With rates of trust in government at historic lows, the legitimacy of traditional representative models of lawmaking — often conducted by professional staff and politicians working behind closed doors and distorted by political party agendas–is called into question. New forms of public participation could help to improve both legitimacy and effectiveness by introducing more data and diverse viewpoints at each stage of the lawmaking process.
CrowdLaw is the practice of using technology to tap the intelligence and expertise of the public in order to improve the quality of lawmaking. Around the world, there are already over two dozen examples of local legislatures and national parliaments turning to the Internet to involve the public in legislative drafting and decision-making. These ambitious crowdlaw initiatives show that the public can, in many cases, go beyond contributing opinions and signing petitions online to playing a more substantive role, including: proposing legislation, drafting bills, monitoring implementation, and supplying missing data. Through such processes, the public becomes collaborators and co-creators in the legislative process to the end of improving the quality of legislative outcomes and the effectiveness of governing.
Crowdlaw offers an alternative to the traditional method of lawmaking, which is typically done by professional staff and politicians working behind closed doors and with little direct input from the people legislation affects. Instead, we start from the hypothesis that crowdlaw has the potential to enhance the quality of legislation. Designed right, with the aim of improving the quality of outputs, there are opportunities at each stage of the lawmaking process, including problem definition, solution identification, research and drafting, subsequent crafting of implementing regulations, and monitoring of outcomes, to introduce greater expertise into the legislative process efficiently. At the same time, we acknowledge that, designed wrong, without regard for outcomes, engagement may only hamstring decision-making and deepen distrust of government. Thus, we approach this project not as evangelists but as critical researchers whose aim is to understand what works and when.
GovLab is supporting legislative bodies in investigating, designing, implementing, and testing crowdlaw initiatives. Our work includes:
As part of the CrowdLaw project, GovLab has also created the following related products:
The goal of the original CrowdLaw paper was to help the Assembly of the Community of Madrid, the legislature governing one of the seventeen autonomous communities of Spain, and the 179 Ayuntamientos (“City Councils”) within the Madrid region to (1) develop the capacity design and (2) use public engagement to improve the quality, effectiveness and legitimacy of the lawmaking process.
Now, CrowdLaw has been scaled up to become a global initiative that uses diverse methods to achieve the same goals in cities, regions, and nations around the world.