At a glance

Policy stage: 
Level of involvement: 
Cost: 
Low
Length of process: 
2-6 months
Number of participants: 
Open
Participant selection: 
Self selecting (open access process)
Online / Offline: 
Online

E-petitions are just like paper petitions but online. They are traditionally used to demonstrate large amounts of support for an opinion and then put pressure on government.

Description

E-petitions make use of software which allows the posting of petitions online where others can also register their support. Most e-petitions contain a detailed  requestcontaining what it is that the petitioner wants the government to do, or stop doing.

Once visible on an e-petitions web site, people can show support by adding their name, e-mail and postal addresses to the e-petition. An e-petitioner application is sometimes used to create and host e-petitions that could include associated online discussion forums, email updates and feedback web pages. Following the close of an e-petition, it is presented to government or the target organisation. This is usually done online, but some recent campaigns have printed and delivered the e-petition in person for increased effect.

In the UK, an e-petition feature was introduced on the Downing Street website in 2002. Since then, it has moved and petitions now address the central government directly rather than the prime minister’s office. The Coalition Government introduced legislation stating that after 100, 000 signatures a proposal will be considered for debate in the House of Commons. Since the e-petition site launch last year, there has been 36, 000 proposals submitted attracting 6.4 million signatures. In 2012 many councils have also adopted the e-petition tool on their websites.

Participants

  • Anyone with access to a computer and the internet can start or sign an E-petition.
  • Some petitions require signers to be a resident or citizen of the relevant country.

Costs

Low.

  • Once the system is set up it can host a large number of E-petitions.

Approximate time expense

Low.

  • User: Usually E-petitions are allowed to be online for a few months to give people time to sign the petition.
  • Provider: Processing the volume of information and responding to requests can be time consuming.

Strengths

  • They allow people to find others who are campaigning about issues that are important to them.
  • Increased awareness of what issues other people find important.
  • E-petitions are more easily circulated and signed than their paper-based equivalent.
  • Opportunity for informed debate, if the e-petition is accompanied by additional information.
  • Very quick and easy for many people to participate.

Weaknesses

  • E-petitions often don’t attract participation from older people without access to the internet, and there is often less participation from lower income citizens.
  • Opposing views may be overshadowed by the dominating petition.
  • Media coverage may bias responses (number of signatures).
  • No in-depth discussion (although this can be arranged at a supporting site such as a forum).

Origin

eDemocracy: E-petitions are an online version of paper based petitions.

Examples

See the following links for examples of governmental E-Petitions:

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