Research Project

21st Century Democracy: e-petitioning and local government
31 January, 2008

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21st Century Democracy: e-petitioning and local governmentCouncils should introduce Scottish style e-petitions to engage people in local politics according to a new NLGN paper. It argues that allowing citizens to publicly petition councils to debate and review spending and policy commitments would give them direct influence over how local services were delivered and encourage greater democratic participation.

NLGN argues that e-petitions could become an effective tool in creating a constant dialogue between communities and their elected representatives, helping to maintain a conversation in between elections and engaging voters, particularly young people. It points towards the success of the formal e-petitioning process used in the Scottish Parliament, which allows citizens to raise issues and concerns.

The British Government has also explored the role of e-petitioning, most notably through the No.10 website where citizens can upload and support petitions. The British model however does not have any formal system for debating the petitions in Parliament or warranting a Government response.

The paper identifies four key advantages for councils to introduce e-petitioning:

  • To widen participation to include those who appear to be more disengaged:
    the young and the those who are less well-off;
  • To establish methods of ongoing engagement that give people the ability to voice their opinions with methods accessible to them and the ability to see the impact this has;
  • To ensure methods of accountability and direct dialogue with representatives;
  • To provide methods by which information is readily available and accessible.
It also argues that e-petitioning should become a formal mechanism within the local authority “Community Call For Action”, which allows local residents to raise concerns about persistent or serious problems in their area and which local councillors have a duty to respond to.

The system would be based on residents establishing a minimum number of signatures needed to support a petition, which could then trigger a formal council debate on the issue. The paper also calls on the Audit Commission to reward councils who show commitment and innovation to e-petitioning through the new Comprehensive Area Assessment and for councils to use their own websites to encourage greater e-participation.
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Publication Date: 31 January 2008
Authored by: Giorgia Iacopini