Press Release

The Governance Lab at NYU Tandon launches CrowdLaw for Congress to promote public participation in lawmaking

During testimony on Capitol Hill today, Professor Beth Simone Noveck will showcase how jurisdictions around the world are using online public engagement to improve the quality of the law- and rulemaking process


WASHINGTON, D.C., Thursday, February 6, 2020 – During testimony to be delivered today before the U.S. House Financial Services Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, Professor Beth Simone Noveck, director of The Governance Lab (The GovLab) at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, will call upon Congress and federal agencies to adopt new technology to improve citizen engagement in lawmaking and rulemaking. She will announce the launch of “CrowdLaw for Congress,” a GovLab training initiative that provides examples from legislatures and parliaments around the world for U.S. institutions to draw on as they seek to deepen the foundations of democracy in uncertain times.

During the hearing on the issue of astroturfing — when interest groups pose as consumers for purposes such as submitting comments during regulatory rulemaking — Noveck will focus her testimony first on strategies for using artificial intelligence, particularly machine learning, to combat the practice. She will then suggest alternatives to current commenting processes in use in the federal government, highlighting how other governments are turning to new technology to improve public participation, a concept known as “CrowdLaw.” CrowdLaw describes the use of new technology to engage the public to improve the quality of the resulting rules, policies, and laws.

Sponsored by the Democracy Fund, “CrowdLaw for Congress: Strategies for 21st Century Lawmaking” comprises a how-to guide called “The CrowdLaw Playbook” with global case studies from such places as the United Kingdom, Mexico, Spain, Chile, India, Taiwan, Estonia, and Brazil. The case studies detail how those parliaments and legislatures are using new technology to engage with the public to improve the quality of lawmaking. In addition, the project website (http://congress.crowd.law) houses a series of brief videos explaining global CrowdLaw practices, accompanied by interviews with politicians and legislative staff who discuss how and why their organizations are turning to online engagement to improve lawmaking. CrowdLaw for Congress is tracking more than 100 examples of online engagement in lawmaking and is frequently updated with new cases.

“With legislation and regulation almost always developed by either party leaders or senior officials working behind closed doors, many observers are not surprised that rates of trust in America’s institutions are at historic lows,” Noveck says. “To help bridge the chronic disconnect between public officials and their constituents, CrowdLaw practices create innovative and efficient pathways that tap into the general public’s expertise and know-how. This knowledge and input are systematically channeled to policymakers before, after, and while they shape legislation and regulations in ways that are efficient and improve the outcomes.”

CrowdLaw is viewed by advocates as an effective and timely counterweight to a disturbing retreat from democracy manifesting in many countries around the world. Noveck argues that Congress and U.S. federal agencies implementing practices similar to those highlighted in the CrowdLaw for Congress project could make democracy more inclusive, representative, and effective, mitigating the risk of issues such as astroturfing skewing policy decisions.

The GovLab was the first to coin the name “CrowdLaw” and to convene the nascent community of political leaders, technologists, designers, and activists. Following three online conferences on the topic beginning in 2014, the Rockefeller Foundation sponsored the first face-to-face CrowdLaw convening in 2017, which was followed by meetings at Harvard University and Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona.

CrowdLaw advocates envision a new era in democratic practice that moves beyond such conventional approaches to civic engagement as public opinion polling and petitioning. They are also critical of such well-worn approaches as “blue-ribbon” commissions and the adoption of ready-made proposals advanced by interest groups.

“CrowdLaw for Congress is a groundbreaking attempt to champion the movement toward more modern, valid, and constructive methods of law and policymaking. By publishing this curated set of complementary case studies and interviews, we aim to reach lawmakers, practitioners, researchers, academics, and the general public, and urge them to push for CrowdLaw methods to be fully institutionalized here in the United States and around the world,” Noveck says. “We are calling upon public officials to open their doors, embrace technology, and invite everyday citizens to contribute the experience and expertise they possess.”

 


 About The Governance Lab 

The mission of The Governance Lab at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering is to improve people’s lives by changing the way we govern. Our goal at The GovLab is to strengthen the ability of institutions — including but not limited to governments — and people to work more openly, collaboratively, effectively, and legitimately to make better decisions and solve public problems. We believe that increased availability and use of data, new ways to leverage the capacity, intelligence, and expertise of people in the problem-solving process, combined with new advances in technology and science, can transform governance. For more information, visit thegovlab.org.

 

About the New York University Tandon School of Engineering

The NYU Tandon School of Engineering dates to 1854, the founding date for both the New York University School of Civil Engineering and Architecture and the Brooklyn Collegiate and Polytechnic Institute (widely known as Brooklyn Poly). A January 2014 merger created a comprehensive school of education and research in engineering and applied sciences, rooted in a tradition of invention and entrepreneurship and dedicated to furthering technology in service to society. In addition to its main location in Brooklyn, NYU Tandon collaborates with other schools within NYU, one of the country’s foremost private research universities, and is closely connected to engineering programs at NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Shanghai. It operates Future Labs focused on start-up businesses in Brooklyn and an award-winning online graduate program. For more information, visit engineering.nyu.edu.