Collaborative е-Rulemaking, Democratic Bots, and the Future of Digital Democracy

Paper by Oren Perez: “… focuses on “deliberative e-rulemaking”: digital consultation processes that seek to facilitate public deliberation over policy or regulatory proposals. The main challenge of е-rulemaking platforms is to support an “intelligent” deliberative process that enables decision makers to identify a wide range of options, weigh the relevant considerations, and develop epistemically responsible solutions. This article discusses and critiques two approaches to this challenge: The Cornell Regulation Room project and model of computationally assisted regulatory participation by Livermore et al. It then proceeds to explore two alternative approaches to e-rulemaking: One is based on the implementation of collaborative, wiki-styled tools. This article discusses the findings of an experiment, which was conducted at Bar-Ilan University and explored various aspects of a wiki-based collaborative е-rulemaking system. The second approach follows a more futuristic approach, focusing on the potential development of autonomous, artificial democratic agents. This article critically discusses this alternative, also in view of the recent debate regarding the idea of “augmented democracy.”…(More)”.

Do you trust your fellow citizens more than your leaders?

Domhnall O’Sullivan at” “Voting up to four times a year, as the Swiss do, is a nice democratic right, but it also means keeping up with a lot of topics.

Usually this means following the media, talking to family and friends, watching what political parties and campaigners are saying, and wading through information sent out by authorities before vote day.

Last week, in advance of the next national ballot on February 9, 21,000 voters in the town of Sion got something new in the post: an informational sheet, drafted by a group of 20 randomly selected locals, giving a citizen’s take on what’s at stake.

The document, written by the citizen panel over two weekends last November, is the first output of ‘demoscan’: a project aiming to spur participation in a country where turnout rates are low and electoral issues sometimes complex.

On the front side, the issue (a proposed increase in the building of social housing) is presented in eight key points, listed in order of perceived importance; on the back, there are three arguments for and three arguments against the proposal.

At first reading, it’s not clear how different or more digestible the information is compared with what’s sent out by federal authorities, aside from the fact that unlike in the government’s package, there is no recommendation on how to vote. (Official materials include the position of parliament and government on each issue).

Demoscan project leader Nenad Stojanović says however that the main added value is that the document presents a “filtering” and “prioritising” of information – ultimately giving an overview of the most pertinent points as seen through the eyes of 20 “normal” citizens.

He also reckons that the process was as important as the output.

By selecting the participants randomly and representatively, the project included social groups not normally involved in the political debate, he says. Four days of research and deliberation were like a “democracy school”, teaching them about the functioning of previously distant institutions….(More)”.

Modernizing Congress: Bringing Democracy into the 21st Century

Report by Lorelei Kelly: “Congress represents a national cross section of civic voice. It is potentially the most diverse market for ideas in government and should be reaping the benefits of America’s creativity and knowledge. During our transition into the 21st century, this civic information asset — from lived experience to structured data — should fuel the digital infrastructure of a modern representative system. Yet Congress has thus far failed to tap this resource on behalf of its legislative and deliberative functions.

Today’s Congress can’t compete on digital infrastructure or modern data methods with the executive branch, the media or the private sector. To be sure, information weaponization, antique technology and Congress’ stubborn refusal to fund itself has arrested its development of a digital infrastructure. Congress is knowledge incapacitated, physically disconnected and technologically obsolete. In this condition, it cannot fulfill its First Branch duties as laid out in Article I of the U.S. Constitution.

Fortunately, changing the direction of Congress is now in sight. Before the end of January 2019, (1) the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act became law, (2) the House created a Select Committee on Modernization, and (3) Congress began to restore its internal science and technology capacity.

Modernizing Congress lays out a plan to accelerate this institutional progress. It scopes out the challenge of including civic voice in the legislative and deliberative process. It then identifies trusted local information intermediaries who could act as key components of a modern knowledge commons in Congress. With three case studies, the report illustrates how members and staff are finding new ways to build connection and gather useful constituent input at the district level. The report explores an urban, rural and suburban district. It concludes that while individual members are leveraging technology to connect and use new forms of civic voice from constituents, what Congress needs most is a systemwide digital infrastructure and updated institutional standards for data collection….(More)”.

