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"VOTE!" by Paul Sableman licensed under CC BY 2.0
"VOTE!" by Paul Sableman licensed under CC BY 2.0
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A growing level of political dysfunction and hyper-partisan polarization has led us to a critical point in the way we govern. With democracy under threat and deep distrust of democratic institutions, how can we instill innovative reforms centered around real influence and decision-making power? At a moment of extreme vulnerability, communities and civic organizations need to have genuine political agency by directly influencing policy decision-making. Collaborative governance—or "co-governance"—offers an opportunity to create new forms of civic power. This report offers lessons from across local, city, state, and federal policymaking and highlights effective models of co-governance from community leaders and those in government.
For too long the federal policymaking process has been mysterious and inaccessible to everyone but the most sophisticated, elite stakeholders. Not only has this made the policymaking process exclusive to long-standing players with connections and resources, but it has also made it extremely difficult for most Americans, especially those from underrepresented communities, to be engaged in authentic ways with federal agencies and institutions.When the Biden-Harris administration took office, one of their very first acts was to issue an executive order to advance equity and racial justice throughout federal agencies and institutions. This was quickly followed by orders intended to transform the experience of interacting with government, modernize the federal regulatory process, and strengthen tribal consultations and nation-to-nation relationships. Together, these efforts push the executive branch to improve equity and racial justice through more inclusive policy processes.In this spirit, New America's Political Reform program and Harvard University's Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation hosted a series of listening sessions to help government officials identify methods of stakeholder engagement among traditionally underrepresented and marginalized communities to inform policy even beyond the current administration.
The programs and rules that affect Americans' daily lives and security are profoundly shaped by the regulatory and rule-making process within the Executive Branch of government. While federal regulation touches thousands of issues, from employment rights to environmental health, the process of creating these regulations is shrouded in bureaucratic mystery, disconnected from Americans' daily experiences, and rarely covered outside specialized media.The Biden-Harris administration has sought to broaden the role of public engagement in the process of government decision-making, with a particular focus on equity. In January of this year, the administration issued two Executive Orders (EOs) that called for modernizing regulatory rule-making and for advancing equity. In November, the administration put forth a management vision which includes three priority areas for building a more equitable, effective, and accountable Federal Government. One priority area is to improve the design of services and provide digital access in ways that reduce burdens, address inequities, and streamline processes.A key source of expertise on improving public engagement and informing execution of the EOs and the management vision are local leaders and organizers who, in cooperation with state and local government, have developed and tested more effective and equitable methods of participation. Local organizers, deeply rooted in the challenges and experiences of their communities, possess distinctive expertise. They offer not only illustrative examples of best engagement practices, but also approaches to designing processes that engage diverse communities effectively. These insights and practices include building concrete feedback loops into participatory processes, incorporating continuous consultation and engagement, and identifying ways to promote transparency and inclusion into the review process.
In recent years, a more collaborative form of democratic engagement has emerged, primarily at the local and state level, as well as internationally. Collaborative governance, or co-governance, refers to a broad range of models of civic engagement that allow people outside and inside government to work together in designing policy. This new form of engagement seeks to break down the boundaries between advocates and officials and is not only more democratic, but also more inclusive and open to those served by the government. How are co-governance relationships best developed, sustained, and supported? The clearest way to answer this question is not in theory, but from the learned experiences of co-governance, at the neighborhood, city, and state level. In this report, we highlight five of these cases in communities across the country where progress has been made to improve the quality of life and strengthen the bonds of community for all through the collaborative work of democracy.
While legislation tends to get more attention, the regulatory process within the executive branch is at the core of day-to-day democratic governance. Federal regulation and rule-making engages dozens of agencies and affects every American. The Biden-Harris administration acknowledged the centrality of the regulatory process with two actions on the President's first day in office. The first called for modernizing the regulatory review process, particularly the central oversight role of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). The second was an executive order calling on the federal government to support underserved communities and advance racial equity. These two initiatives together lay the groundwork for a reorientation and modernization of the regulatory process to move it in the direction of equity and justice.To understand the challenges to and advantages of a reformed regulatory review process, New America's Political Reform Program and the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government convened a group of academic experts from across the country to share their findings on the state of regulatory review and to identify alternative measures of not just the cost of regulations, but also the distributional impact of their costs and benefits. These experts specialize in administrative law, economic analysis, public participation, and regulatory review, and their work covers policy areas including patent law, healthcare, and environmental justice.This conversation focused first on the changes that could be made within the framework of cost-benefit analysis, and then on reforms that would go beyond cost-benefit to new modes of analysis. Much of the discussion centered around ensuring that regulations appropriately benefit and do not harm vulnerable or marginalized communities.