How effective are electronic petitions?

Petitions have long been sent to the British Prime Minister by post or delivered to the Number 10 door in person. But since November 2006 people have been able to both create and sign petitions on the Number 10 website too, giving them the opportunity to reach a potentially wider audience and to deliver petitions directly to Downing Street.As of mid-June 2007:

  • 22,336 petitions have been set-up by users, of which 7.563 are currently live and available for signing, 2680 have finished and 10,501 have been rejected outright.
  • There have been 4,431,417 signatures, originating from 3,214,070 different email addresses.

All petitions have a deadline and once passed the government will email their current position on the issue as long as it has received over 200 signatures (unless they relate specifically to small groups for example, people from a small community). The advantages of the system are that petitioners can show their support much more easily and that government can then write directly to people much more efficiently than if they had to respond to individual letters. It also forces people to be a lot more specific in their points. At the same time it offers people a way to vent their frustrations and connect with government more easily than if they had to knock out a letter.

The petitions have probably shifted the direction of communication from the traditional petition days – now they are more about drawing in concerned citizens and then communicating the official line back to them. In a few cases the level of interest might be newsworthy and so help shape the general mood on an issue but I’m not aware of any cases where they might have had a serious impact on policy (maybe you can think of one?).A risk though is that some issues will attract a plethora of very similar petitions and so dilute the support they receive. This might be because of a failure to check if one already exists or because of nuanced differences. Either way someone would have to be very dedicated for example to sign these nine petitions all opposing faith based schools in some way:

And these four about religious education:

So unless one has a particular good communications strategy to accompany it they risk becoming a waste of effort.  


3 responses to “How effective are electronic petitions?

  1. Here’s an example of a petition that was part of a campaign that got a result. Not an ideal result, but a big improvement on what had been proposed.

  2. Thanks – that’s interesting. It looks like CTC played a key role but as a policy maker myself I know its always good to know that a position being lobbied has popular support and isn’t just a fringe opinion. Which is where a petition can come in. But as you say in your blog it probably needs to lobbiests to go through the arguments in more detail and offer good practical solutions.

    Plus it helped that this was a specific issue.

  3. But well done though on your result!

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