In a conference sponsored by CeRI and AmericaSpeaks, scholars, agency officials and organizations promoting civic engagement will gather in Washington, D.C. in January 2008 to discuss the federal government's first broadscale effort to use the Internet for engaging the public in discussions about policy issues.
Compared to other countries and the European Union, the U.S. has been slow in exploring online methods for involving citizens in regulatory and other important government decisions—even when the law requires agencies to seek public input. Consultations.gov is a proposed initiative that could change this.
At a minimum, consultations.gov would be a single site that collects information about, and directs the public to, the online consultations now occurring in scattered locations throughout the federal government. In a more ambitious verion, it would actively encourage more web-based consultations by offering agencies an array of supported formats, or consultation protocols, suited to varying circumtances.
Exploring these issues will be the goal on January 11-12, 2008, when approximately 50 researchers from law, political science, information and computer science, and various social sciences join agency officials and civic e-democracy organizations at the Center for the Study of Rulemaking at American University to scope a research and development agenda for consultations.gov.
After discussing occasional agency experiences with online consultation, they will try to determine why more such experiments aren't occurring. Then they will consider desirable features of a consultation site, and try to identify technical, social, legal and/or political obstacles to design and implementation of consultations.gov.
The conference will produce a report that includes recommended strategies for moving consultations.gov forward. Possible items include creation of a "best practices" guide, identification of desirable consultation protocols for inclusion on the site, and advocacy of research support for pilot programs with agency partners to refine these protocols and specify the circumstances under which they are most suitable.
In addition to support from The Center for the Study of Rulemaking, the conference is funded in part by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.