RegulationRoom is designed and operated by CeRI (the Cornell eRulemaking Initiative). The site is an experimental platform that provides an online environment for people and groups to learn about, discuss, and react to selected rules (regulations) proposed by federal agencies. It expands the types of public input available to agencies in the rulemaking process, while serving as a teaching and research platform.

CeRI is a multidisciplinary group of faculty and students based at Cornell University. (See Meet the Team). We work with federal agencies to discover the best ways to use Web 2.0 and other technologies to improve public understanding of, and participation in, rulemaking and other types of complex public policymaking.

RegulationRoom was chosen by the Department of Transportation (DOT) as its open-government flagship initiative and received a Leading Practices Award by the White House after a government-wide review of such projects.

CeRI cooperates with various federal agencies to select and present the proposed rules that are available in RegulationRoom. However, this is not a federal government site. Discussions on RegulationRoom are moderated by CeRI students and faculty or other nongovernmental researchers collaborating with CeRI. The federal agencies whose rules are offered here collaborate in this research, in order to learn about the most effective Web 2.0 strategies for increasing public understanding and participation during rulemaking and other complex public policymaking, but all content and operation are the sole responsibility of CeRI.

Regulation Room is a work in progress. Services and applications will be added in phases and may be modified with experience. This is an overview of our ongoing work:

Alert & Engage

Social networking services and other online and conventional outreach strategies are used to alert individuals and groups who may have an interest in proposed rules. Our focus is on reaching people and groups who might not learn about the rulemaking through traditional channels, and providing them enough information about the rule and the process to encourage them to participate.

Educate & Inform

Materials about rulemaking and effective participation are available and structured to allow people to learn about the process in as much detail as they feel they need. For each specific rule, summaries of the important issues and the agency’s reasoning, as well as links to relevant primary and secondary materials, make the legal and factual bases of the proposal more accessible.

Cornell students are trained in online facilitation of discussion, as well as in outreach strategies for mobilizing previously under-represented stakeholders. The E-Government Clinic at the Law School exposes students to different disciplinary perspectives on online democratic participation (e.g., law students get an introduction to communications theory and natural language processing) while allowing them to experience many aspects of the project in a hands-on way. A goal of the Law School part of the clinic is to produce young lawyers with basic knowledge of Web 2.0 technologies and a framework for thinking about the ways the Internet might improve public interaction with government policymakers.

Facilitate Reasoned & Informed Discussion

Moderators facilitate public discussion of the major policy issues of the rule. Users target their comments to particular sections of the agency’s proposal and reasoning, and react specifically to those sections. Comment threading enables users to reply to the comments of others. Moderators mentor effective commenting by pointing users to other information, asking questions, and encouraging cross-discussion. An innovative Moderator Interface (not publicly visible) allows moderators to manage, mentor and collect data about comments as they moderate.

Encourage Comment Aggregation & Consensus-building

Future aspects of the research anticipate a collaboration phase during which users could participate in drafting and responding to other users' comments. Moderators trained in group facilitation will actively assist this phase, and will attempt to build consensus among commenters with different interests.

Harness Technology to Manage Information

RegulationRoom is part of ongoing CeRI research into the use of natural language processing and other information management techniques in public policymaking. Research currently focuses on automated identification of substantiated claims and situated knowledge in comments.