ePetitioning the UK Prime Minister

The beta version of MySociety’s e-petitioning system is now publicly available here. As Simon Dixon says, a brilliant example of what can be achieved by a small group of motivated (open source) developers [link to repository]; there is a BBC article on this here too.

The e-petitioner developed by ITC for the Scottish Parliament makes for a useful comparison. With the PM’s version, the email address is used to verify the signatures and a valid-seeming postcode is required: only UK residents are allowed to sign, making the process a little tighter than Scotland’s. The requirement for an email address will exclude a proportion of potential users – I don’t know how much, though I guess it would be possible to find out.

Things I like:

  • It works, and has a clean, fast interface
  • It acts as a great example of learning through a public beta process
  • Being able to create short-cut names for petitions (eg http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/badgers)
  • A rejected petitions page (an interesting concept). The reason for the rejection is given too – a nice bit of transparency indeed

On the down-side, there is no forum of debating the associated issues. Also, the follow-up mechanism seems restricted to emails to the participants to say what the government will do: ie no apparent public disclosure (and ownership) of what (if anything) the government has decided to do with the completed petition.

In summary: a great idea with loads of room for improvement. But a low-cost commitment by the PM’s office, with minimal effect on the level of citizen engagement in comparison to the Scottish experience: does the current system really enhance democracy?

Let’s see what the final version comes out like.

Updates

21 December

More technical information and thoughts on improving the process can be found via a later blog entry here

17 November

I found the MySociety blog entry for the golive <http://www.mysociety.org/2006/11/14/no10-petitions-system-goes-live/&gt; – some feedback is trickling through there. The main feedback process is via email; open RFE systems can work better I think. But maybe the volume of feedback would be unmanageable

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About Peter Cruickshank

Lecturer in the School of Computing and a member of the Centre for Social Informatics at Edinburgh Napier University, Scotland. Interested in information systems, learning, politics, society, security and where they intersect. My attempts at rounding out my character include food, cinema, running, history and, together with my lovely wife, bringing up a cat and a couple of kids.
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3 Responses to ePetitioning the UK Prime Minister

  1. Here’s an idea for improvement: if No10 is unwilling to take on forum hosting/moderation, allow the petitions to include links to discussion forum(s)

  2. Another thought:

    I think I would worry about whether the impact of the petitioning site would be diluted if there are hundreds of petitions open at once, (many with few signatures).

    There might also be tricks to keep the clutter down a little, such as
    – requiring (say) 10 signatures before a petition is shown publicly
    – closing a petition early if it’s had no signatures for a week (say)
    – allowing filtering by topic/domain/relevant Ministry

  3. Pingback: MySociety’s ePetitioner architecture « Spartakan

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