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'Open Scotland' e-petition to support 'outdoor access for all': presented 24th October 2001

In early August 2001, LINK, a liaison body for the voluntary sector environmental organisations in Scotland, contacted the ITC to raise an e-petition focussed on outdoor access for all. A collaboration of three networks, who had come together as part of a campaign on outdoor access issues in relation to forthcoming legislation in the Scottish Parliament, subsequently sponsored the e-petition, which ran for 2 months until October 22nd 2001. Signatures collected on the e-petition and the pen and paper petitions, which ran concurrently, were passed to the Public Petitions Committee (PPC) of the Scottish Parliament on 24th October 2001 by representatives of the associations involved.

John McAllion, chairman of PPC, chatting to petitioners after being formally presented with a case containing the petition signatures.

The central petition issue and requests made by the petitioners will be discussed at a meeting of the PPC on 6th November 2001. Supporting the Scottish Parliament's aim to increase transparency, web links to a transcription of this meeting will be posted on the e-petition feedback pages so that signatories and other interested parties can more easily follow progress of the request through Parliament.

Scottish Environment Link: Statement on using the e-petitioner system to petition the Scottish Parliament

The following is a statement from LINK relating their experience and thoughts about the e-petitioner system:

"None of the networks involved had made use of the e-petitioner system previously, but found the concept easy to grasp and were grateful for the support and advice provided through the ITC. Getting the e-petition up and running was an extremely easy process and was done very quickly.

Once online, the networks involved and their members were able to place 'buttons' on their websites that linked directly to the e-petition allowing people who were browsing on the internet to go directly to the site and sign online. The web address of the petition was advertised in the press, through campaign materials, in newsletters, on posters, at shows through the summer and via email. The networks were able to cascade the e-petitioner site address through to their member organisations who were then able to cascade it to individuals who may be interested.

In this way the petition was passed on to a large number of people in a very short space of time. Although it ran only for 2 months it raised over 2000 signatures. Geographical distance was also overcome so that those who may be affected by the issues involved but do not live in the locality were also made aware of the issues and were able to react. Relating to access to the outdoors, the issues involved would be expected to affect tourism to Scotland so it was useful to give the potential tourists the ability to have a say too. The petition attracted support from all over Scotland and around the world including from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Australia and the USA.

The e-petition was coupled with a paper version but the ability to comment online was a valuable tool as well. The online dialogue allowed those concerned to have their say on the matters concerned as well as providing a means to sign up in support of the petition text. While it seems that there the culture of contributing online is only now growing in confidence some important themes of discussion and observation arose through that medium. This is possibly one of the most valuable features of this system in that it allows people to give their own view rather than just tick a box, empowering the individual by bringing them closer to the decision making process.

The experience with the number of signatures was that momentum grew rather than slowed. The number seemed to increase more quickly day to day later in the process. Indeed when the e-petition went offline there were calls to put it online again for a couple more days or weeks.

Although there may initially have been concerns as to the credibility of the e-petitioning system, fears of this kind were laid to rest when the final part of the analysis process was explained. The analysis of the statistics and the fact that those that have signed up twice or under another name are disregarded made people trust the system.

Having used the tool once this seems to have increased confidence and understanding of both the e-petition system as well as the process involved in petitioning the Scottish Parliament, a number of both users and participants. The mechanism through which those who have signed can keep in touch with the progress of the petition is also valuable. As this campaign also had a hard copy version of the petition nobody was excluded from the process if they did not have access to the internet.

The e-petition, then, has been found to be an extremely effective tool. Setting it up was an easy and efficient process, and crucially none of the process was demanding in terms of resources (this was especially important for such organisations in the voluntary sector). Essentially it allowed individuals who may be affected by this legislation to have their say.

It is likely that the bodies involved may be interested in using the e-petitioner system again. It has been found to be a valuable tool in raising awareness of issues, allowing people to have their say and informing the decision making process of peoples concerns. Other member bodies of LINK, WWF Scotland and RSPB have also made use of the ITC system. It would be good to see the European Parliament introducing such a system, one which I am sure would be used by environmental bodies in Scotland and that would allow dialogue online on different issues across the European Union."

Jessica Pepper, LINK Parliamentary Officer November 2001

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