Designing Digital Democratic Institutions: Legal Code Meets Software Code

  Beth Noveck, New York Law School

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design

We are witnessing the phenomenon of decentralized groups emerging without formal organizations to solve complex social problems and take action in the world together. In groups people can accomplish what they cannot do alone. New visual and social technologies are making it possible for people not only to create community but also to wield power and create rules to govern their own affairs. This presentation will focus on the ways technology design enables more effective forms of collective action, focusing particularly on the emerging tools for "collective visualization" which will profoundly reshape the ability of people to make decisions, own and dispose of assets, organize, protest, deliberate, dissent and resolve disputes together. By looking at several examples, including the design of "Peer to Patent" and the Cairns projects (, this presentation will address the discipline of digital institution design that melds legal code and software code to develop legal and political institutions embedded in technology. We will talk across disciplines about what it means to design for collaborative communities. In so doing, we will discuss not only how technology is used in our democracy but how technology, and the interface, in particular, changes what we mean by democracy today.

Beth Noveck is associate professor of law and director of the Institute for Information Law and Policy at New York Law School. She also runs the Democracy Design Workshop, an interdisciplinary "do tank" dedicated to deepening democratic practice through technology design. Prof. Noveck teaches in the areas of e-government and e-democracy, intellectual property, innovation, and constitutional law. She is a founding fellow of the Yale Law School Information Society Project. Her research and design work lie at the intersection of technology and civil liberties and is aimed at building digital democratic institutions through the application of both legal code and software code. She is the designer of online civic projects, including "Peer to Patent", Unchat, Cairns, the Gallery and Democracy Island (see and is the author and editor of numerous books and articles, including the book series Ex Machina: Law, Technology and Society (NYU Press). She is the founder of the annual conference “The State of Play: Law & Virtual Worlds,” cosponsored by New York Law School, Harvard, and Yale Law School. Formerly a telecommunications and information technology lawyer practicing in New York City, Professor Noveck graduated from Harvard University and earned a J.D. from Yale Law School. After studying as a Rotary Foundation graduate fellow at Oxford University, she earned a doctorate at the University of Innsbruck with the support of a Fulbright. She blogs at

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