CrowdLaw: People-led Innovation in Urban Lawmaking

By Victoria Alsina

Beginning today, the GovLab is organizing a three-day conference taking place in the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center located at the heart of Lake Como in Northern Italy.

We start from the premise that crowdlaw, especially at the municipal level, could offer the potential for a two-way conversation that could channel more and more diverse opinions and expertise at every stage of the law- and policy-making cycle, and may thereby improve the quality and diversity of information in the process and the effectiveness of resulting outcomes.

However, many unknowns remain:

‣ What are the current challenges and problems with urban law and policymaking?
‣ Can new forms of participation enhance the legitimacy of lawmaking?
‣ Can new forms of participation enhance the quality of lawmaking and its effectiveness?
‣ What kinds of proposed law and policies can be improved through more participation?
‣ What stage(s) in the lawmaking are best suited to participation?
‣ How do we reconcile the tension between deliberation – ensuring that all voices are heard – and participation
focused on enhancing expertise?
‣ What are the best incentives to encourage people to participate?
‣ How do political and legal institutions need to change to make use of public engagement?
‣ How does crowdlaw upend representative democracy? What is the impact on power?
‣ What are the risks and dangers of more open and participatory lawmaking?
‣ What are the barriers to adoption and implementation?
‣ How do we measure impact and outcomes? What constitutes success?

To explore these questions, we are convening 23 global experts from academia, public sector, industry and civil society. The conference participants are as follows:

  1. Victoria Alsina – Faculty Associate Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University
  2. Robert Bjarnason – President & Co-founder, Citizens Foundation; Better Reykjavik
  3. Pablo Collada – Executive Director, Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente
  4. Luis Cueto Álvarez de Sotomayor – General Coordinator of the Mayor, Madrid City Council
  5. Mukelani Dimba – Co-chair, Open Government Partnership
  6. Cristiano Ferri Faría – Director, Hacker Lab, Brazilian House of Representatives
  7. Nicola Forster – President and Founder, Swiss Forum on Foreign Policy
  8. Alvaro Herrero – Under Secretary for Strategic Management and Institutional Quality, Buenos Aires City Government
  9. Scott Hubli – Director of Governance Programs, National Democratic Institute
  10. Julia Keutgen – Technical Adviser, Westminster Foundation for Democracy
  11. Hélène Landemore – Associate Professor of Political Science, Yale University
  12. Raffaele Lillo – Chief Data Officer, Digital Transformation Team
  13. Shu-Yang Lin – re:architect & co-founder,
  14. José Luis Martí – Vice-Rector for Innovation and Professor of Legal Philosophy, Universitat Pompeu Fabra
  15. Jessica Musila – Executive Director, Mzalendo
  16. Tarik Nesh-Nash – CEO & Co-founder, GovRight; Ashoka Fellow
  17. Beth Simone Noveck, Director – The GovLab and Professor at New York University Tandon School of Engineering
  18. Marta Poblet Balcell – Associate Professor, RMIT University
  19. Sabine Romon – Chief Smart City Officer – General Secretariat, Paris City Council
  20. Veronica Seguel Ilabaca – Chief of Access to Information and Transparency Unit, Chamber of Deputies, Chile
  21. Ehud (Udi) Shapiro – Professor of Computer Science and Biology, Weizmann Institute of Science
  22. Diego Piacentini – Government Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, Presidency of the Council of Ministers, Italy
  23. Francesca Bria – Chief Technology and Digital Innovation Officer, Comissionada de Tecnologia i Innovació Digital, Barcelona City Council

For more details, please see the complete bios here.

During the course of the conference, the group will address several topics in the following sessions:

The Current State of Participatory Urban Policymaking
Moderator: Scott Hubli, National Democratic Institute
Roundtable discussion of current practices and platforms
Goal: the development of a first draft of the components that make up new crowdlaw practices (taxonomy)

Future State: CrowdLaw and Legitimacy
Moderator: José Luis Martí, Universitat Pompeu Fabra
From focusing on the current state, we now shift to exploring visions for the future.
Goal: from the incremental to the revolutionary, we want to discuss our vision for the evolution of democracy and governance and explore the tensions between these visions.

Walk and Talk: “Crowdsourced Constitutional”
Participants pair up to walk and talk about the CrowdLaw Principles
Goal: determine what it should and should not include and why, and the components that make up new crowdlaw practices (CrowdLaw Taxonomy)

Discussion and Drafting Work on the CrowdLaw Principles and Taxonomy
Moderator: Victoria Alsina, Harvard University

CrowdLaw Experiments
Goal: expand our understanding of discuss the barriers to success for crowdlaw and the designs for potential experiments for testing the effectiveness of crowdlaw practices.

Designing for Engagement: Incentives and Risks
Moderator: Shu-Yang Lin,
What are the incentives for participation, especially for young people? What about businesses and employees? How does our understanding of incentives impact the design of our experiments?
Goal: determine how we can get the public to participate, how we can create incentives for cities and city councils to open up?

Transparency and Participation

Moderator: Julia Keutgen, Westminster Foundation for Democracy
Much progress has been made to push legislatures and city councils towards more transparency.
Goal: determine in what ways does participation depend on more transparency? In what instances is transparency counter-productive to more engagement?  

New Technologies and CrowdLaw: A.I., Blockchain, Big Data, Machine Learning, Augmented Reality
Moderator: Pablo Collada, Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente
We want to envision the future for the application of cutting-edge technologies for engagement. Goal: determine how new technologies change the potential for participation? How does the future of institutions look different as a result of new tools?

Movement Building and Scale
Moderator: Nicola Forster, Swiss Forum on Foreign Policy
Our last day is very outcome focused.
Goal: flesh out final deliverables and discuss strategies for movement building and scale.

Legislative Frameworks for Crowdlaw
Moderator: Marta Poblet Balcell, RMIT
Brief presentation of a comparative analysis of the current legislation institutionalizing and mandating the use of citizen engagement in lawmaking and, following, group discussion.
Goal: determine if crowdlaw demands legislation to succeed? How should we regulate crowdlaw?

The Role of Public Officials
Moderator: Mukelani Dimba, Open Government Partnership
Are public employees and managers well trained to design and implement crowdlaw practices? Goal: determine the more effective way to train public officials. How can we promote mutual learning and collaboration? How can we ensure that public engagement practices fulfill the needs of both individual and institutional end-users?

For more details on the schedule and the goals of the sessions, please see the full program here.

For nearly 60 years, the Rockefeller Bellagio Center has supported many meaningful advances through its conference programs and is globally renowned for fostering cross-cultural and interdisciplinary exchange. The Center’s prestige and its prime location enable gatherings that bring together decision makers from across sectors and Bellagio has served as the launching pad for landmark initiatives such as the Green Revolution, the Forum for African Women Educationalists or the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization. For more information, please visit:

To learn more about CrowdLaw, please visit our website