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Is e-Rulemaking an Effective Path Towards Increased Civic Participation?

Government regulations have a deep impact on the lives of citizens – so, it is only fair that citizens have adequate say in the process of formulation and revision of these rules and regulations. It was this premise that prompted the promulgation of the e-Government Act in 2002 that directs government agencies to use information technologies to enhance citizen participation in government rule-making. A hallmark project of the US government towards this end has been the launching of the portal

Several US government agencies such as the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Transportation and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have made efforts in bringing in the voices of the public with varying degrees of success. Tens of thousands of people have participated in various rule-making processes online and with the advent of Web 2.0 and various interactive web features, the process of participation in electronic dialogues has been enhanced. The ‘cyber-optimists’ feel that this has opened up scope for broader level of public participation, while others are less enthusiastic about the potential of this form of electronic dialogues to translate into meaningful participation given the level of complexity in the rulemaking process.

According to experts such as Cary Coglianese and Thomas Beierle, the primary challenges at this stage of the evolution of e-Rulemaking seem more administrative rather than technical. To ensure meaningful feedback and interaction among citizens, there seems to be a clear need for an active moderator encouraging participants to keep their discussions focused and relevant. The government agencies also need to develop a more sophisticated process of processing and summarizing citizen’s feedback and to more seamlessly integrate them with the rule-making process. There is also dissatisfaction regarding existing systems to alert the public about the e-Rulemaking platforms in a way that ensures that people in different socio-economic classes are participating in this electronic process – without which the legitimacy of this process in enhancing democracy will remain questioned.

Although it is too early to conclude that e-Rulemaking has made substantial progress towards strengthening democracy by enhancing citizen participation in government policy-making, there is perhaps no doubt that e-Rulemaking has significant potential in empowering citizens and ensuring better policies. How we are able to use that potential is what remains to be seen.

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