Building a Civic Voice Archive

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Building a Civic Voice Archive
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Written by Shannon Dosemagen, Lorelei Kelly and Elizabeth Tyson

The vision for a Civic Voice Archive (CVA) is to strengthen our democratic resilience, trust and governance muscles. It is nestled among the goals of modernizing congressional information flows, providing more legitimacy-via-information, and improving the impact of public commentary.

The CVA is a way of connecting local congressional districts to federal legislative lawmaking. It will provide a streamlined and accessible method for engaging with community data. Importantly, it will also provide a repository for authentic community input. A bonus of this approach is the potential for trust building and increasing engagement in multi-directional dialogue, providing a public square enhanced through digital capacity.

The work will require the creation of institutional learning systems, but also improvements in the way data is recorded, stored, and accessed. We envision the digital technology behind the CVA being built to prioritize accessibility, usability, and the valuation of oral commentary and testimony as part of the lawmaking process. Through making curated information and data visible, with careful attention to its integration into existing federal catalogue systems, it will benefit both district constituents and Members of Congress while strengthening the First Branch of Government, Article One in the US Constitution and acknowledgement of the Rule of Law through our democratic participation in informing its construction. The CVA will be a deliberative vehicle to prompt both local and national discussions, and movement towards standardized information flow between democratic institutions like Congress and the public it serves.

The Open Environmental Data Project is interested in how the modernization of congressional information flows could support solution finding on complex environmental policy challenges. We already have science based initiatives that adapt existing public science and engineering to community/regional needs, but we still require improved information systems.  Specifically, we need mechanisms that  place value on the recorded experience of how communities inform, respond to and ultimately legitimize a legal process for adapting to climate change. The Civic Voice Archive (CVA) is intended to serve as an important resource for cataloguing community feedback and highlighting local solutions.

The CVA will also be a channel to inform and shape how communities seek reparations for environmental harm. For example, by serving as an independent community reservoir for public witness testimony that informs a process of judging, weighting and valuing inputs from the affected community. The values inherent in the CVA are fundamentally democracy strengthening-- to achieve justice and restore trust between the local and federal levels of governance. This repository will provide geographically relevant context and help convey the “whole picture” of communities that bear the highest environmental pollution burden. This sort of comparative data will supply useful tools like tradeoff visualizations to illustrate congressional resource allocation. They also hold the potential to establish more precise and relevant information for oversight and hence regulations.

Within land management issue areas, the CVA holds promise as a resource for constituents and their congressional representatives to explore the geographically relevant information that situates the science on land management with the people that live there. It will provide a method and archive to build a new, emergent legislative history. It will ideally be a tool to include the human story of land management alongside the science-based indicators of environmental landscape health in evaluating national strategies.

With these possibilities in mind, the Open Environmental Data Project is piloting SIDE events in 2021 with congressional members and constituents in their districts. By catalyzing these events, we are building critical information intermediary capacity. The resulting partnerships will lead to federal integration and a community archive. These developments will, in turn, move this vision from idea into prototype.