Tech tools help deepen citizen input in drafting laws abroad and in U.S. states

Gopal Ratnam at RollCall: “Earlier this month, New Jersey’s Department of Education launched a citizen engagement process asking students, teachers and parents to vote on ideas for changes that officials should consider as the state reopens its schools after the pandemic closed classrooms for a year. 

The project, managed by The Governance Lab at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, is part of a monthlong nationwide effort using an online survey tool called All Our Ideas to help state education officials prioritize policymaking based on ideas solicited from those who are directly affected by the policies.

Among the thousands of votes cast for various ideas nationwide, teachers and parents backed changes that would teach more problem-solving skills to kids. But students backed a different idea as the most important: making sure that kids have social and emotional skills, as well as “self-awareness and empathy.” 

A government body soliciting ideas from those who are directly affected, via online technology, is one small example of greater citizen participation in governance that advocates hope can grow at both state and federal levels….

Taiwan has taken crowdsourcing legislative ideas to a new height.

Using a variety of open-source engagement and consultation tools that are collectively known as the vTaiwan process, government ministries, elected representatives, experts, civil society groups, businesses and ordinary citizens come together to produce legislation. 

The need for an open consultation process stemmed from the 2014 Sunflower Student Movement, when groups of students and others occupied the Taiwanese parliament to protest the fast-tracking of a trade agreement with China with little public review.  

After the country’s parliament acceded to the demands, the “consensus opinion was that instead of people having to occupy the parliament every time there’s a controversial, emergent issue, it might actually work better if we have a consultation mechanism in the very beginning of the issue rather than at the end,” said Audrey Tang, Taiwan’s digital minister. …

At about the same time that Taiwan’s Sunflower movement was unfolding, in Brazil then-President Dilma Rousseff signed into law the country’s internet bill of rights in April 2014. 

The bill was drafted and refined through a consultative process that included not only legal and technical experts but average citizens as well, said Debora Albu, program coordinator at the Institute for Technology and Society of Rio, also known as ITS. 

The institute was involved in designing the platform for seeking public participation, Albu said. 

“From then onwards, we wanted to continue developing projects that incorporated this idea of collective intelligence built into the development of legislation or public policies,” Albu said….(More)”.