e-Petitioner is an online petition
Internet petition
An Internet petition is a form of petition posted on a website. Visitors to the website in question can add their email addresses or names, and after enough "signatures" have been collected, the resulting letter may be delivered to the subject of the petition, usually via e-mail.-Pros and cons:The...

 system that allows citizens to raise and sign a petition
A petition is a request to do something, most commonly addressed to a government official or public entity. Petitions to a deity are a form of prayer....

, read background information on the issue, and add comments to an online forum associated with each petition. It is characterised by its integration into the processes of representative democracy
Representative democracy
Representative democracy is a form of government founded on the principle of elected individuals representing the people, as opposed to autocracy and direct democracy...


The system evolved from a research project conducted jointly by The Scottish Parliament
Scottish Parliament
The Scottish Parliament is the devolved national, unicameral legislature of Scotland, located in the Holyrood area of the capital, Edinburgh. The Parliament, informally referred to as "Holyrood", is a democratically elected body comprising 129 members known as Members of the Scottish Parliament...

, the International Teledemocracy Centre
International Teledemocracy Centre
The International Teledemocracy Centre was established at Edinburgh Napier University in 1999. The centre is dedicated to researching innovative e-democracy systems that will strengthen public understanding and participation in democratic decision-making....

 (ITC) at Edinburgh Napier University and BT
BT Group
BT Group plc is a global telecommunications services company headquartered in London, United Kingdom. It is one of the largest telecommunications services companies in the world and has operations in more than 170 countries. Through its BT Global Services division it is a major supplier of...

 Scotland, as part of an investigation into the use of Information and Communication Technologies
Information and communication technologies
Information and communications technology or information and communication technology, usually abbreviated as ICT, is often used as an extended synonym for information technology , but is usually a more general term that stresses the role of unified communications and the integration of...

 (ICTs) in encouraging democratic participation.

It has been used by national governments, local authorities and a students union.

The system

There are 3 groups of actors in the e-petition:
  1. people who want to raise petitions (petitioners);
  2. people who support particular petition issues (signatories);
  3. the body to which the petitions are addressed: e.g. parliament, government, local authority. In the e-petitioner system, this body has overall responsibility for the system, including its administration.

Petition information

The principal petitioner provides background information, along with the petition text, which is published on the website.

After the petition is submitted, visitors may track the petitions progress through the parliament or local authority, for example via a “progress in parliament” button.

Signing the petition

Signatories’ names are displayed for transparency, but addresses are stored privately, ensuring that the system complies with data protection laws.

The system automatically deletes duplicate signatures and provides administrators with graphical indicators of confidence in the validity of signatures, based upon automated checks. These compare IP addresses, e-mail addresses and check the name against a list. These indicators support the administrator’s scrutiny of input. Administrators may also remove signatures which are offensive.

Once the petition has run for its period, the system automatically generates figures of the numbers of signatures made (valid and invalid) as well as the regions from which these signatures came.

The forum

The discussion forum allows the petitioner to prompt the public into debate upon the issue. The forum serves as a place where those who disagree may register their opinion and reasoning. It also enables people to record their own experiences of the issue, providing anecdotal evidence to supplement abstract argument. During the petition’s lifetime, the administrators moderate the discussion, in addition to the spam filters provided.

Other tools for administrators

The back end of the system facilitates the administration of e-petitions; their creation, their day to day maintenance and their closure. Administration tools are tailored to integrate with the parliament or authority’s preferred means of processing petitions.

Technical specifications

E-Petitioner is implemented in Microsoft Active Server Pages (ASP) and uses a SQL Server database to hold the petitions data. It uses the open standard XHTML 1.0 for web page markup, and ODBC (Open DataBase Connectivity standard) to connect to the database. The system is currently hosted on a Windows 2003 Server running IIS and SQL Server 2005. Disk storage requirements for the application are less than 10MB.

Background and inception

The creation of a devolved Parliament for Scotland in 1999 presented the opportunity to establish a process of government that incorporated the prevailing views on best practice. An influential document in this respect was ‘The Consultative Steering Group’ produced by the Scottish Office in 1998. One of its proposals was that the parliament should employ all forms of information and communication technology “innovatively and appropriately” to support openness, accessibility and participation.

