EuroPetition update: translation and authentication

Some thoughts from Tuesday’s EuroPetition project meeting

One of EuroPetition‘s partners is the city of Malmö. Since we were due a project meeting around this time of year, we decided to organise things so that it took place just before the EU eGov pre-, un- and official conferences that have been getting everyone[*] so excited this week.

I’m sure there will be some blogs and commentary coming out of the big events, so instead of that I thought I’d write about a couple of things that came up at our meeting.

From local to European: from Spanish to Dutch, Italian, English and Swedish

The EuroPetition system is designed for a bottom up process: a petition will start locally, and then bubble up when it’s clear that there is a trans-regional or European angle. We spent some time talking about how this this linking together would work.

The starting point is this: you have to understand what you are signing – which means it has to be in your language. There are a surprising number of wrinkles to sort out in the details behind this principle. The challenge is how to share knowledge of a petition across countries without going to the expense of a certified translation of every potential euro-petition, but at the same time assuring the people creating and signing a petition that is the same as its fellow EuroPetition in the next country or region. At two extremes we have – a Google Translate of the page, possibly with a bit of tweaking to make the text intelligible; at the other, it is possible to require the same level of official certification that EU laws do, making sure that legally signficant terms are precisely and predictably translated.

In our discussion, we moved towards ensuring that wherever possible, petitioners retain ownership of the process, even when it is running across several languages. I hope it’ll be their ultimate responsibility to be happy that the translation is accurate and to be active in marketing the petition with campaigners in all the affected regions. That should at least give us a bottom-up mechanism for ensuring the petitions are accepted as being ‘similar’ enough to each other by the people who matter.

I think we’re getting there – but it’s a learning process, so it may be that we try out different options in the project before committing the code to specific routes.

Validating signatures and petitions

It also became clear that we need to think more about how to validate signatures and petitions. The current project is aimed at simple petitions so verification is not an immediate issue. By simple, I mean there are no threshold numbers – this is the model used by the Scottish and European Parliaments.

But there are circumstances where you do need to have assurance on who’s signed the petitions: perhaps if there is a 5% threshold required for certain actions to take place, as is being built into the new system in England & Wales, or there may be a tight definition of ‘citizen’ or who can sign a petition based on residency or some other requirement.

We have decided that I will produce a short report outlining the issue and current practices as seen by partners. I’ll probably start on this in the new year so we have some concrete facts and proposals together by the end of the project.

…and yes we did talk about the evaluation process, which is ticking along nicely, thank you.

Overall I am really impressed by the effort the municipalities and local authorities are putting into this: right down to working with me to get a good volume of feedback on the initial questionnaire we will be running very shortly.

There’s no denying that there is a social element to European projects, and it was great to meet everyone in the project team again  and see some new faces from our Italian partner and from the Swedish cluster, from Malmö, Stockholm and Gothenburg.

You’re know you’re in a good project when there’s laughter round the table even as difficult issues are being discussed. People are more productive when they’re having fun 🙂

Finally: thank you to Grethe Lindhe and everyone at Malmö for organising things so well!


[*] If you don’t know what I’m talking about – follow the links and welcome to my world!



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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One Response to EuroPetition update: translation and authentication

  1. Pingback: Coming soon – the PEP NET Summit | Spartakan

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