Public policy and obstacles to the virtual agora: Insights from the deliberative e-rulemaking project

Peter Muhlberger, Jennifer Stromer-Galley, Nick Webb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Cyber-optimists anticipate that electronic media will serve as an extensive public space, a virtual agora, that will re-engage the public with politics and the policies that affect everyday life. For three years we were involved in a U.S. National Science Foundation funded project designed to enhance the participation of citizens in government agency rulemaking processes using online public deliberation and Natural Language Processing technologies. Despite a promising approach in an important arena for direct and regular public engagement, the project was met with serious obstacles in trying to secure a partnership with a government agency or interest groups. This led us to consider the policy process literature for insights regarding the obstacles we faced. That literature, a mainstay in the public policy and public administration curriculum in the U.S. and an attempt to capture how policy makers actually make decisions, heavily focuses on institutional actors and their adversarial relationships. Yet, it provides for hardly any role for the public to participate in what ideally should be a democratic process. Important components of the literature imply that institutional actors should discourage direct public engagement. The analysis seeks to clarify leverage points and contexts that could be used to promote online public engagement as a regular component of government processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)197-214
Number of pages18
JournalInformation Polity
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Information Systems
  • Communication
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration


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