A group of liberal public officials, scholars, labor leaders and other activists has formed a new research and public affairs institute based in New York City, focusing on economics, regulatory affairs, access to government, and crime.

The organization, The Democracy Project, was founded to "critique government and corporate policies and at the same time assemble prospects for progressive alternatives that are innovative," said the group's president, Mark Green.

The list of the group's founders includes the late singer Harry Chapin, businessman and former Carter administration official Sidney Harman and television producer Norman Lear. The project is being run now by Green, a former director of Ralph Nader's lobbying group, Congress Watch. Among three coordinators in the group is former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief Joan Claybrook, who is studying regulatory affairs.

The list of public officials participating in the project includes seven members of Congress -- among them Reps. Toby Moffett (D-Conn.), Morris Udall (D-Ariz.), and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) -- and Federal Trade Commission member Michael Pertschuk.

Although a variety of fund-raising groups, think tanks and other organizations have been formed to counter the policies of conservative movement, the Democracy Project is unique, Green said in a recent interview.

"We are the only new progressive effort hoping to recontour old ideas to the new political terrain," Green said. "Conservatives don't have one or two or three institutes. They have dozens complementing each other and progressives need more."

Green said the record of the Reagan administration has made the Democracy Project's efforts more appealing and more practical. "Reagan's election has maximized the opportunity for the implementation of progressive alternatives."

"More than four more anesthetizing years of Jimmy Carter, Reagan has shown Congress and the country how to obtain nonincremental changes in federal policy," Green said. "If the Kemp-Roth Bill effectively can become national policy, so can proposals to promote economic democracy."

Among the organization's research works already underway are a project by Claybrook and an associate on regulatory "success stories," Green said. Other current projects include a look at whether the combination of free mail and media time is an alternative to PAC funding of election campaigns, the costs of business crime, and alternatives to prison.

Next year's budget for the project will be about $300,000, to be raised from organized labor, direct mail and wealthy donors, Green said. Much of the seed money for the effort came from fund-raising concerts by Chapin, who died in an auto accident last summer on Long Island.