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.
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.
• 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.
• Once the system is set up it can host a large number of E-petitions.
Approximate time expense
• 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.
• 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.
• 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).
Image by Lorenzo Amisano.
Gather individual pre-existing opinions
Gather informed and considered opinions (deliberation)
Generate new ideas (innovation)
Number of participants
Self selected participants attending as individuals (open access process)
Level of awareness and interest
participants know about some aspects/can roughly articulate some interest
participants are well informed and can articulate their interests
Crime and justice
Culture and arts
Environment and climate change
Health and well-being
Housing and Planning
Science and technology
Limit search to...
... online processes
Level of involvement
Children and young people
Ethnic minority groups
Groups with low levels of literacy/confidence
People with learning difficulties