Is crowdsourced lawmaking living up to its potential for online citizen participation?

CrowdLaw platforms may encourage democratic participation – but they don’t necessarily deliver it. Helene Langlamet spots the gaps between the intention, design and performance in ‘Can Digital Technologies Create a Stronger Model for Democratic Participation? The Case of CrowdLaw’.

CrowdLaw platforms are deployed globally to provide online spaces for citizen participation in lawmaking. Practitioners working with this model are optimistic about the potential of tech-enabled initiatives to strengthen democracy. But available data to-date points to low levels of participation and discrepancies between expectations and implementation.

Helene Langlamet calls for greater transparency to help such platforms live up to their democratic potential. Especially where they fall short in failing to translate well-intentioned ideals into robust performance. 

Langlamet cautions against a simplistic, celebratory ‘silver bullet’ approach to online participation. Such an approach sees democratic potential in digital tools but overlooks various factors that play crucial roles in determining the impact of a project. Noting the platforms’ low levels of participation, she points out that an online presence alone cannot guarantee expanded reach. However, ‘other’, ‘time-tested’ ways can invite participation – for instance, mass media has often supported the spread of viral content.

The article highlights the platforms’ versatility in being embedded within a variety of broader policymaking processes: for instance, a UN-led post-conflict constitution review project; a collaboration between governmental and non-governmental stakeholders; and discussion groups hosted by a political party plugged into a legislative process.

While the CrowdLaw model largely revolves around participant feedback, practitioners’ interpretations include space for discussions between participants. Some platforms featured such opportunities – but would require further development to turn superficial conversations into meaningful deliberations, finds the article.

Helene Langlamet is a doctoral student in the Annenberg School for Communication.

Photo: GovLab/cc

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