Technology and political will can create better governance

Darshana Narayanan at The Economist: “Current forms of democracy exclude most people from political decision-making. We elect representatives and participate in the occasional referendums, but we mainly remain on the outside. The result is that a handful of people in power dictate what ought to be collective decisions. What we have now is hardly a democracy, or at least, not a democracy that we should settle for.

To design a truer form of democracy—that is, fair representation and an outcome determined by a plurality—we might draw some lessons from the collective behaviour of other social animals: schools of fish, for example. Schooling fish self-organise for the benefit of the group and are rarely in a fracas. Individuals in the group may not be associated and yet they reach consensus. A study in 2011 led by Iain Couzin found that “uninformed” fish—in that case, ones that had not been trained to have a preference to move towards a particular target—can dilute the influence of a powerful minority group which did have such preferences. 

Of course fish are not the same as humans. But that study does suggest a way of thinking about decision-making. Instead of limiting influence to experts and strongly motivated interest groups, we should actively work to broaden participation to ensure that we include people lacking strong preferences or prior knowledge of an issue. In other words, we need to go against the ingrained thinking that non-experts should be excluded from decision-making. Inclusivity might just improve our chances of reaching a real, democratic consensus.

How can our political institutions facilitate this? In my work over the past several years I have tried to apply findings from behavioural science into institutions and into code to create better systems of governance. In the course of my work, I have found some promising experiments taking place around the world that harness new digital tools. They point the way to how democracy can be practiced in the 21st century….(More)”.

Congress needs your input (but don’t call it crowdsourcing)

Lorelei Kelly at TechCrunch: “As it stands, Congress does not have the technical infrastructure to ingest all this new input in any systematic way. Individual members lack a method to sort and filter signal from noise or trusted credible knowledge from malicious falsehood and hype.

What Congress needs is curation, not just more information

Curation means discovering, gathering and presenting content. This word is commonly thought of as the job of librarians and museums, places we go to find authentic and authoritative knowledge. Similarly, Congress needs methods to sort and filter information as required within the workflow of lawmaking. From personal offices to committees, members and their staff need context and informed judgement based on broadly defined expertise. The input can come from individuals or institutions. It can come from the wisdom of colleagues in Congress or across the federal government. Most importantly, it needs to be rooted in local constituents and it needs to be trusted.

It is not to say that crowdsourcing is unimportant for our governing system. But input methods that include digital must demonstrate informed and accountable deliberative methods over time. Governing is the curation part of democracy. Governing requires public review, understanding of context, explanation and measurements of value for the nation as a whole. We are already thinking about how to create an ethical blockchain. Why not the same attention for our most important democratic institution?

Governing requires trade-offs that elicit emotion and sometimes anger. But as in life, emotions require self-regulation. In Congress, this means compromise and negotiation. In fact, one of the reasons Congress is so stuck is that its own deliberative process has declined at every level. Besides the official committee process stalling out, members have few opportunities to be together as colleagues, and public space is increasingly antagonistic and dangerous.

With so few options, members are left with blunt communications objects like clunky mail management systems and partisan talking points. This means that lawmakers don’t use public input for policy formation as much as to surveil public opinion.

Any path forward to the 21st century must include new methods to (1) curate and hear from the public in a way that informs policy AND (2) incorporate real data into a results-driven process.

While our democracy is facing unprecedented stress, there are bright spots. Congress is again dedicating resources to an in-house technologyassessment capacity. Earlier this month, the new 116th Congress created a Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. It will be chaired by Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA). Then the Open Government Data Actbecame law. This law will potentially scale the level of access to government data to unprecedented levels. It will require that all public-facing federal data must be machine-readable and reusable. This is a move in the right direction, and now comes the hard part.

Marci Harris, the CEO of civic startup Popvox, put it well, “The Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking (FEBP) Act, which includes the OPEN Government Data Act, lays groundwork for a more effective, accountable government. To realize the potential of these new resources, Congress will need to hire tech literate staff and incorporate real data and evidence into its oversight and legislative functions.”

In forsaking its own capacity for complex problem solving, Congress has become non-competitive in the creative process that moves society forward. During this same time period, all eyes turned toward Silicon Valley to fill the vacuum. With mass connection platforms and unlimited personal freedom, it seemed direct democracy had arrived. But that’s proved a bust. If we go by current trends, entrusting democracy to Silicon Valley will give us perfect laundry and fewer voting rights. Fixing democracy is a whole-of-nation challenge that Congress must lead.

