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Business - Written by on Wednesday, September 24, 2008 11:02 - 6 Comments

PublicMarkup.org: Your chance to comment on the proposed $700 billion bailout

The Sunlight Foundation recently launched PublicMarkup.org–a site that provides a simple, blog-like interface for soliciting feedback on legislation being considered in Congress. The legislative issue of the day, of course, is the proposed $700 billion bailout of the financial sector and there appears to be an active community currently debating the Senator Dodd’s legislation online.

Having already launched a number of innovative projects that are increasing the transparency of the US government (including MapLight and Congresspedia) the Sunlight Foundation foundation believes it can help increase participation in the legislative process by providing a forum where all legislation proposals can be subject to open public review in real-time.

Some will argue that the legislative process in the US already invites input through a variety of channels. As our collaborator Beth Noveck notes in a forthcoming report for nGenera (not yet published, but watch this space):

Corporations participate through lobbyists and notice-and-comment rulemaking. NGOs funnel information to government through think tanks and their white papers and publications. Interest groups lobby and enlist their members to respond—usually with postcards and email—in rulemaking and legislative policymaking.

The problem is that the traditional “notice and comment” process tends to favor an entrenched machinery of lobbyists that represent well-connected and often deep-pocketed interests. How many ordinary citizens are even aware of the “notice and comment” periods and how many of those citizens will find the time and resoucres to make formal submissions? I’m guessing that the answer is very few.

So what is different about the more open and collaborative process that the Sunlight Foundation aspires to create with PublicMarkup.org? 

One, it provides a neutral forum in which to debate policy issues. Two, by collecting legislation, summaries, resources and commentary in a single linkable location, it makes participation in the legislative process more accessible to citizens. Three, PublicMarkup.org could conceivably evolve into a more robust platform for wiki-drafting, complete with tools for collectively filtering, rating and analyzing evidence, discussion forums for deliberation, and a wiki for drafting recommendations. Finally, by establishing a granular division of tasks (e.g., adding links, tagging and rating content, posting comments in a forum, drafting and editing recommendations, etc.), a collaborative process helps ensure that citizens with a limited amount of time can still make meaningful contributions to the process. 

It’s the group dynamics that ultimately set this new collaborative approach apart from the traditional processes for rulemaking.  In a conventional rulemaking process, atomized and often competitive groups submit comments that they hope will influence the legislative outcome. There is no incentive to compromise and there is often no dialogue whatsoever among the interest groups. When the period for comments is closed, it’s then up to a small group of public officials to sort through the commentary and reach a decision.

With a collaborative process, some of the burden of collecting, sorting, analyzing and drafting shifts to the public, leaving public officials in a position to steer and referree the process. An opportunity space opens up for deliberation, reflection and perhaps even compromise among multiple stakeholders.  

Here’s how Noveck put it in her forhcoming report:   

In a collaborative government, public participation is not pro forma.  Though the recommendations made by private citizens are not binding, they are taken as serious contributions to the decision-making process.  At the same time, collaboration assumes that stakeholders are qualified to make useful contributions to the subject- or industry-specific work of the agency.  As such, a government agency that solicits public feedback employs a system to evaluate the input of the self-selecting private citizen.  Only it is not the government agency that initially evaluates public feedback.  Initially, ratings and recommendations remain in the hands of private citizens.  Their recommendations are vetted by groups ancillary to the government agency.  These groups comprise the very individuals who have volunteered their expertise in the first place.  This alleviates some of the burden that participation outside of organizational boundaries creates for government officials.

Will PublicMarkup.org attract a critical mass of participants? And, will members of the US Congress actually pay attention? It seems unlikley that the latter will happen this time, but if the site evolves into a vital hub for policy debates with a diverse group of participants, then politicians will ignore forums like PublicMarkup at their peril.


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Remarkk! » AgendaCamp: Citizen-driven economic intelligence
Sep 30, 2008 16:46

[...] dream list of participants from across the web and blogosphere includes: Richard Florida, Anthony Williams, Naomi Klein, David Eaves, Deborah Leslie, David Wolfe, Meric Gertler, John Britton, David Crow, [...]

Oct 2, 2008 18:21

Now there is a “No Bailouts Act”
at http://okiefunk.com/node/449
including a link to a petition online.

It is very important. I signed already.

The Promise and Myth of Barack Obama’s Government 2.0 | Gauravonomics Blog
Jan 10, 2009 22:42

[...] (level 3), MapLight (level 4) and CongressPedia (level 4) initiatives by Sunlight Foundation (via Anthony Williams). However, such initiatives will only be successful if they reach a critical mass in terms of [...]

Wikinomics» Blog Archive » What are they saying in Congress?
Mar 27, 2009 13:58

[...] from the Sunlight Foundation (who we’ve written about previously – here, here and here). Capitol Words is a program that takes every word entered into the congressional record and [...]

Wikinomics – The open government directive: Ready, set, engage!
Jan 19, 2010 10:22

[...] Initiative, in the early days of the Obama Administration. (We’re pleased, by the way, that Beth Noveck, a collaborator with Don and the Wikinomics team in recent years, has had such an important role leading the Initiative from inside the White [...]

Обещания и мифы Government 2.0 Барака Обамы | Алена Попова
Jul 7, 2010 4:06

[...] 4) и CongressPedia (уровень 4) и инициативы Sunlight Foundation (от Anthony Williams). Однако такие инициативы будут успешными олько если [...]

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