I took part in an Petitions round table last week run run by the consultation institute. The round table format means you really get chance to talk through specific points and the group was all very fired up about what the new Local Democracy Bill will mean – and specifically what it will mean for every council to have a petitioning scheme and for that to of necessity include ePetitions. Now – the topic is a lot more interesting than that sentence makes it sound so let me see if I can describe some good bits:

  • People get petitions and petitioning – even David Cameron is planning to use one to get a general election (though the labour party might just manage that all on their own). The simplicity and immediacy of the process both in terms of signing and in terms of outcomes means its a mechanism that gets used and ePetitions have been really brought to people’s attentions by the 10 Downing Street system

  • One of the other reasons for that is what I can the Magna Carta effect – British people really feel they have a right to sign some parchment and get a man to ride for days to London to hand it to the Prime Minister – and this cultural belief in the process gives it relevance for all citizens. You feel this especially acutely when dealing with other cultures around petitioning as we are in the Europetitions project – to them its just signing a form!

  • One of the problems you face with the nagging concern that you know that facebook etc has huge potential to get people’s attention is deciding what you will do with that attention. Its not enough to get people to join your facebook group or follow your tweets – if you want to make formal democratic decisions then you need to lure people into a formal democratic process. Epetitions can help hugely in making that transition as they are the smallest formal piece of democracy that we have – its very alluring

  • What’s more, by using epetitions you have the chance to build a democratic mailing list of people who have, to even the smallest extent, actually participated in democracy. It may not be much but if you want to break the inertia of non-participation then you need to start somewhere….

Ultimately I think what I most appreciate is the elegance of the petitioning process(yes – I do have a fondness for elegance). Its such a simple idea which can become integral to your whole engagement strategy.

BTW – to anyone interested in how the gadget angst is going I am currently considering an iTouch rather than an iPhone. It seems like a more obvious replacement for the PDA and as I have never really been a fan of the phone it would make it easier not to talk to people!! However – I would imagine that you would find it rather restrictive not to have that always on-ness and there is something very tidy about convergence. Ah well – lots more musing to be done…..and we still have the palm pre and a potential new iPhone to consider this month!