“Crowdsourcing” and Legislative Reform

March 9, 2012

RSS CapitolPublic opinion polls suggest that citizens hold little confidence in, or respect for, the American legislative process, as it operates today. 

Unduly influenced by money, and operating in an excessively partisan and often irrational manner, the overall integrity and effectiveness of that process are widely questioned.

In response to growing concern about lawmakers who are out of touch with the realities of daily life and the complexities of current issues, an online system to facilitate input from citizens on proposed legislation, The Internet Blueprint (www.internetblueprint.org), was developed.

Offering a useful step toward broader public participation in the development of legislation, The Internet Blueprint provides a mechanism that can encourage greater transparency, effectiveness, and accountability in the American legislative process.

The Internet Blueprint was launched as part of the effort to oppose two ill-conceived pieces of legislation recently considered by Congress, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).

Developed with the mission of encouraging legislation to help make the Internet “a better place for everyone,” The Internet Blueprint provides an online forum in which citizens can monitor and comment upon proposed legislation. 

The site currently focuses on legislation that has the potential to affect Internet availability and use.  It provides the text of all relevant Congressional bills and summaries of the proposed legislation, as well as legislative context.

Organizations supporting each bill are identified, and the site provides mechanisms for individuals to post comments and to express their views directly to their Senators and Congressional representatives.

The Internet Blueprint also provides a system through which organizations and individuals can propose legislation.

The process used by The Internet Blueprint is often referred to as, “crowdsourcing.”  It is a system which relies on substantive input from a large group of individuals.

The core premise behind crowdsourcing is the belief that, by tapping the knowledge, experience, and expertise of the broadest possible range of individuals, the resulting output is more likely to be accurate, appropriate, and effective than it would have been if developed only with input from a small group.

By applying the principles of crowdsourcing to the development of legislation, The Internet Blueprint aims to make the legislative process more transparent, effective, and accountable.

Although The Internet Blueprint currently directs its attention exclusively toward legislation affecting the Internet, the crowdsourcing model it applies can assist in the development of more appropriate and effective legislation on all topics.

Crowdsourcing will not inevitably result in better legislation.

It does, however, provide a very useful and desperately needed additional tool which, if used wisely, can help to make the legislative process in the United States more open and fairer than it is at present.

Equally important, application of crowdsourcing to the legislative process increases the chances that the resulting legislation will be more effective and that legislators will be held more accountable for their actions.

By integrating principles of crowdsourcing into the legislative process, we have the chance to begin to restore public confidence in that process.