Second is the new first

mrhenderson Uncategorized Leave a Comment

Over the last three days I have had the pleasure of escorting a delegation of officers and politicians from Sweden, organised by the Swedish Municipalities and Regions (equivalent to the LGA).  This “study group” had a special interest in ePetitioning, not least because many Swedish cities are on the cusp of launch a facility or in the process of collecting their first batch of signatures.  And, I should add, what a great bunch of folks they turned out to be!!

It follows that we had a gruelling schedule of visits to petition hotspots such as Bristol and Lambeth.  At this point I must also thank the other contributors, in particular the guys at Hansard and MP Martin Vickers {et.al} who did an excellent job of escorting us around Westminster.

At some point I will reveal a little more about the current status quo relating to the English ePetition scene.  A really smart piece of research from Brunel University is leading the way on this.  It suggests that the majority of authorities have indeed complied with the LDEDC Act.

So what were the main learning points?  Well, it was clear that the petitioning process is far more critical than the technology.  Council resourcing need not be burdensome either as the typical number of petitions received is more than manageable.  In terms of the quality of petitions received, I concluded that time is a factor.  In other words, that more established facilities have less horseplay.

Bristol has spent some considerable effort understanding their online petitioners.  This re-enforced the theory that the instrument was used predominantly by the middle class elites – which was disappointing.

Generally speaking I will be surprised if local authorities back-track on their commitment to hosting an ePetition facility.  However, given that few have actively promoted their current offering (and nested the systems deep in their websites) my guess is that dormant facilities (constituting a majority) will be interpreted as a waste of time.

I’ve come away with bags of data and lots of examples of good practice.  For example, let’s make sure that petitioners using the paper channel are told about the ePetition option.  I should also point out some findings from the EuroPetition project, such as the optimal petition duration of 100 days.

Truth is my fact finding mission exposed a bunch of more fundamental observations.  The Swedes are smart cookies.  They’ve had the opportunity to learn from our mistakes and are doing just that.  They have an umbrella organisation which takes eDemocracy seriously and state funding to match.  They have the resources and enthusiasm to make the transition from offline to online.  Yet somehow there is a shortfall of guarantors relating to actions or duties from citizen initiated activity.

Clearly we should be proud of our legislators and policy gurus but envious of our European counterparts who just get on with delivering quality democratic services.  What we really need is both.

I’ll post some more links shortly.

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