Following the latest U.S. government shutdown, Network chair Beth Simone Noveck considered how CrowdLaw could help break through American legislative disfunction. The new piece for Forbes is informed by ongoing research by the Network into the practice of using technology to tap the intelligence and expertise of the public in order to improve the quality of lawmaking.
While experimentation with CrowdLaw is expanding around the world, and some notable positive outcomes have arisen as a result, Noveck argues that more research is needed to achieve CrowdLaw’s potential and mitigate its risks:
“Despite CrowdLaw’s promise, it is not self-evident that more public participation per se produces wiser or more just laws. There are countless instances to the contrary, including notable recent plebiscites. Rather than improve the informational quality of legislation, opening up decision-making may end up empowering some more than others and enable undue influence by special interests. More direct participation could lead to populist rule with negative outcomes for civil liberties as well. Thus, legislatures are rightly slow to implement public engagement, fearing that participation will be burdensome at worst, and useless at best.
To counter these risks and realize the benefits of CrowdLaw, there is an urgent need for systematic experimentation and assessment to inform and guide how legislatures engage with the public to collect, analyze, and use information as part of the lawmaking process, especially in the United States, where we are falling behind the rest of the world in bringing the legislative process into the 21st century.”