Improving public participation in rulemaking

Open government scholars Cynthia R. Farina and Jackeline Solivan recently released a paper in Proceedings on “ How the Internet Improves Public Participation in Rulemaking”.

The paper takes stock of the lesson learned from “Regulation Room”, a pilot project from the Cornell e-Rulemaking Initiative that “provides an online environment for people and groups to learn about, discuss, and react to selected proposed federal rules”.

“Regulation Room” is based upon the hypothesis that a successful public participation system must address three barriers to citizen engagement in rule-making.

  • Lack of awareness (“people rarely know they can take part in the process by commenting”)
  • Information overload (“voluminous and complex rulemaking materials” with limited readability)
  • Unfamiliarity with how to participate effectively.

The goal for Regulation Room is thus “to discover how human effort and Web 2.0 technologies can lower these barriers to elicit a broader range of public participation that has value to rule makers”.

The paper subsequently describes some of the techniques applied to broaden the participation of citizens including “targeted” commenting (the ability for users to attach their comments to specific segments of text); Triage of the information new commenters will most likely be interested in; Employing plain-language writing principles; and Layering (Web 2.0 hyperlinks to allow users to go deeper or to find help).

Below, the design of Regulation Room’s interface:

Regulation Room

While the authors conclude optimistically, they do “believe Regulation Room’s most important lesson is that broadening effective public participation requires considerable investment from the citizen participants and from their government”.

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