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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Current projects include the following:

Impact Statement

The Administrative Procedure Act requires citizen consultation. At the same time, the Federal government is demanding that agencies move away from paper-based to fully electronic operations. These two compliance requirements as well as the concrete and time-limited nature of rulemaking drive our focus on administrative law. This also creates the opportunity, not only for changing the practice of administrative law through technology, but to reinvigorate the right to citizen participation.

Once the technology is demonstrated in the rulemaking context, we anticipate that it will have widespread impact on participation and consultation, generally. Such a space and the related tools could be re-used for all forms of citizen participation and consultation as conducted by state and local governments. It can be used for shareholder democracy and democratic practice in business life as well as for government. It can be used for legal and other forms of recruiting. It can serve as the locus for running citizen juries and will make it possible for entities in government, business and civic life to do consultation that could not do it before.

We also imagine that Building Civic Cyberspace can impact the political process. These virtual fairs will be an excellent place for the League of Women Voters to organize candidate debates and political party fairs. Our immediate focus on rulemaking is a way to test the possibilities for using such virtual spaces to organize deliberation as part of the larger political process.

This is also an ideal venue for legal and civic education. Imagine law students having to set up and run their own fair as a way of learning about administrative and other substantive areas of law! Imagine a group of engineering students and a group of political science students having to collaborate on setting up a fair about a transportation issue! We know that opportunities to explore and show mastery motivate and educate. The next generation of citizens, including today’s students, will be entirely comfortable moving around and interacting inside a virtual world. They will come to expect their online interactions to have an impact on what the government decides to do.

The new possibilities for holding events in cyberspace created by virtual worlds should be explored. We know that presence with others at an event helps to create civic virtue. We know that “face to face” confrontation, even among avatars, improves behavior. We know that community “events” can spur engagement and that playing a role (serving on a policy jury, working as an advocate to explain a group’s views, etc.) produces a greater sense of contribution and belonging to the group. We know that thoughtful deliberation by the community of interest produces more substantive and more legitimate results. We aim to exploit the democratic possibilities of virtual worlds to remedy the defects of current methods and, in so doing, to make administrative rulemaking a more effective, manageable and democratic process.