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Regulations.gov Shows A Different Approach to Crowdsourcing

by Andrea Di Maio  |  June 9, 2009  |  4 Comments

Regulations.gov is the US federal government web site giving the public access to all regulations and rulemakings, allowing people to post comments to documents that are open for comment. The site has been in existence for a few years, but has never enjoyed great success – a fate that is common to many official web sites aimed at citizen participation.

As part of its various initiatives to promote a more open and transparent government, the US administration decided to engage the public in improving the site, by allowing people to submit comment about and rate suggested site improvements for two months, ending July 21st.

Unlike previous attempts at crowdsourcing, like the one for Recovery.gov (see my earlier post), this one seems more focused on gathering comments on specific solutions rather then unstructured ideas about how the solution could be built. This is quite natural, since Regulations.gov has quite a long history, while Recovery.gov is brand new and deals with a completely new problem (providing a transparent and detailed tracking of how the stimulus package money is being spent).

What is also noticeable is how active moderators are in responding to comments and suggestions. This is probably made easier by the discussion being structured and driven by specific areas of improvement, and by the fact that this is a two-month rather than one-week consultation (like it was for Recovery.gov). This also helps providing an easier tracking between suggestions and actual implementation and keeping down the cost of the whole process, a problem I raised in a previous post.

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Category: web-20-in-government  

Tags: crowdsourcing  recoverygov  regulationsgov  

Andrea Di Maio
Managing VP
19 years at Gartner
33 years IT industry

Andrea Di Maio is a managing vice president for public sector in Gartner Research, covering government and education. His personal research focus is on digital government strategies, open government, the business value of IT, smart cities, and the impact of technology on the future of government Read Full Bio


Thoughts on Regulations.gov Shows A Different Approach to Crowdsourcing


  1. Paolo says:

    I believe that the ultimate solution in Government crowdsourcing will be direct e-democracy.

    When digital natives will be 100% of the population, it will become finally possible to overcome two fundamental drawbacks of democracy, namely a) inadequate representatives (their qualifications have been rolling down the slope of decency in most countries for decades) and b) “flat” universal suffrage.

    The web will make it possible to a) vote directly on many issues and b) assign weights to votes (I must indeed regretfully say that mine or yours is NOT the same as that of the illiterate who doesn’t have a clue on 99% of the problems of the res publica).

  2. After Paolo’s comment above, there was an interesting exchange on Facebook (I post notices of my blog entries on my wall). Here are the most interestig excerpts:

    Andrea Di Maio at 11:36am June 9:

    I thought direct democracy had been tried and failed in ancient Greece. Technology does not change human nature. As per your last point, election results in Italy and Europe seem to suggest that illiterates’ votes weigh more than one might think

    Daniel Sholler at 3:52pm June 9:

    anyone who wants to see how direct democracy works out should look at the mess that the ballot initiatives have gotten the state of California into…
    The entire system would have to be revised to screen these intiatives. Surprisingly, the compromises that the legislators (with help from the career civil servants and lobbyists and whoever else) come up with actually seem to work better..

    Philip Allega at 4:08pm June 9:

    In 2005 Estonia became the first country to offer Internet voting nationally in local elections. 9,317 people voted online. In 2007 Estonia held its and the world’s first general Internet election. A total of 30,275 citizens used Internet voting.
    Just because it’s available to participate in does not mean that people will do so. The top of the … Read MoreGerman parliament is open to the sky, supposedly because this allows the public a transparent view to government. But, this presupposes that someone WANTS to look in.
    Crowdsourcing presupposes that there’s a capable “crowd” willing to solve challenges. Not everyone is seeking to provide their talents to the market (or government) in this way

    Paolo Magrassi at 4:38pm June 9:

    > I ‘m talking about direct democracy, not just e-voting

    > I’m talking about a FUTURE when all citizens will be digital natives and the infrastructure robust

    > Andrea, direct democracy in V century b.C. worked beautifully (although it would not be accepted nowadays as it excluded 90% of the population)… Read More

    > were it not for the heavily-weighted illiterate votes, you wouldn’t see the clowns who seat at some European governments right now. We obviously need a democratic system that, while allowing all interests to be represented, weighted uninformed voters less than today

    Philip Allega at 1:57am June 10
    @Paolo – I appreciate your view. I am hopeful, but pragmatic. Some Cantons in Switzerland continue this approach, but participation rates have declined.

    Would technology anablement eliminate representative government to the betterment of mankind? It’s a question for philiosophical discussion over bottles (note that is plural) of wine.

    Did illiterates vote in the recent elections? Or, were statements being made in opposition to current representatives? It’s an interesting question.

    Paolo Magrassi at 8:53am June 10
    Philip,
    I do not have all answers and I do not see in the future. I am just being propositive.
    We know that the inherent flaw of democracy (Arrow… Read More’s impossibility theorem, Nobel Price 1972) is nowadays exacerbated by the fact that an oligarchy of moguls and/or rogue professional politicians can, using mass media, manipulate the masses.
    Masses of ignorants are easier to manipulate than masses of learned sceptics.
    ONE possible way out of this impasse would be a web-enabled direct democracy where votes be WEIGHTED based on the education level.

    Philip Allega at 4:20pm June 10

    Interesting notion, Paolo. The US system of electoral college was created to ensure that the stupid did not take decisions the learned knew were inherently wrong. Paolo Magrassi at 5:35pm June 10
    Speaking of which… In Feb08 I did buy €20k of Lehman Brothers unsecured bonds. I should therefore be excluded, for at least 20 years, from all voting systems and polls…

  3. […] the original post: Regulations.gov Shows A Different Approach to Crowdsourcing Tags: europe, italy, Technology, thought-direct […]

  4. […] will be open only until January 15th and, like previous similar initiatives (e.g. Recovery.gov or Regulations.gov), is a step towards crowdsourcing requirements analysis and […]



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