55 Pages Posted: 5 Nov 2010 Last revised: 21 Jul 2011
Date Written: November 3, 2010
In response to President Obama’s Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, federal agencies are on the verge of a new generation in online rulemaking. However, unless we recognize the several barriers to making rulemaking a more broadly participatory process, and purposefully adapt Web 2.0 technologies and methods to lower those barriers, Rule-making 2.0 is likely to disappoint agencies and open government advocates alike.
This article describes the design, operation and initial results of Regulation Room, a pilot public rulemaking participation platform created by a cross-disciplinary group of Cornell researchers in collaboration with the Department of Transportation. (A companion article, Rulemaking in 140 Characters or Less: Social Networking and Public Participation in Rulemaking, is forthcoming in Pace Law Review.) Regulation Room uses selected live rulemakings to experiment with human and computer support for public comment. The ultimate project goal is to provide guidance on design, technological, and human intervention strategies, grounded in theory and tested in practice, for effective Rulemaking 2.0 systems. Early results give some cause for optimism about the open-government potential of Web 2.0 - supported rulemaking. But significant challenges remain. Broader, better public participation is hampered by 1) ignorance of the rulemaking process; 2) unawareness that rulemakings of interest are going on; and 3) information overload from the length and complexity of rulemaking materials. No existing, commonly used Web services or applications are good analogies for what a Rulemaking 2.0 system must do to lower these barriers. To be effective, the system must not only provide the right mix of technology, content, and human assistance to support users in the unfamiliar environment of complex government policy-making; it must also spur them to revise their expectations about how they engage information on the Web and also, perhaps, about what is required for civic participation.
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