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Business - Written by on Tuesday, February 12, 2008 23:52 - 2 Comments

Petition this

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A new report published by the London-based New Local Government Network calls on local governments across the UK to introduce e-petitioning mechanisms as a means of re-engaging citizens in local politics and local decision making. The report frames the issue by noting that just 36% of British adults know who their local councillor is, and that a measly 17% have presented their views or concerns to a councillor over the past two or three years.

The paper argues that e-petitions could be the answer to reversing such trends, as it “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.”

Moreover, it lists four reasons why e-petitioning should be at the top of the local gov priority list -

  • 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.

The most quoted example supporting e-petitioning is the UK government’s 10 Downing Street e-petitions program. The site has garnered nearly 30,000 petitions on topics ranging from “Stop schools in the UK from giving homework to pupils” to “Increase funding for research and innovation.” Of the 30k, however, 14k were rejected outright. It would also seem that outside of one petition regarding road pricing that garnered over 1.8 million signatures and prompted government action, there is little proof that such “engagement” will lead to actual change in government policy.

The NLGN report acknowledges this, and points to a petitioning system introduced by the Scottish Parliament as a more effective means of integrating constituent views into the formalized policy-making process. There’s a slew of other examples in this field, some listed in this report, and others such as this one that are not. And while I’m prone to being a skeptic, I can’t help but like the rather transparent Scottish process, one which sees all petitions treated as part of the formalized parliamentary process.

You can read the full report here, it’s definitely worth a look.



2 Comments

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Denis
Feb 13, 2008 17:14

I’m impressed that half the people who know who their counciler is have presented a view to them over the last 2-3 years.

Jenn Durley
Feb 14, 2008 15:20

Denis, your reasoning may be putting the cart before the horse.

What I mean is that perhaps those who participated in a dialoge with their councillor only gained the knowledge of that person’s identity in order to make their complaint. (I’m assuming the “view” was a negative one.)

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