The Open House Project from The Sunlight Foundation

Public Legislative Participation

August 11th, 2008 by John Wonderlich · 3 Comments

The next list I’d like to tackle is legislative participation.

A number of innovative approaches have appeared in various legislative bodies, inviting public participation in what is arguably the most public of all processes: the creation of public policy.  While these projects vary in scope and effect, they all have granted a new level of access and authenticity to public deliberation, recognizing the public as a capable partner in the process of legislating. 

These are all legislative projects operating with official government sponsorship.  While there is a great deal of valuable work done tracking legislation and developing policy outside government, and also pioneering work developing in Congress for communicating with constituents, I’m focusing here on officially sponsored legislative participation.


  • The Open House Project launched with Speaker Pelosi’s endorsement, developing a transparency reform agenda for Congress.
  • The Irish House of Parliament, the Oirechtas, held an involved “e-consultation” project on their broadcasting bill.  From their site:
    • “The consulters, comprising of members of the Joint Committee of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and the Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas e-Consultation Working Group, viewed the e-Consultation pilot as a significant departure from previous practice as it involved a dedicated website which allowed for the posting of submissions in a structured manner as well as a discussion forum and it constituted an attempt to communicate directly with the public on legislation and not just target traditional ’stakeholders’.”
  • Rep. Honda posted legislation and accepted public commentary on their proposed STEM Act.
  • Rep. Kuhl launched a “Fix Washington” project, where citizens proposed legislative priorities.
  • Senator Lieberman developed the first E-government Act of 2002 in conjunction with a public Web site that collected priorities and suggestions.  From the accompanying report language:
    • On May 18, 2000, Senators Lieberman and Thompson launched an on-line `experiment in interactive legislation’, a website that sought public comments on 44 topics related to possible measures that Congress could take to advance the cause of e-government. Topics were organized into categories, such as `centralized leadership’, `funding innovations’, and `digital democracy: citizen access and participation,’ and ranged from `centralized online portal’ to `interoperability standards’ to `G-Bay’: enhanced online distribution of federal government surplus property.’ For each of the topics, a short discussion described the status of current efforts and the `New Idea’, or ideas, being offered for consideration. Visitors to the website could then submit their comments on the subject, and read views that had been submitted by others. Nearly 1,000 comments were submitted, approximately one half of which were posted on the website after being reviewed by Committee staff.13

      [Footnote] Comments were submitted by private citizens, academicians, federal employees, and even federal agencies. OMB also responded to the website by soliciting views from federal agencies; OMB officials then consolidated agencies’ responses and presented them to the Committee as a single document. Opinions, additional information, and alternative proposals submitted over the website proved helpful as Senator Lieberman formulated his electronic government legislation.

      [Footnote] 13Comments were reviewed primarily for appropriateness and relevance; Committee staff did not favor any particular viewpoint in deciding which submissions to post. The website was intended to educate the public about the potential of e-government, to solicit input and information on the many topics being considered for possible legislation, and to serve as both an experiment and an example of how the Internet could be used to make government processes more accessible to the public.

  • Senator Dick Durbin held public discussions on Open Left and Redstate, asking the question: “What Should We Include in our National Broadband Strategy?”
  • Politicopia is a public wiki, set up in conjunction with the Utah State Legislature’s Rules Committee.
  • I’m looking for any other examples.  Others that sort of fit:
    • In a sense, the California initiative process involves citizen participation, although it bypasses more than it augments the legislative process.
    • The Peer to Patent Project is probably the best designed example of substantive public involvement, although it isn’t legislative.
  • Any other suggestions?

Tags: openhouseproject

3 responses so far ↓

  • David Weller // Aug 17, 2008 at 6:28 pm

    I can tell you by personal experience that my own U.S. Rep. Randy Naugebauer (R-TX) has sent via email a couple of short legislative surveys to his constituents. They guaged, in multiple-choice manner, his people’s stand on a hot bill in legislation. I believe he has also in the past couple of years sent by snail mail a longer survey but not on one particular bill. This is just one legislator’s office sponsorship of a collaboration project with his constituents.

    David

  • Nick Mastronardi // Aug 19, 2008 at 11:27 am

    i am currently building a website to intelligently gather collective wisdom into the political process through public participation. allowing voters to vote on each bill and keeping track of their districts to compare their votes with their representatives’ provides a means to measure the quality of their representation; hence the political compass, PolCo.

    please keep in mind, the site is currently in development and on somedays i have to have the results tables down. expect official launch within the month.

  • John Wonderlich // Sep 7, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    EU resource described in detail here (on google group):

    http://groups.google.com/group/openhouseproject/browse_thread/thread/5501047f2b4833e2/0773c440a5365d08#0773c440a5365d08

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