The 100 day lifespan of the e-petition

As part of the EuroPetition evaluation process for the report we’ve just issued, one research question we asked was whether there is an optimum time for closing a petition. I thought I’d discuss one finding that came out of playing around with the data we’d gathered: it turns out that petitioners could be given advice that 100 days is generally sufficiently long for a petition to be open.

Here are three of the graphs that I managed to generate from looking at the pattern of signature collections.

This first graph shows peaks in the signatures counts for each of the project partners by days after submission of the petition; each line represents totals for project partners.

A single local petition in Bristol (relating to the local football ground) generated over 20 000 signatures in a very short time, so I cropped vertical axis to keep the other petition targets visible. The spike to the right relates to Málaga (purple) and EuroPetitions (blue) which I’ll come back to below. Apart from that, it’s clear that most activity has died back after the 8 week mark (56 days).

Looking at the cumulative figures in the next chart:

It turns out that generally, 80% of signatures at each cluster are collected in less than 95 days, and 95% in less than 110.

The two centres with the slowest average signature collection rate are EuroPetitions (in maroon this time) and Málaga (still in purple). In both cases, this can be put down surges in individual petitions, in Málaga’s case reflecting offline campaigning and resulting Press interest, and for the EuroPetitions, reflecting a Facebook campaign run by a petition’s Swedish organiser. This goes to confirm the impact of parallel off- and on-line campaigns in keeping a petition active

You have probably spotted by now that the cluster-by-cluster figure could disguise a wide variation in the speed of signature collection by individual petitions. But, a review of individual petitions showed that 80% of all petitions reached 80% of their final signatures in less than 100 days. The next graph shows the figures for cumulate petition counts for the 65 EuroPetitons received during the project:

If this analysis is right, three lessons can be drawn:

  • It is probably safe to plan to close an e-petition after 100 days (3 months or so). By that point, the scale of support it will gather is clear. I know there are all sorts of caveats around this sort of analysis, but the tailing off of signatures I think means that I can be fairly sure about the conclusion.
  • Publicity does make a difference (duh!). So the caveat to Lesson 1 is to restate the rule of thumb as: close a petition around 3 months after the last serious publicity push – a date only the petitioner can be aware of
  • Petitioners should be given reports of daily signature counts (ideally in graphical form) so they get positive feedback on any campaigning work they do.

I’d welcome feedback – does this reflect the experience of other petition systems? Have I made a fundamental mistake in my conclusions?

Technical footnote

The data counts the days from submission of petition ideally, it would be from date the petition went live but for technical reasons, this was not possible. The delay between the two stages was generally around a week.

Another caveat: many of the petitions were still open, so it may be that there are other late surges to come that cannot be taken into account here.

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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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