Unpacking the democratic affordances of CrowdLaw concept and practice: ‘It feels like being part of the game’

Authors: Mayra Feddersen

This research draws on the CrowdLaw concept and the affordances framework to inquire how Senador Virtual, a technological innovation in the Chilean Senate, could contribute to creating more democratic processes and outcomes, and consequently, whether the platform promoted or enabled more equality in decision-making processes and better citizen engagement. Based on a mixed-methods approach of statistical analysis, interviews, and a digital ethnography, we studied the 16-year-old web platform.

Our research shows that the platform gave rise to five latent democratic affordances which are not always fully leveraged. Of these, three had already been discussed within the CrowdLaw literature: (1) capture a variety of viewpoints; (2) generate insights that illuminate the lawmaking process; and (3) serve as a device for communication between citizens and senators. Notwithstanding, we also found two additional affordances not normally attributed to CrowdLaw: (4) create a civilized public forum; and (5) foster civility among the users that engage with it. We suggest that in order for these affordances to be fully leveraged, the CrowdLaw process must be designed to complement traditional lawmaking processes, including a reliable methodology for processing citizen input. Only when the above is accomplished, will this technological facilitator produce actual democratic outcomes.

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