CrowdLaw: Bellagio Conference on…
Beth Noveck

Beth Noveck Director, The Governance Lab

Victoria Alsina

Victoria Alsina Senior Fellow, The Governance Lab

November 07, 2018

CrowdLaw: Bellagio Conference on Participatory Lawmaking Launches Historic Manifesto

Beth Noveck

Beth Noveck Director, The Governance Lab

Victoria Alsina

Victoria Alsina Senior Fellow, The Governance Lab

November 07, 2018

The Bellagio Center has a long history of convening key players to catalyze big ideas and forge coalitions for social action at pivotal moments. The GovLab’s convening at Bellagio, in March of 2018, led by Beth Noveck and her colleagues, was such a moment. Their convening brought together two dozen legal experts from seventeen countries to collaborate on new ways to include more and more diverse opinions and expertise at every stage of the urban law- and policymaking process. The end result was the formation of a “CrowdLaw Manifesto”—a statement of 12 principles that aim to make lawmaking processes more participatory, accountable to the public, and transparent. At a moment when trust in government is at all-time lows, and the legitimacy of lawmaking has been called into question, this Manifesto offers the hope of much-needed innovation. In what follows, Beth describes the Manifesto and we are delighted to share it further with our audiences at Rockefeller and beyond. ~ Matthew Bishop, Managing Director for Bellagio & Fellows


Since we marked the International Day of Democracy on September 15th, 75 organizations, including the city councils of Madrid and Barcelona, NDI, the Italian Government Digital Transformation Team, and the General Secretariat of the Paris City Council, have signed the CrowdLaw Manifesto, a call to action for local legislatures, national parliaments, civil societies, technologists, and the public to embrace and advocate for more open and participatory lawmaking practices. Over twenty international experts crafted the Manifesto’s 12 principles at the Rockefeller Bellagio Center this past spring and refined the language with the input of our international networks over the summer.

CrowdLaw is a new term to describe an old idea, namely that more diverse public participation in law and policymaking may have the potential to enhance the effectiveness and legitimacy of lawmaking. Heartened by the success of such experiments as vTaiwan, that has engaged 200,000 residents in crafting 26 new pieces of legislation, or Estonia’s Rahvakogu, that pushed its population to formulate new campaign finance laws, or the explosion of interest from 650,000 people in Brazil who have signed up via the Mudamos app to make proposals to their Parliament, we gathered at Bellagio to try to understand how to evaluate what’s working and promote the spread of CrowdLaw practices.

CrowdLaw is a new term to describe an old idea: more diverse public participation in law and policymaking may have the potential to enhance the effectiveness and legitimacy of lawmaking.

Thanks to the intensity of our time together on the shores of Lake Como, the unique mix of academics, technologists, public officials, and lawmakers in attendance from six continents presented lessons learned from experiments in the field, collaboratively developed a research agenda to study the impact of engagement on the quality of lawmaking, and distilled our passion for more inclusive and open practices in every stage of the law and policymaking process into the 12 principles of the Manifesto.

It is no mean feat to get such a diverse group to agree on something worth saying and the immediate outpouring of support from 165+ signatories such as New York City Council Member Ben Kallos, Shashi Tharoor, Member of the Indian Parliament, Audrey Tang, Digital minister of Taiwan, Sabine Romon, Chief Smart City Officer, Paris City Council and Tomás Hirsch, Member of the Chilean Parliament, speaks, in part, to the hunger for innovation in the legislative domain and the need to move away from closed-door practices and better tap the intelligence and expertise of members of the public.

The 12 statements of the Manifesto read as follows:

  1. To improve public trust in democratic institutions, we must improve how we govern in the 21st century.
  2. CrowdLaw is any law, policy or public decision-making process that offers a meaningful, tech-based opportunity for the public to participate in one or multiple stages of decision-making, including but not limited to the processes of problem identification, solution identification, proposal drafting, ratification, implementation or evaluation.
  3. CrowdLaw draws on innovative processes and technologies and encompasses diverse forms of engagement among elected representatives, public officials, and those they represent.
  4. When designed well, CrowdLaw may help governing institutions obtain more relevant facts and knowledge as well as more diverse perspectives, opinions, and ideas to inform governing at each stage and may help the public exercise political will.
  5. When designed well, CrowdLaw may help democratic institutions build trust and the public to play a more active role in their communities and strengthen both active citizenship and democratic culture.
  6. When designed well, CrowdLaw may enable engagement that is thoughtful, inclusive, informed but also efficient, manageable and sustainable.
  7. Therefore, governing institutions at every level should experiment and iterate with CrowdLaw initiatives in order to create formal processes for diverse members of society to participate in order to improve the legitimacy of decision-making, strengthen public trust and produce better outcomes.
  8. Governing institutions at every level should encourage research and learning about CrowdLaw and its impact on individuals, on institutions and on society.
  9. The public also has a responsibility to improve our democracy by demanding and creating opportunities to engage and then actively contributing expertise, experience, data and opinions.
  10. Technologists should work collaboratively across disciplines to develop, evaluate and iterate varied, ethical and secure CrowdLaw platforms and tools, keeping in mind that different participation mechanisms will achieve different goals.
  11. Governing institutions at every level should encourage collaboration across organizations and sectors to test what works and share good practices.
  12. Governing institutions at every level should create the legal and regulatory frameworks necessary to promote CrowdLaw and better forms of public engagement and usher in a new era of more open, participatory and effective governing.

To learn more about CrowdLaw, visit crowd.law or to give feedback on the Manifesto, contact crowdlaw@thegovlab.org. To sign the CrowdLaw Manifesto, visit http://manifesto.crowd.law.