and many practitioners are experimenting with how to integrate different tools into their specific platform. The Austrian political party NEOS centralizes all the technologies available for scheduling, messaging, and building networks into a cockpit for its collaborators, but there are still too many choices. Countries with a high use of Facebook,  like the Phillipines, for example, can benefit from integrating crowdlaw strategies directly with social media platforms. But, as noted by Tarik Nesh-Nash from GovRight, apathy in mature democracies presents a core challenge to getting people to a crowdlaw platform. Citizens often must choose among many political causes.

Previous blogs in this series:

Read more about GovLab’s work in #CrowdLaw here

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