Public comments in the final stages of rulemaking (the process agencies use to translate legislation into action) are not the most participatory technique, but - online - they are far more transparent than in the past, and generally mandatory! However, by the time a proposed rule or other action is open for comments, important decisions may already have been made. Involving the public earlier and increasing interaction will move toward a more participatory process, can build understanding, and may produce better decisions. Examples:
- Encourage agencies to use Advance Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRMs) to request comments at an earlier, more flexible stage and to encourage interactions among those with different views. Direct agencies to post ANPRM dockets (comments, background and so forth) on regulations.gov, and to use the same identifying number for the later Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM).
- Assure that all agencies know that a second round of comments is possible and use this when appropriate. This allows commenters to say what they think of other’s first-round comments, even if the comments came in late.
- Experiment with real discussions (not voting) alongside comment periods, wikis, and other ways to increase understanding and interaction.
- Build capacity by providing specific guidelines and training for agency personnel, plus background information for the public.