Cornell eRulemaking Initiative Receives National Science Foundation Grant

The Cornell eRulemaking Initiative (CeRI), a multidisciplinary group of faculty and students led by Professor Cynthia Farina and Executive Director Mary Newhart, has received a National Science Foundation grant of $750,000 over three years for research on the notice-and-comment process used by federal agencies during the creation of new regulations.

CeRI seeks to improve citizen participation in rulemaking using a pilot online platform called Regulation Room. The site, hosted by Cornell Law School's Legal Information Institute (LII), provides an environment for people and groups to learn about, discuss, and react to selected regulations proposed by federal agencies. It expands the types of public input available to agencies while also serving as a resource for teaching and research. In addition to Farina, Newhart, and more than a dozen law students, the project involves faculty and students from Computing and Information Science, as well as the Scheinmann Institute for Conflict Resolution (ILR School).

"Regulation Room is a rare opportunity to do cutting edge research in law, conflict resolution, and computing and information science while working directly with federal agencies to expand public participation in significant ongoing policy-making processes," says Farina. "We have a lot yet to learn about using Web 2.0 and social media to support more effective public participation, and the NSF grant, along with continued support from the law school, will make this possible."

Farina notes that entities with superior resources, such as large corporations and trade associations, tend to dominate rulemaking discussion while small business owners, non-governmental organizations and local governments and other "small" stakeholders participate only marginally. Regulation Room is developing strategies for broader and more constructive public engagement in the nation's most pressing social and economic issues.

At the same time, it provides a rare opportunity for law students. "Students participate in all aspects of the project through the e-Government Clinic," Newhart observes. "Regulation Room gives them an opportunity to apply their legal training to the world outside of Ithaca and be a part of a groundbreaking experiment in participatory democracy."