Overview Graphic

Planning Room is designed and operated by the Cornell eRulemaking Initiative (CeRI). The site is part of an open government project to improve public participation in policymaking by government agencies. Planning Room expands the types of public input available to agencies in the planning process, while serving as a teaching and research platform. Most federal government planning processes don’t require public comment. But the agencies whose plans appear on Planning Room want public input and ideas. The Planning Room team works with these agencies to make the planning materials easy for people to understand and react to. The agency reads the discussion in Planning Room: What you say here will be considered by the agency when it is decides on its final plan.

CeRI is a multidisciplinary group of faculty and student researchers, based at Cornell University. 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, policymaking. While we work agencies to select and present the proposed policies that are available on Planning Room (and its sister site Regulation Room), these sites are not federal government websites. Discussions on Planning Room are moderated by CeRI students and faculty. The federal agencies whose plans 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, but all content and operation are the sole responsibility of CeRI.

To learn more about CeRI and see publications associated with the Regulation Room/Planning Room project, go to the CeRI website.

Planning 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 current plan:

Alert & Engage

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

Educate & Inform

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

A second aspect of Education will be to train students in online facilitation of discussion, as well as in outreach strategies for mobilizing previously under-represented stakeholders. The e-Government Clinic at Cornell Law School exposes students to different disciplinary perspectives on online democratic participation (e.g., students get an introduction into 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 Reaction & Informed Discussion

Moderation facilitates discussion of the major issues of the plans presented. Users will be able to target their comments to particular sections of the agency’s plan, and react specifically to those sections. Comment threading will enable users to reply to the comments of others and to specific paragraphs on an issue. Moderators will 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.

Harness Technology to Manage Information

Planning Room is part of ongoing CeRI research into the use of natural language processing and other information management techniques. Research will focus on experimenting with recommender systems to stimulate discussion and on developing a automated Comment Support Interface that mentors more effective commenting as users are writing.