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Scottish Parliament reports on 10 years of public (e-)petitions

1. July 2009 – 09:04 by International Teledemocracy Centre

Online petitioning is one of the oldest forms of e-participation around – in Scotland’s case it has been part of the political system for 10 years now. Partly to mark the 10 years of operation, the Scottish Parliament on 16 June 2009 published the report of a year-long inquiry by the Public Petitions Committee into the public petitions process, including its e-Petitioner system. This inquiry looked at how to improve awareness of the existence of the public petitions process, particularly amongst hard to reach groups; participation in the process itself; and the scrutiny role fulfilled by the Committee. For practitioners, it gives an insight into how a maturing e-participation technology is incorporated into the political process.

There are a number of interesting observations and recommendations: one highlight for me is the emphasis on physically holding meetings around the country, involving community workers, and also using former petitioners as ambassadors for the process.

e-Petitions are treated as just another route to get your voice heard:

“86. …it must be recognised that technology is only an enabler of participation and therefore it is not axiomatic that increased engagement will occur as a consequence of new technology. ICTs should be used as a means of enhancing traditional methods of engagement.”

(ITC was involved in the development of the e-Petitioner system in 1999, and I am now involved in the EuroPetition project that carries many of the ideas forward).

The petitions committee has identified the need for a “coherent strategy” for the introduction of video, blogging and other Web2.0 technologies by the Scottish Parliament’s petitions committee, and set up a new blogspot blog and produced a new petitions DVD. I believe this shows a real willingness to learn by the politicians.

Finally, I’d recommend taking 8 minutes to watch the excellent video (Windows Media format) on this blog entry. It explains how the petitioning process works from petitioners’ and politicians’ viewpoints and has some nice stories about how this form of petitioning increases engagement with politics.

- Peter Cruickshank