e-Petitioning for the Scottish Parliament
The objectives of the e-petitioner tool, and the processes in place for its effective management in the Scottish Parliament, are to provide a service for citizens to raise concerns and have them addressed through the formal processes of parliament. Specifically:
- Any citizen is able to raise an e-petition provided it adheres to admissibility criteria, e.g. that it is on an issue that the Scottish Parliament has powers to deal with.
- Citizens are enabled to discuss an e-petition, regardless of whether they add their name in support of it. Petitions can be regarded as topics of public debate by a geographically dispersed population, rather than simply as online documents to be delivered to representatives. E-petitioner aims to add to the participative element of the traditional petitioning process by allowing the possibility to sit down and think about the petitions key points in depth before making an informed choice as to whether or not to support and sign the petition and whether to add any comment.
- E-petitioner provides citizens with the opportunity to track Parliament’s response to the matters raised.
- E-petitioner provides online access to user guidelines which describe the kind of issues that can be raised, what citizens should do before starting a petition, the form and content of the petition, how the PPC would consider the petition and who to contact for further information.
- The system also informs citizens about online security and privacy, about how to start an e-petition, the additional information they may provide to inform other citizens, about the issues they want to raise, and what may happen subsequently.
The e-petitioning system was developed through a partnership between the ITC, BT Scotland, and the Scottish Parliament. Their shared interest in online public participation struck a chord with the NGO WWF Scotland, who saw an opportunity for more effective lobbying, and raised the first e-petition to enhance the public profile of a campaign on marine national parks in December 1999.
Initially, a pilot e-petitioner system was developed by ITC researchers who worked with the Parliament to define the user requirements, also consulting WWF on requirements that would meet the needs of civic groups for an accessible and transparent lobbying tool. BT Scotland then implemented the software as a dynamic website.
The e-petitioner software was initially available as a pilot on ITC’s server www.e-petitioner.org.uk. Following the success of the pilot the Parliament and ITC agreed to re-engineer the software to fully integrate it with the Parliament’s own website, and specifically the Public Petition Committee’s pages and database of received petitions.
E-petitioner is implemented in Microsoft Active Server Pages (ASP) and uses a SQL Server database to hold the petitions data. These technologies are widely adopted by Public Authorities throughout the European Union. E-petitioner uses the open standard XHTML 1.0 for web page markup, and ODBC (Open DataBase Connectivity standard) to connect to the database. These standards are deployed so that database management systems other than SQL Server (such as the open-source mySQL database) could be readily used instead.
The e-Petitioner System comprises 2 sections: -
- The Front-End – the publicly accessible web pages where the citizens interact with the system;
- The Back-End – The private Administrative Section which comprises password protected web pages for all administrative functions.
Key learning points
Key learning points have been:-
- The need for a shared willingness to innovate in methods of public involvement;
- Clearly worded and easy to follow guidelines need to be published in the interests of transparency and process management;
- To enhance accessibility of the process, the petitioning ‘front end’ must also be accessible and usable;
- Building online discussion capabilities into the e-petitions addresses the need for the online process to open up the possibilities for public discussion, including discussion with elected representatives where appropriate, around topics that concern citizens.
- Public credibility is a key element for long term sustainability of e-petitioning as a public engagement mechanism. This means that a key element of the e-petitioning system is the ability to track progress of an e-petition through the decision-making process, and that the management process must also meet the need to update the progress information so that citizens and others can monitor the political process.
Links on this website
Each publication is linked to its reference
- e-Petitioning: Enabling Ground-up Participation
- E-Democracy: Citizen engagement and evaluation
- Digital Democracy through Electronic Petitioning
- E-petitioner: A Monitoring and Evaluation Report
- E-democracy and the Scottish Parliament
- Technology to Support Participatory Democracy
- Electronic Petitions to the Scottish Parliament
- Government Computing interview: Peter Cruickshank emphasises the need for human support for e-petitioners, 02/02/2011
- Presentation to German Parliament's Petitions Committee, 02/02/2011
- Peter Cruickshank on Social Media panel at Scottish Parliament conference, 02/10/2010
- Kosovan Parliament's visit, 12/05/2010
- Bavarian Parliament's Petitions committee visit, 11/05/2010
- ITC give evidence to House of Commons Procedure Committee, 30/01/2008
- Bill Gates and George Reid praise Scottish Parliament's innovative use of technolgy, 15/02/2007
- This is Bristol - e-Petition case studies, 19/01/2007
- Scots' online petitions winning the German vote, 13/11/2006
- Electronic petitions enhance public influence and participation in democratic process, 31/03/2006
- ITC's e-Petitioner: finalist in eEurope and the UK, 28/11/2005
- e-Petitioner German Parliament Launch, 01/09/2005
- Scottish Parliament e-Petitioner: Finalist for eEurope Award for eGovernment , 31/08/2005
- Formal launch of Scottish Parliament e-Petitions System, 11/02/2004
- First e-Petition goes live on new Scottish Parliament e-Petitioner system, 13/05/2003
- 'Open Scotland' e-petition to support 'outdoor access for all': presented, 24/10/2001