Finally, we “the crowd” want a more effective governing body that incorporates our experience and perspective into the lawmaking process, not just feel-good form letters thanking us for our input. We also want a political discourse grounded in facts. A “modern” Congress will provide both, and now we have the institutional foundation in place to make it happen….(More)”.

Motivating Participation in Crowdsourced Policymaking: The Interplay of Epistemic and Interactive Aspects

Paper by Tanja Aitamurto and Jorge Saldivar in Proceedings of ACM Human-Computer Interaction (CSCW ’18):  “…we examine the changes in motivation factors in crowdsourced policymaking. By drawing on longitudinal data from a crowdsourced law reform, we show that people participated because they wanted to improve the law, learn, and solve problems. When crowdsourcing reached a saturation point, the motivation factors weakened and the crowd disengaged. Learning was the only factor that did not weaken. The participants learned while interacting with others, and the more actively the participants commented, the more likely they stayed engaged. Crowdsourced policymaking should thus be designed to support both epistemic and interactive aspects. While the crowd’s motives were rooted in self-interest, their knowledge perspective showed common-good orientation, implying that rather than being dichotomous, motivation factors move on a continuum. The design of crowdsourced policymaking should support the dynamic nature of the process and the motivation factors driving it….(More)”.

Crowdlaw: Collective Intelligence and Lawmaking

Paper by Beth Noveck in Analyse & Kritik: “To tackle the fast-moving challenges of our age, law and policymaking must become more flexible, evolutionary and agile. Thus, in this Essay we examine ‘crowdlaw’, namely how city councils at the local level and parliaments at the regional and national level are turning to technology to engage with citizens at every stage of the law and policymaking process.

As we hope to demonstrate, crowdlaw holds the promise of improving the quality and effectiveness of outcomes by enabling policymakers to interact with a broader public using methods designed to serve the needs of both institutions and individuals. crowdlaw is less a prescription for more deliberation to ensure greater procedural legitimacy by having better inputs into lawmaking processes than a practical demand for more collaborative approaches to problem-solving that yield better outputs, namely policies that achieve their intended aims. However, as we shall explore, the projects that most enhance the epistemic quality of lawmaking are those that are designed to meet the specific informational needs for that stage of problem-solving….(More)”,

On International Day of Democracy, International Leaders Call for More Open Public Institutions

Press Release: “As the United Nations celebrates the International Day of Democracy on September 15 with its theme of “Democracy Under Strain,” The Governance Lab (The GovLab) at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering will unveil its CrowdLaw Manifesto to strengthen public participation in lawmaking by encouraging citizens to help build, shape, and influence the laws and policies that affect their daily lives.

Among its 12 calls to action to individuals, legislatures, researchers and technology designers, the manifesto encourages the public to demand and institutions to create new mechanisms to harness collective intelligence to improve the quality of lawmaking as well as more research on what works to build a global movement for participatory democracy.

The CrowdLaw Manifesto emerged from a collaborative effort of 20 international experts and CrowdLaw community members. At a convening held earlier this year by The GovLab at The Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center in Italy, government leaders, academics, NGOs, and technologists formulated the CrowdLaw Manifesto to detail the initiative’s foundational principles and to encourage greater implementation of CrowdLaw practices to improve governance through 21st century technology and tools….

“The successes of the CrowdLaw concept – and its remarkably rapid adoption across the world by citizens seeking to affect change – exemplify the powerful force that academia can exert when working in concert with government and citizens,” said NYU Tandon Dean Jelena Kovačević. “On behalf of the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, I proudly sign the CrowdLaw Manifesto and congratulate The GovLab and its collaborators for creating these digital tools and momentum for good government.”…(More)”.

The CrowdLaw Catalog

The GovLab: “The CrowdLaw Catalog is a growing repository of 100 CrowdLaw cases from around the world. The goal of the catalog is to help those wishing to start new or improve existing CrowdLaw projects to learn from one another.

Examples are tagged and searchable by four criteria:

  1. Level – What level of government is involved? Search by National, Regional, and/or Local
  2. Stage – At what stage of the law or policymaking process the participation take place? Search by Problem Identification, Solution Identification, Drafting, Decision Making, Implementation and/or Assessment
  3. Task – What are people being asked to contribute? Search by: Ideas, Expertise, Opinions, Evidence and/or Actions.
  4. Technology – What is the platform? Search by: Web, Mobile and/or Offline

The catalog offers brief descriptions of each initiative and links to additional resources….(More)”.

