Regulation Room: Getting "more, better" civic participation in complex government policymaking

Cynthia R. Farina, Dmitry Epstein*, Josiah B. Heidt, Mary J. Newhart

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Purpose: Rulemaking (the process agencies use to make new health, safety, social and economic regulations) is one of the US Government's most important policymaking methods and has long been a target for e-government efforts. Although broad transparency and participation rights are part of its legal structure, significant barriers prevent effective engagement by many citizens. The paper aims to discuss these issues. Design/methodology/approach: is an online experimental e-participation platform, designed and operated by Cornell e-rulemaking Initiative (CeRI), the cross-disciplinary CeRI. Using the Regulation Room as a case study, this paper addresses what capacities are required for effective civic engagement and how they can be nurtured and supported by an online participation system. Findings: The research suggests that effectively designing and deploying technology, although essential, is only one dimension of realizing broader, better online civic engagement. Effective e-participation systems must be prepared to address procedural, social, and psychological barriers that impede citizens' meaningful participation in complex policymaking processes. The research also suggests the need for re-conceptualizing the value of broad civic participation to the policymaking processes and for recognizing that novice commenters engage with policy issues differently than experienced insiders. Practical implications: The paper includes a series of strategic recommendations for policymaking seeking public input. While it indicates that a broader range of citizens can indeed be meaningfully engaged, it also cautions that getting better participation from more people requires the investment of resources. More fundamental, both government decision makers and participation designers must be open to recognizing non-traditional forms of knowledge and styles of communication - and willing to devise participation mechanisms and protocols accordingly. Originality/value: This paper describes lessons from a unique design-based research project with both practical and conceptual implications for more, better civic participation in complex government policymaking.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)501-516
Number of pages16
JournalTransforming Government: People, Process and Policy
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Participatory literacy
  • Situated knowledge
  • e-Government
  • e-Participation
  • e-Rulemaking


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