In order for democracy to function well, the citizenry must be well-informed, engaged, and able to freely participate in democratic processes. But most of the local laws that govern public participation in the United States are outdated, fail to match the expectations and capacities of citizens today, pre-date the Internet, and do not reflect the lessons learned in the last two decades about how citizens and governments can work together. Increasingly, public officials, legislative staff, and policymakers are wondering whether civic participation best practices are in fact supported – or even allowed – by the law.
On October 23, Governance Studies at Brookings hosted a forum on reimagining the legal and technological frameworks to strengthen and boost civic participation and citizen engagement. Over the past year, the Working Group on Legal Frameworks for Public Participation has produced new tools, including a model local ordinance and model amendment to state legislation, in order to help create a more supportive, productive, and equitable environment for public participation. During this forum, members of this working group discussed the new tools and the larger questions about how to strengthen the legal framework for public participation.