A crowd-sourced legislation site

The next action plan should include a commitment to create a crowd-sourced legislation site where citizens can propose and discuss draft bills which, if they receive enough public signatures, go before Parliament to be debated and voted on. This would profoundly open up the law-making process to citizens.

Proposed mechanism:
•    A site – www.citizenbills.govt.nz or similar – is set up as platform for citizens to suggest draft bills. Proponents are asked to set out what problem they believe they are addressing, why theirs is the appropriate mechanism, and what it is likely to achieve. They are also asked to demonstrate that they have read the relevant subject literature, engaged with current evidence, and consulted subject-matter experts.
•    In the initial discussion phase, lasting perhaps one month, the draft bills are not open for public signatures. Instead, democratic software such as Loomio is used to encourage good online discussion among citizens on the draft bill.  Proponents are encouraged to revise their proposal and engage with objections, through the use of ‘nudge’ techniques such as the promise of later positive or negative ‘flags’ attached to their draft bill.
•    The draft bill, accompanied by a record of the above discussion, is then made available for citizens to sign in support (principally online, but also on paper). If, within a set timeframe (e.g. a year), it receives a sufficient number of signatures (e.g. 1% of the voting public), it goes before Parliament. 
•    The crowd-sourced bills are allocated Parliamentary time on a regular basis, in much the same manner as Members’ Bills, and are then debated and voted on by MPs.

Finland established a similar mechanism in 2012.[i] It appears to have been used sensibly by citizens, and has resulted in one major legislative change, the passage of a marriage equality act.


[i] Population of Finland, ‘Finnish citizens’ initiative’, n/d, available at: http://vrk.fi/en/finnish-citizens-initiative (accessed 30 April 2019). European Commission, ‘Online democracy – services in Finland’, 4 August 2015, https://joinup.ec.europa.eu/community/opengov/case/online-democracy-services-finland (accessed 30 April 2019).

Why the contribution is important

The proposal would have multiple advantages. 

While modern political systems will always balance elements of representative and participatory democracy, shifting that balance towards the latter makes sense (as long as it does not expect too much of ordinary citizens). Greater citizen involvement in decision-making would: increase the likelihood of decisions reflecting citizens’ wishes; enhance the legitimacy of those decisions; and encourage active citizenship.  This proposal would enhance those features, while retaining the safeguards of the Parliamentary process.

In addition, Western democracies face high levels of dissatisfaction and distrust; this is true in New Zealand, albeit less so than elsewhere.  Younger generations are less deferential to authority and expect more direct influence over decisions that concern them. Current mechanisms of democracy are often seen as outdated. The process of making laws is largely opaque to those not directly involved in politics. In contrast, the proposed measure would profoundly open up the legislative process to ordinary citizens. Decisions with greater citizen input are also more likely to be willingly obeyed and to endure.  Thus the proposed measure would enhance the status of government with its citizens and make governing easier overall.

The measure would build on, and partly replace, the current system for petitions, in which citizens often exert significant effort to collect petition signatures but get little tangible reward. Measures similar to that proposed here have been suggested in recent reports by the Clerk of the House, as an incremental improvement and a way to better reward citizens’ efforts.  

by maxrash on March 09, 2021 at 04:17PM

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  • Posted by stowellj March 11, 2021 at 11:19

    We certainly need to get something going which provides a more rewarding interaction for those members of the public with the time and inclination to make and comment on suggestions for legislation. Unless our decision makers show more willing to allow the public to have real and deliberative impact on policy formation it seems unlikely that public trust in government will much increase in this age of social media mayhem. It would be a step on the way to using the more widely inclusive methods of representative deliberative assemblies.
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