The E-petitioning System
||International Teledemocracy Centre – ITC (Napier University) and the Councils of Bristol and Kingston
Electronic and Mobile Government,
ICT for MDGs,
||Jan 01, 2005
||The e-petitioning project was part of the “Information, communication and citizenship” strand of the Local e-Democracy National Project, involving English local authorities and funded by the UK Government (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister).
It aimed to explore e-petitioning as a way for citizens to raise their own concerns within the formal processes of the local authority. E-petitioning was implemented and piloted by two local authorities, the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames, which led the project, and the Bristol City Council.
The e-petitioning tool was developed by the International Teledemocracy Centre (ITC) at Napier University to support the newly instituted Parliament’s aim of enhancing participation in democratic decision-making.
The tool would allow visitors to the website to raise a petition, to read petitions underway and sign them if they wished; to read background information provided by the person raising a petition (‘principal petitioner’); and to exchange comments about the petition in a discussion forum.
The two main aims of the e-petitioning system were:
- to outline requirements for the design and management of e-petitioning processes that can stimulate active citizen participation in local communities;
- to trace the path of e-petitions through the committees of the Councils and assess whether or not, and, if so, how input by the public via e-petitioning impacts on decision-making at different levels.
The ITC worked alongside the Councils’ e-Democracy project managers to localize the e-Petitioner tool and embed it in their processes for handling petitions, while ensuring it remained sufficiently generic to be easily adapted to the needs of other Councils.
In Kingston this work was coordinated through the IT Department, and in Bristol through the Corporate Consultation team. As well as deploying the system and developing procedures to handle e-petitions, the Councils’ role included promoting the system internally (to Council Officers/Councillors) and externally (to members of the public).
The e-petitioning system has enjoyed strong support from Councillors in both Kingston and Bristol, particularly Kingston, and from the departments which are directly involved in the day-to-day servicing of representative government.
The issues raised through e-petitioning are unarguably issues that are important to citizens, and are evidently addressed through local authority decision-making. E-petitions were raised on, for example, road crossings, telecoms masts, and Post Office closures.
||An Evaluation of e-Petitioning in the Local e-Democracy National Project was carried out in March 2005 by the International Teledemocracy Centre, Napier University.
The evaluation found that much had been accomplished in both Councils over the one year project lifetime, when the E-Petitioner was used by hundreds of citizens in each Councils’ area.
At the end of the pilot period (17 March 2005) there were 7 e-Petitions for Kingston, and 9 paper petitions were presented to the Council in the same period. In Bristol there were 9 e-petitions and 22 on paper.
The total number of e-petition signatures was 173 in Kingston and 890 in Bristol. Citizens, Officers and Members who took part in the evaluation were almost unanimously in favour of e-petitioning.
The website and its associated guidelines on petitioning make both the process and the petition outcomes more visible.
The added visibility applies to paper as well as e-petitions, since paper petitions that are presented at Council meetings are also listed on the e-Petitioner page.
Few e-petitions have progressed to a final Council response in either Kingston or Bristol for which reason it is too early to draw conclusions on the impact on decision-making, and the success of the ePetitioner system is perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that both councils are committed to continue to use the system after the end of the pilot funding.
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