In late 2010, a stunning series of events across the globe showed how fed up millions are with political corruption, inequality, and social injustice. Technology played a key role in rallying support during the Arab Spring, and in Morocco, an open online platform that allowed citizens to help revamp their country's constitution four years ago led to a website that still works to empower normal citizens in the legislative process.
It's called Legislation Lab, and it's a beta project under the umbrella of GovRight, an organisation that presents law documents to the public in an easy-to-understand, easy-to-access way. Legislation Lab then allows citizens to voice feedback on proposals that might become laws. Do people like a proposal? Dislike it? What would they change? All voices and opinions are welcome. The Lab works with law facilitators to present the legal documents and to promote discussion with users. Ideally, the public feedback is presented to government officials and will lead to real change. They want to close the gap in the legislative process between the big cheeses and the regular folks. That's what happened in Morocco in 2011.
The genesis of Legislation Lab began back four years ago, when Morocco's King Mohammed VI announced that constitutional reform was coming. That's when former Microsoft engineer Tarik Nesh-Nash co-founded Reforme.ma. It was an open, participatory platform that aggregated opinions from everyday Moroccans with the goal of changing the country's constitution to be more democratic. Within two months, more than 10,000 citizen proposals were gathered, and Nesh-Nash presented it all to the constitutional drafting committee. Nesh-Nash says the new draft of the constitution included 40% of the suggestions aggregated on Reforme.ma. In July of the same year, 98.45% of the public voted in approval for the new constitution in a referendum. The changes stripped a lot of power from King Mohammed VI and gave it to the publicly elected representatives instead.
Legislation Lab, which grew out of the success of Reforme.ma, was chosen by the United Nations as one of 14 innovators around the world to help address the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Legislation Lab outlined their plans alongside the other winning startups and companies last month at UN Headquarters in New York.
"Citizens should be able to express their opinions before political leaders make important decisions," Tarik told the World Bank in an interview. "One of the main objectives of Reforme.ma was to inform youths, to encourage them to read and comment on the constitution that would soon govern their country."
Next, Legislation Lab has planned projects for New York City, Chile, and Iraq, with the goal of empowering citizens to be more informed about their legal rights, and how they can have a real effect on incoming legislation. This is a great example of how technology helps to do that.
Top image: Pro-government supporters in Casablanca celebrate on June 17, 2011 after King Mohammed VI's speech outlining constitutional amendments that secured a more powerful elected government. Credit: AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar.