A data standard for e-petitions: time for your feedback

I wrote this sitting in a plane flying to Copenhagen, on my way to Malmo. I thought I’d get my thoughts together on why a common data standards for e-petitions is a good idea, as a kind of follow-up to my earlier post. It was either that or continue trying to read the Daily Mail.

As I see it, a common standard serves three purposes:

  • First, simple support for transparency and openness
  • Second, to support the transfer of data between petitioning systems, for instance prevent lock-in to a particular application. In effect, this is a structured database dump or record transfer.
  • The third purpose could be to allow remote interaction with the petitioning system – to submit or sign a petition.

Even simply making data available in a standard format offers fantastic opportunities. At the micro-end, the data could feed a Facebook widget: not just to show which petition you’ve just signed, but also for instance, to find a petition on a topic of concern to you – and if it’s not available in your council, find out how the subject has been approached elsewhere. It’s easy to see how this could be extended to including selecting a target council and creating a new petition – or for combining and internationalising petitions, as EuroPetition will do.

Cross-council comparisons would also become possible at the macro-end: for instance which councils have the shortest gap between petitions being closed and resolved and/or debated by councillors. The area I am most interested in as an evaluator and someone interested in public policy monitoring.

On the other hand, as it is publicly available data, balancing privacy and openness – and data protection – becomes an issue. This might mean that there are at least two levels of data exposure needed (secure, to a known and trusted system, and general/public) with all that that implies about identity, authorisation and authentication.

The next stage is to define the exact data to capture and standards to use, starting point from a clear idea of what the data is for – who will use it, what decisions will be taken on the basis of it. The next thing would be to standardise the names and definitions to support the key dimensions to petitions which are needed to support the process, its monitoring and evaluation.

What to do

Where can we begin? Well, a good place is this: part two of the consultation being run by Future Gov on data standards for e-petitions in England & Wales is now underway. Find out more on their site – and get your comments in by the end of this month.

It is a golden opportunity in place to get the groundwork in place for standards that can be applied in England and then across Europe, as and where e-petitioning is adopted. So take it – the standard is potentially international, so your comments are valid even if like me you don’t live in England or Wales.

PS This topic is particularly timely since there is a session on e-petitions at the eGovernment pre-conference in Malmo on Wednesday. And similar issues will apply to EU Citizens Initiatives, on which the Commission has just opened up a consultation.

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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.
This entry was posted in e-democracy, e-participation, Europe, UK and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A data standard for e-petitions: time for your feedback

  1. Pingback: Future Democracy ‘09 « Spartakan

  2. Pingback: Discussing the ECI in Edinburgh « Spartakan

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