Make open data policy more participatory with our new crowdlaw guide

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Since the nation’s first open data policy was enacted in 2006, more than 115 cities and states across the United States have committed to more transparent and accountable government by passing open data policies.

Many of these cities are taking their commitments to open and participatory government to the next level by working with residents to draft, review, and weigh in on open data policies using online platforms. This process is called crowdlaw.

We first wrote about crowdlaw and open data policy back in 2016, as cities were beginning to use the approach. Crowdlaw can be used for any type of policy or legislation, but it is uniquely suited for open data policy. Both crowdlaw and open data are rooted in the principle that democratic government is a participatory and collaborative exercise. In that context, the role of government staff is not just to make decisions themselves but to facilitate community decision-making through disclosure and engagement whenever possible.

That means successful crowdlaw initiatives require more than simply posting a draft policy language online. City staff must also proactively invite collaboration from residents, encouraging robust participation from diverse constituencies in a given municipality. While crowdlaw provides the framework for collaborative policy-making, it’s up to community leaders and government decision-makers to demonstrate that they value co-creating policy with residents. This process isn’t always straightforward, but we’ve found that it almost always results in stronger policies that are community-supported from day one.

To help more cities succeed with a crowdlaw approach, today we’re excited to release Participatory Open Data Policy, a new guide that cities can use to develop open data policies in the open.

Our new guide includes step-by-step instructions for city staff who want to make their crowdlaw processes as inclusive and comprehensive as possible. It is designed to help staff think all parts of the crowdlaw process, from drafting a policy, posting it online, and inviting diverse collaboration from community members, to completing comments, reporting back, and enacting the final policy.

Throughout the guide, you will find templates that you can use as the starting point for your own planning and communications materials, as well as examples of how other cities have done the crowdlaw process well.

View all of our crowdlaw resources

This new guide is just one of many crowdlaw resources we’ve created to help cities make open data policymaking more inclusive and collaborative. See all of them on our crowdlaw homepage.

As we mention there, if you adopt or adapt a crowdlaw approach, we want to hear from you! Do you have tips to share about how your city approached crowdlaw? Or did we miss something that you wish was included? Drop us a line at opencities@sunlightfoundation.com and let us know how we can make the guide more useful or how you used it.

We hope this guide will city residents across the country get more involved in the collaborative process of government. Read the full guide to learn more.

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