Download Video file from New York Law School Capstone Presentation, April 6, 2006.

Short Description:

Virtual world environment to offer government entities and interest groups an on-line space for conducting citizen consultation. In short, this project will use the metaphor of the “county fair,” a familiar civic event in the life of a community. This will be a place – like a meeting tent, a town hall or even a shopping mall – where groups can congregate online. The aim of this project is to design a space where interested parties, such as trade associations, activist groups and scientific experts, will be able to set up virtual booths for presentation of information and deliberation as well as advocacy.

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Democracy Island

Current projects include the following:

What Problem Does It Solve: Democracy Island overcomes some of the difficulties associated with civic participation and engagement in real space.

How Does It Do That: By offering an on-line space that can be conveniently accessed from home or work.

Why Is It Different: Uses a three-dimensional, virtual space to combine the best of town hall meetings with the convenience of a telephone or web-conference

Who Will Use It: Agencies and interest groups wishing to consult the public; communities wishing to organize civic fairs.

More Details: The process by which government agencies solicit public comment on proposed rules is badly broken. Federal law requires agencies to consult the public. Yet few members of the public participate.

Interested and affected individuals rarely know that a rulemaking is taking pace or why it is relevant to them. Instead, a set of Beltway interest groups dominate the process; few of those consult with their constituents or grapple seriously with the legitimate interests of the other side. Their goal is to advocate a position, not to inform the process. Where citizens participate, they tend to do so by means of standard-form postcards and have no chance to inform themselves about the real issues. The consequence is that agencies are deluged with uninformative input, the reading of which has to be outsourced to consultants. Hearings are expensive to run and sparsely attended. Without serious dialogue among citizens, experts and industry stakeholders regarding what would be the best outcome to serve the public interest, the resulting rules lack legitimacy.

The current practice is based almost entirely on written comments. Public participation is a one-way process of commenting on an already-written draft, rather than a deliberative dialogue early enough to make a difference. There is no serious effort to educate participants in order to generate more informed participation. Nothing about the current process encourages participants to consider the public, rather their own private, interest. It is abstruse and it is not fun.

The federal government’s commitment under the E-Government Act of 2002 to move to an entirely on-line rulemaking system promises little improvement. In fact, moving the paper-based process to the web is just as likely to result in “notice and spam” as it is to produce any improvement in the quality of citizen participation. Though the government has mandated that all federal agencies enhance “citizen centered” electronic government and move operations on-line (and state and local entities will follow suit), there is no plan to take advantage of the unique characteristics of digital media to make government more participatory and deliberative nor to create a meaningful role for lawyers to play in shepherding the writings of rules in the public interest

We propose to build an effective system for conducting citizen participation and consultation for on-line rulemaking. Specifically, we will build and test the first on-line electronic rulemaking process in a 3D on-line space using the technology behind massively multiplayer games. Massively multiplayer online games have become a key frontier in the evolution of cyberspace. They are the next interface to the Internet. Unlike the text-based World Wide Web, the graphical environments of digital worlds offer their inhabitants three-dimensional, fully immersive, virtual worlds where characters interact, trade and participate in a wide-range of social and commercial relations. Populated by hundreds of thousands of people, virtual worlds are fast becoming one of the largest entertainment industries and a new locus of social relations. An estimated 20 million people worldwide subscribe to a digital world; one-third of them spend more than 4 hours a day participating in a virtual community. Unlike old fashioned videogames, virtual worlds are spaces where real, adult players create their own experience by crafting original characters, objects and stories. People gather in these universes to participate in building new worlds, not to shoot space invaders. Players do not act alone; they collaborate to create the space itself.

Watch New York Last School Capstone presentation, April 6, 2006.

Team: Jerry Paffendorf with Jana Adelman, Caroline Freilich, Scott Frimmer, Beth Noveck, Deobrah Twardowski

Sponsors: ICAIR Foundation and Institute for Information Law and Policy, New York Law School

For More Information: Jerry Paffendorf, jerrypaffendorf@cox.net