Downing Street Follows Bristol’s Lead on e-Petitioning

Written by Stephen Hilton on 18 Nov, 06
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For centuries, governments have kindly allowed citizens to collectively voice their opinion by presenting a petition. E-petitioning brings this ‘human right’ into the twenty-first century.

Following the Scottish Parliament’s lead, Bristol and Kingston upon Thames became the first two UK councils to adopt e-petitioning; this was over eighteen months ago.

It is gratifying that Downing Street has just this week launched a similar facility developed by Tom Steinberg’s very talented My Society.

One big difference between Bristol and the government’s approach is that Bristol actively supports an online discussion alongside each e-petition. When someone signs a paper petition this is usually the end of his or her involvement. E-petitioning is potentially more engaging. If someone is uncertain about supporting a Bristol e-petition they can email the owner for clarification. Supporters can also interact with the e-petitions web site, checking on progress, reading and adding to the on-line discussions and receiving feedback once the e-petition has concluded. If someone strongly disagrees with an e-petition they can say so online or even start a counter e-petition. The council’s (also very talented) Consultation Team produce a sumary report on the comments that accompanies each e-petition when it is presented.

Eight e-petitions are currently live on the Bristol site, started by citizens and councillors alike. They cover subjects ranging from a call to oppose an earlier e-petition to remove Banksey’s latest work on Park Street through to reinstating the Number 43 bus service.

Council officers are duty bound to be a-political (so only sign petitions using pseudonyms). However, I a happy to sign this e-petition on the Downing Street site, calling for the PM to provide free Wi Fi access in all cities. A very Bristol thing to do!

Stephen H.

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