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NYU’s GovLab CrowdLaw Manifesto Aims to Boost Public Participation in Government

International experts and other government stakeholders issue 12 calls to action for individuals, legislatures, researchers and technologists.

The GovLab at New York University Tandon School of Engineering has issued a manifesto aimed at bolstering public participation in the lawmaking process.

The CrowdLaw Manifesto, which relates to a citizen engagement platform called CrowdLaw, is the work of 20 international experts and other government stakeholders, all of whom convened earlier this year at an event held by GovLab. At the event, government leaders, academics, representatives from nonprofit organizations and technologists worked on the document, detailing its guiding principles and formulating 12 calls to action.

The end goal of all this work, said GovLab Senior Fellow Victoria Alsina, is to improve governance with technology and tools as well as to understand why public participation initiatives often fall short of their goals.

To this end, research by GovLab that guided the creation of the manifesto found that public participation work that stumbles tends to share three things in common: it’s focused too much on collecting opinions rather than engaging citizens for ideas expertise; it focuses on the legitimacy of lawmaking rather than the quality; and it needs to do a better job of focusing more on digesting the information that governments collect from citizens.

The 12 calls to action in the manifesto seek to address these challenges. Those calls to action are varied and diverse, reading like a set of emphatic declarations of commitment to constituents. Here are some examples: “To improve public trust in democratic institutions, we must improve how we govern in the 21st century.” Or, “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.”

The individuals that worked on the manifesto are an eclectic and international group, ranging from political science professors from Yale University and New York City council members to Taiwan's digital minister.

The manifesto was first published Sept. 15, and since then, Alsina said it had garnered official signatures of support from more than 140 individuals and 61 institutions. Looking ahead, the group is working on a CrowdLaw Playbook that will have more direct ways to engage citizens.

“In the Playbook, we will identify real citizen engagement opportunities at each stage of the lawmaking process and we will say at each stage what other groups did throughout the world,” Alsina said.

The group is working on two versions of the playbook, one for federal lawmakers and another for public servants at the local government level. The group expects to publish a version for the U.S. Congress next spring, with local government versions to follow.

In addition, part of the goal of this effort is to draw from expertise outside of the public sector to help engage citizens.

“What we are trying to also do is connect academics who are working on this topic around the world,” Alsina said. “We recognize it’s important to also strengthen the academic core.” 

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.