CrowdLaw Manifesto

At the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center this spring, assembled participants  met to discuss CrowdLaw, namely how to use technology to improve the quality and effectiveness of law and policymaking through greater public engagement. We put together and signed 12 principles to promote the use of CrowdLaw by local legislatures and national parliaments, calling for legislatures, technologists and the public to participate in creating more open and participatory lawmaking practices. We invite you to sign the Manifesto using the form below.

Draft dated May 29, 2018

  1. To improve public trust in democratic institutions, we must improve how we govern in the 21st century.
  2. CrowdLaw is any law, policy-making or public decision-making that offers a meaningful opportunity for the public to participate in one or multiples stages of decision-making, including but not limited to the processes of problem identification, solution identification, proposal drafting, ratification, implementation or evaluation.
  3. CrowdLaw draws on innovative processes and technologies and encompasses diverse forms of engagement among elected representatives, public officials, and those they represent.
  4. When designed well, CrowdLaw may help governing institutions obtain more relevant facts and knowledge as well as more diverse perspectives, opinions and ideas to inform governing at each stage and may help the public exercise political will.
  5. When designed well, CrowdLaw may help democratic institutions build trust and the public to play a more active role in their communities and strengthen both active citizenship and democratic culture.
  6. When designed well, CrowdLaw may enable engagement that is thoughtful, inclusive, informed but also efficient, manageable and sustainable.
  7. Therefore, governing institutions at every level should experiment and iterate with CrowdLaw initiatives in order to create formal processes for diverse members of society to participate in order to improve the legitimacy of decision-making, strengthen public trust and produce better outcomes.
  8. Governing institutions at every level should encourage research and learning about CrowdLaw and its impact on individuals, on institutions and on society.
  9. The public also has a responsibility to improve our democracy by demanding and creating opportunities to engage and then actively contributing expertise, experience, data and opinions.
  10. Technologists should work collaboratively across disciplines to develop, evaluate and iterate varied, ethical and secure CrowdLaw platforms and tools, keeping in mind that different participation mechanisms will achieve different goals.
  11. Governing institutions at every level should encourage collaboration across organizations and sectors to test what works and share good practices.
  12. Governing institutions at every level should create the legal and regulatory frameworks necessary to promote CrowdLaw and better forms of public engagement and usher in a new era of more open, participatory and effective governing.

The CrowdLaw Manifesto has been signed by the following individuals and organizations:


  • Victoria Alsina, Senior Fellow at The GovLab and Faculty Associate at Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University
  • Marta Poblet Balcell , Associate Professor, RMIT University
  • Robert Bjarnason — President & Co-founder, Citizens Foundation; Better Reykjavik
  • Pablo Collada — Former Executive Director, Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente
  • Mukelani Dimba — Co-chair, Open Government Partnership
  • Hélène Landemore, Associate Professor of Political Science, Yale University
  • Shu-Yang Lin, re:architect & co-founder,
  • José Luis Martí , Vice-Rector for Innovation and Professor of Legal Philosophy, Pompeu Fabra University
  • Jessica Musila — Executive Director, Mzalendo
  • Sabine Romon — Chief Smart City Officer — General Secretariat, Paris City Council
  • Cristiano Ferri Faría — Director, Hacker Lab, Brazilian House of Representatives
  • Nicola Forster — President and Founder, Swiss Forum on Foreign Policy
  • Raffaele Lillo — Chief Data Officer, Digital Transformation Team, Government of Italy
  • Tarik Nesh-Nash — CEO & Co-founder, GovRight; Ashoka Fellow
  • Beth Simone Noveck, Director, The GovLab and Professor at New York University Tandon School of Engineering
  • Ehud Shapiro , Professor of Computer Science and Biology, Weizmann Institute of Science


  • Citizens Foundation, Iceland
  • Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente, Chile
  • International School for Transparency, South Africa
  • Mzalendo, Kenya
  • Smart Cities, Paris City Council, Paris, France
  • Hacker Lab, Brazilian House of Representatives, Brazil
  • Swiss Forum on Foreign Policy, Switzerland
  • Digital Transformation Team, Government of Italy, Italy
  • The Governance Lab, New York, United States
  • GovRight, Morocco
  • ICT4Dev, Morocco