The Steering Group recognised the importance of enabling groups and individuals to influence the Parliament’s agenda, and recommended that a process to handle petitions should be encouraged, where that process had clear and simple rules on form and content, and specified clearly how the petitions would be handled. To fulfil these proposals, The Scottish Parliament established a Public Petitions Committee (PPC), for the promotion and management of petitions.

In December 1999, the PPC entered into partnership with ITC and BT Scotland to design of the e-Petitioner system, geared towards meeting the standards of openness, accessibility and participation aspired to in contemporary democracy.

The World Wide Fund for Nature
World Wide Fund for Nature
The World Wide Fund for Nature is an international non-governmental organization working on issues regarding the conservation, research and restoration of the environment, formerly named the World Wildlife Fund, which remains its official name in Canada and the United States...

 (WWF) were conducting a campaign to provide National Park status for selected coastal regions of Scotland and accepted the opportunity to raise the first e-petition run by the PPC, which they called ‘Our Seas Deserve a vote’. The pilot system developed out of this conjunction: The Parliament defining their user requirements and WWF specifying what features would be attractive to civic groups (NGOs) wanting an accessible and transparent lobbying tool. ITC designed the tool and it was implemented by BT Scotland as a dynamic website. The e-petition ran until 29 February 2000, collecting 305 valid signatures and 9 valid comments.

The Scottish Parliament continued to accept petitions from the system and then asked ITC to re-engineer e-petitioner to more fully integrate it with the Parliament’s website, specifically with the Public Petition Committee’s pages and database of received petitions. From that period, ITC and the Parliament have continued to collaborate in developing the system.

Further implementations

In June 2004, the e-Petitioner system was chosen as part of the UK Government’s Local e-Democracy National Project, funded by the ODPM (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister). The aim was to explore how English local authorities could use e-petitioning to allow citizens to raise concerns within the formal policy-making processes of the local authority. Both the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames
Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames
The Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames is a borough in southwest London, England. The main town is Kingston upon Thames and it includes Surbiton, Chessington, New Malden and Tolworth. It is the oldest of the three Royal Boroughs in England, the others are Kensington and Chelsea, also in London,...

 and Bristol City Council piloted versions of the system in the year to March 2005. The system was adapted, by ITC, in partnership with the 2 councils, to align it with their contexts and processes. After the pilot period, Kingston took control of their e-petitioner system and its future development; Bristol continued to use the pilot system, with minor adaptations until 2008.

In 2005, a version of e-petitioner was produced for the German Parliament (Bundestag
The Bundestag is a federal legislative body in Germany. In practice Germany is governed by a bicameral legislature, of which the Bundestag serves as the lower house and the Bundesrat the upper house. The Bundestag is established by the German Basic Law of 1949, as the successor to the earlier...

). This was a collaborative project involving The Scottish Parliament, ITC and the Bundestag ‘Online Services Department’. The Bundestag has specific responsibilities in relation to citizens right to petition parliament. The system was formally launched on 1st September 2005, and in 2008 the Bundestag moved to a new system based on its evaluation of the use of the ITC system.

In 2006, the e@SY Connects partnership in South Yorkshire worked with ITC to implement e-Petitioner as a part of the ‘Hanse Passage Participation’ initiative. The e@SY Connects partnership’s aim is to provide the local population with information and services via interactive television, mobile phone, information kiosks and the Internet.

The King's College London Students' Union
King's College London Students' Union
King's College London Students' Union is one of England's oldest students' union. KCLSU is an independent charitable organisation, being a registered Charity with the Charity Commission, and exists solely to further the interests of its members, the approximately 23,500 students who are at King's...

 also uses the e-Petitioner system.

10 years on

In June 2009 The Scottish Parliament published its report into petitioning in the Scottish Parliament. This included an evaluation of the e-Petitioner system.

Related systems

In 2007-2008 Public-i worked with the ITC to develop the ideas as an Open Source
Open source
The term open source describes practices in production and development that promote access to the end product's source materials. Some consider open source a philosophy, others consider it a pragmatic methodology...

petitioning component of their 'eParticipate' suite of applications which has now been implemented by Bristol Council.

This system is being further developed as part of the EuroPetition project.

Selected Related Articles

Evaluations: The Scottish Parliament system

Evaluations: The Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames and Bristol City Council systems

Evaluations: The German Bundestag system

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.